Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Here we are at the end of another semester in the week of final exams. For some of us, it is our very first semester teaching. For others it is something we feel we have always done. So what do we do at the end of the semester that will help us to improve our teaching and in turn increase our student's learning in the next semester. As Dr. Margaret Walsh pointed out in her terrific article from the past, "The ending of a course deserves greater attention than it typically receives. While we have thoroughly ritualized the start of a new semester often somewhere between weeks 11 and 14, what seemed like reasonable plans are regretfully sidelined and we launch into catch-up overdrive." She offers this suggestion among a number of other useful tips: On the last day of class, hand out a list of suggested readings from your own bookshelf, along with a brief commentary on why you’re recommending them. Dr. Maryellen Weimer also shares some of her wisdom about the end of the semester. She urges "everyone to write about the courses that have just ended. What do you think you will remember about them in five years? Are there students you will remember? Others you hope to forget? What were the best and worst moments in those courses? How did your relationship with each class begin, evolve and end? What was new, different and exciting about the content? Did you teach well? Did students learn well? If you could change one thing about your teaching and their learning next semester, what would it be?"

The breaks between our semesters are a perfect time for course redesign. I have already pulled my journal entries made throughout the semester (usually right after class had ended) that deal with this issue. I am using those notes to redesign my class in the hopes that the new approaches and learning experiences will create a more fertile learning environment for my students. I recently read an interesting article related to this topic. It focused more on gateway courses that have been shown to give students the most problems. The article suggests that peer instruction may be just the active learning method that turns the light on for our students in those gateway courses. The research has shown that peer instruction is a great teaching method to use in larger classes. The article is very well done and includes videos and lists the research on this topic. If you are beginning to work on your course redesign, you should take a look at the article. The information on how to get started with peer instruction is very useful. Also, feel free to reach out to me throughout the semester break if you are looking for advice or help in finding resources.

Dr. Michelle Miller, a professor of psychological sciences and co-director of the first-year learning program at Northern Arizona University, has a new book out about how to best use the online environment to improve learning. Her book Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology, published this fall by Harvard University Press is highly recommended by many educationalists including James Lang. He says, "If you teach with technology in any form, at any level, I recommend you put this book at the top of your tottering pile of required reading on higher education. It’s an outstanding book that provides a road map for truly effective online teaching." He goes on to say that what distinguishes her book from much of the research available on teaching with technology, and pushes it beyond arguments about improving access, is her emphasis on the ways in which online teaching tools can actually improve learning for all students—not just those who have no access to traditional face-to-face classrooms. Online courses—or an online component of a traditional class—offer a way to "give students repeated, challenging practice with the concepts we want them to know and the skills we want them to master," Miller said. "When I started out as a teacher, we cognitive psychologists already knew that things like frequent quizzing were incredibly beneficial to learning. I was excited to apply these findings, but when I got into a real classroom environment I found that it was overwhelmingly difficult and time consuming to actually do so. In many traditional courses you also can’t do things like offer repeated quiz attempts with different questions, or adapt the quiz to the topics that individual students are having the most trouble with."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Realizing that you have visual, aural, read-write and kinesthetic learners in each of your classes helps you to plan more effective learning experiences. Understanding that students self-identify themselves as usually fitting into two of these types and sometimes three or all four creates new opportunities for us. I have come to realize more and more that I tend to be a visual and kinesthetic learner. I like to see the situation in person and put myself in it before I begin to develop a solution or plan. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy reading (especially for pleasure) but love when someone can put things into motion for me to watch. Which brings me to a website I want to recommend to you. If you are looking to show your students how things work, take a look at the Animagraffs website. It's never to late to learn how to properly moonwalk!

Dr. Maryellen Weimer never fails to come up with a great post just when you need it most. Her latest comments concern the end of the semester. She notes, "For most of us, it’s that time of the semester when we are least likely to think positively about students. We’re tired, they’re tired, and there are still the proverbial miles to go. Some students have finally figured out they’re in trouble in the course, but none of their difficulties derive from anything they’ve done (or haven’t done), or so they think. Others remain lost in a thick fog that obscures even very fundamental course content. Passivity is the default mode for what feels like an increasingly large group. If there’s any lull in the action, they settle back, quickly finding their way to places of mental relaxation." Read more to find out how she turns this into a positive opportunity.

