Monday, July 27, 2015

Have you ever stopped to think about what it takes to win a teaching award? Dr. Stephen Chew has written an interesting essay about just that. He writes, "What, then, is the critical element for teaching success? I say the best teachers are learning driven; their teaching is wholly focused on developing a deep understanding of the subject matter in the minds of their students. This entails much more than presenting information. Learning-driven teachers don’t simply wish or hope their students learn -- they take actions to see that the desired kind of learning takes place. Consciously or not, learning-driven teachers are concerned with an array of factors that influence student learning. For example, they manage the class’s collective attention, monitor metacognitive awareness, respect the constraints of working memory and promote transfer-appropriate processing, even if these teachers are unaware of the formal names of such concepts." Read more here.

African-American students’ college readiness is lagging compared with that of other underrepresented students, according to a new report released on Monday by ACT and the United Negro College Fund. Sixty-two percent of African-American students who graduated from high school in 2014 and took the ACT met none of the organization’s four benchmarks that measure college readiness, which was twice the rate for all students. Read more here including suggestions to help the situation.

Cengage recently ran a contest asking students what they would do if they could be an instructor for one day. More specifically, they asked them to suggest ways to better engage students. The votes are in, winners have been selected, and you can watch the videos here. Although none of the winning entries were from community college students, many of the ideas are appropriate for all students and types of higher education institutions. You could certainly use this type of assignment in your class to help make a solid connection with your students. Let me know what you think of the videos.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It’s difficult to keep students engaged — and awake — when assigning them readings from long and often dull textbooks. Two researchers wanted to change that. Their creation is zyBooks, a web-based platform that mixes learning activities such as question sets and animations with some written content, largely as a replacement for text. The idea is that professors can use zyBooks instead of traditional textbooks in order to help students engage with the material and perform better. zyBooks was founded in 2012 by Frank Vahid, a computer-science professor at the University of California at Riverside, and Smita Bakshi, a former assistant professor at the University of California at Davis who is the company’s chief executive. They say the platform is being used by professors at around 250 universities, primarily in courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Read more here.

Through explicit instruction and modeling, students can come to recognize the importance of taking brain. By wielding these skills and abilities, students decide where to focus their attention and which tasks to undertake. As a general
charge of their executive functioning in their academic endeavors and later in their careers. Executive functions can be defined as the awareness and directive capacities of the rule of thumb, when students of any age have difficulty completing developmentally appropriate academic tasks on their own, executive functioning may be at the root of the problem. In the human brain, executive functions are primarily regulated by the prefrontal regions (just behind the forehead) of the frontal lobes. Neuroscientists and psychologists have made significant gains in understanding the brain's executive functioning over the past several decades.An appropriate metaphor that often helps students and educators alike understand the role of executive functioning in thinking and behavior is to imagine an orchestra conductor. The conductor chooses what work the orchestra will perform, decides how to interpret that work, sets the tempo for the performance, and directs each section of musicians to contribute at the appropriate time. Read more here.

At one time or another, most of us have been disappointed by the caliber of the questions students ask in class, online, or in the office. Many of them are such mundane questions: “Will material from the book be on the exam?” “How long should the paper be?” “Can we use Google to find references?” “Would you repeat what you just said? I didn’t get it all down in my notes.” Rarely do they ask thoughtful questions that probe the content and stir the interest of the teacher and other students. So, how do we get them to ask better questions? What if we start by asking them the kinds of questions we hope they will ask us? Here are some suggestions that might help us model what good questions are and demonstrate how instrumental they can be in promoting thinking, understanding, and learning. Read more here.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Do you have a no-tech policy in your class? Do you encourage the use of cell phones, tablets, and laptops during your class? There are arguments for both and more faculty seem to be taking sides. Dr. Laura Tropp has an interesting post on her blog about this topic and writes, "It seems that people tend to be divided into two camps: those that have given up (or are adapting to the new technology environment, which sounds better) and let their students use the screens, and those that enact strict rules and policing policies to prevent students from using screens while in the classroom. I have found myself sitting in both camps in the past. This summer, however, I am noticing that those in the former camp are thinking about reverting to a no-technology policy because they think it is interfering with students’ ability to focus and reflect. Clay Shirky, a Professor at NYU who specializes in emerging media technologies, wrote an interesting piece last fall about his new policy to ban all screens in his classes. He even made an intriguing analogy comparing technology in a classroom to second-hand smoke. However, many faculty have responded that banning technology does not work but only creates a deceptive culture in which students slyly sneak their technology use in class." Read the entire post here.

Are you spending part of your summer on a course redesign project or maybe you are focusing your attention on creating a master syllabus. Both of the projects, one small and the other very labor intensive, are worthwhile and lead to many benefits for you and your students. Dr. Vicki Caruana has a nice article in the Faculty Focus online newsletter about how a course map can help you remained focueds on the important outcomes. She writes, "Course mapping, as a step in the curriculum mapping process (Jacobs, 2004), offers faculty new pathways to meet shared outcomes. The five principles of curriculum design (Fink, 2003) inform the development of learning experiences that are structured in such a way that they scaffold student thinking and progressively move them toward the desired course outcomes. A course should: (1) challenge students to higher level learning