Emanuella Grinberg, Jamie Gumbrecht, and Thom Patterson, who write for, have a terrific story about community colleges. They write, "[Community colleges] provide technical programs for emerging careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that are comparable to -- if not better than -- some of their four-year counterparts, at a fraction of the cost. Often, they're the launchpad to baccalaureate programs for people without the time, money or academic skills to jump into a four-year program straight out of high school. And as part of the American Association of Community Colleges' 21st Century Initiative, they're updating their missions and nimbly shifting to serve the economy of the future. Here are some of the ways they're facing problems that weigh down all of higher education -- and succeeding." Click here to find out how they think community colleges are fixing higher education.

Monday, November 24, 2014

As many of you know, the eLearning program at BRCC was relaunched about two years ago. The new program guidelines called for quality and consistency based on a number of national benchmarks. Since the fastest growing part of most colleges is their online course offerings, we wanted to make sure that BRCC stood out by offering our students the best academic experience delivered in an electronic format. By moving to a approval system that certifies our courses and our instructors, we have been able to quickly build an eLearning presence approaching 80 classes. Many of you have participated in the eLearning institutes (the next opportunity will be offered in spring 2015) and have been certified to teach. We have undergirded that process with numerous professional development workshops offered through the Teaching+Learning Center. So we read with a lot of interest the recent column written by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti who offers us four factors in high-quality online classes as noted by Joseph McClary. He writes, "Distance learning is here to stay. Educational institutions should have a vision for what type of distance learning programs they will implement and the standards they will hold to. Institutions will master distance learning, or in some cases, distance learning trends and demands will master the school.” We are happy to say that you will find that all of the elements mentioned in this article are present in our eLearning program but we are not standing still and will continue to improve our processes.

Drs. Claire Wladis, Katherine Wladis, and Alyse C. Hachey have written a great research paper that allows us to understand why many of our students are doing so poorly in online classes versus their counterparts in the face-to-face offerings. While the authors acknowledge that there is much research about the disparity, their new focus allows us to determine some of the possible causes. Looking at student's reasons for enrolling in online classes produced some surprising results. They found that the student's reason for taking the course, either as an elective or required, had a lot to do with their performance and effort. They write, "This research suggests that online course retention rates can be improved by providing extra support targeted specifically to lower level courses which are typically taken as electives or to satisfy distributional requirements. Such support could include self-assessment and orientation tools which could be used to help students assess their perceptions and preparedness for the course. At the course level, E-advisors could provide an early mechanism for academic counseling, additional technical support staff could assist students with technical difficulties specific to the online environment, and peer tutors could assist students with the course content." You can read more by logging onto the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Faculty Development Community where you will find the paper (Advising for Online Course Retention) in the Online Resource Library in the Advising folder.

Motivation is a powerful learning tool. If we as teachers, seek to meet the needs of our students, then discovering their motivation is paramount. Cengage Learning recently conducted a survey looking for the motivation that drives non-traditional or adult students back to college. They were able to gather 2,600 responses from students who are 25 years or older. While there are many of the responses you would expect like retraining for a new job or finishing what they started in their teen years, some of the responses are surprising. Take a look at the top ten reasons and see if these resonate with your adult students the next time you are meeting with them about their schedule or another academic matter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Have you ever used the active method of collaborative learning in your classes? Did you know that research tells us that collaborative learning is a proven method to help deepen learning for your students? It can also help to make the new knowledge stick. If you are interested in discovering the benefits of collaborative learning, please plan to attend the professional development workshop on Thursday, November 20 at 1:00 pm. in 311 Magnolia Building. The presentation will provide an introduction to the active learning method along with the benefits and some real-life examples of how you can implement into your courses immediately. You can register here but if you find yourself free at 1:00 pm tomorrow, please join us in the Teaching+Learning Center.

A number of you have asked about the broad category of academic rigor and how to insure that your learning experiences have it. Terri Heick has written a short blog post that I think can help. She notes, "Rigor matters because it imposes cognitive load on students, forcing them to confront misconceptions, reconsider positions, separate the implicit from the explicit, and other critical thinking practices that distinguish shaky familiarity from true understanding." Heick also provides a quick rigor checklist and debunks five myths about the subject.

Earlier this week, I shared the Tech Tuesday Tip of the week. The topic concerned how to determine the difference between an inquiry and a search. Of course we all know how relevant this becomes when our students are relying on online resources more and more. In this article, Terri Heick notes, "The contrast between inquiry and search then, is a matter of pace, volume, and scale. Digital search is always-on and simple and frighteningly fast. The speed at which “results” are issued–and their sheer quantity–obscure the macro perspective real inquiry requires. Pouring over irrelevant book after irrelevant book isn’t perfect either. It can be a huge waste of time, and encourage students to latch on to the first bit of data that seems evenly remotely pertinent." I received a very interesting response from one of your colleagues about the article who was looking to find a few more practical tips. So I am throwing it out to you. Anyone want to share how they incorporate this distinction in their teaching?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Mid Day Musings held earlier today delivered some powerful messages about student persistence and our efforts at retention. Bettinger's article about student supports spurred discussions about community college's missions, the Louisiana Grad Act, proactive advising, and financial aid. Amy Cable, Director of Financial Aid, made a surprise visit to dispel some myths and provide us with some great information that we can use to help our students make the best decision about their academic progress. Moon's article about high-impact educational practices provided the background for a conversation about the benefits of supplemental instruction (SI) programs. Dr. Jo Dale Ales, Dean of the STEM Division, shared her experience with SI by using examples of the current program they are using for gateway courses (calculus, physics, and engineering). Drake's article on academic advising encouraged a discussion about first-class experiences, namely spending most of the time talking about study skills, test preparation, and what is required to complete the class (other than just coming to class). Several ideas were generated that could be turned into pilots at BRCC that may increase our retention rates.

One of the latest teaching methods trending now is the use of games in class. According to an article by Katie Lepi, gamification of just about anything has been tried by teachers around the globe. She also provides a list of ten colleges who are leading the way in this trend. For instance, the University of Texas at Brownsville has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for the efforts of one of its professors to use video games to teach physics. Associate professor Soumya Mohanty created and taught the school’s inaugural “Elementary Physics Through Video Games” course in the 2010-2011 school year. He said the increased level of reality in modern games has made them valuable teaching tools for physical principles. He used three Playstation 3 consoles and two plasma screens for the course.

But what deeply moved me, largely because I had foolishly believed that it couldn’t possibly be true, was this important truth: Professor Northcut wants to be at Richland and she is there on purpose. She is convinced that community colleges serve a vital purpose in aiding the best and brightest students who lack the resources to attend four-year schools right out of high school, or perhaps got sidetracked along the way. By her description, Richland exists explicitly to help those students find their way to universities and brighter futures. She is not at Richland because she never found a better job, or to collect a few extra paychecks before retirement. And she certainly does not see her students as the caricatures they often become in our higher-education debates -- representatives of broken systems; too unprepared to make it at a “real college.” Are you intrigued enough to read more? If you do, I promise this op-ed piece will make you feel good about what you do at BRCC. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dr. John Orlando offers some great advice on how to handle student excuses in a recent article he wrote for Faculty Focus. He writes, as new teachers very quickly learn, students will come up with all kinds of excuses for missing assignments and other work. Students will never say, “I missed the exam because I was out late last night—it was one dollar taps at the Silver Horse, you know how it goes.” As a result, teachers must have a policy for handling these situations, which invariably involves a decision on trust. The problem is that grandparents do die—it happens—but they don’t die as often as we are told and their deaths don’t always coincide with major deadlines in the syllabus. So how do we know when a grandparent really dies, or a roommate actually does get deathly ill in the middle of the night, and when we are being handed a line? Read more here.

As we continue our campus-wide discussion about improving our student persistence and completion rates, the idea of learning communities keep coming to the front. Looking at the research in that area can be very instructional and can point us to some interventions that have worked elsewhere. Learning communities may be established in many areas of study to effectively address the learning needs for a wide variety of students while providing both faculty and students with an academic structure that promotes collaboration. Learning communities also help to develop a strong sense of student identity as they traditionally have smaller enrollment numbers. Grouping students into cohorts should not only be done for students who initially declare majors, but also for students transferring in from other colleges. It may be useful for BRCC to look at the Tiger Bridge student's data moving forward as somewhat of a pilot of this concept. If you want to read more about this approach, go here.

The Best Teachers Faculty Learning Community has settled into their group study using Ken Bain's book What the Best College Teachers Do. Faculty learning communities, as defined by Dr. Milton Cox who runs a summer institute to train facilitators, is a group of trans-disciplinary faculty of 8-12 members engaging in an active, collaborative, semester-long program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent meetings and activities that provide learning, development, transdisciplinarity, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and community building. The Teaching+Learning Center has sponsored three previous FLC including a Best Teachers group during the fall 2013 semester. The current Best Teachers FLC members include Dr. Jo Dale Ales (STEM), Dr. Gabriel Aluko (Science), Dr. Amy Atchley (Speech), Mollye DeLoach (Speech), Gery Frie (Construction Management), Vinetta Frie (Liberal Arts), Lucas Gassen (English), Steven Keeton (English), and Dr. Todd Pourciau (DILAS). Look for information on new Faculty Learning Communities planned for the spring 2015 semster in the near future or contact Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder ( or 216.8228) for more information.

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."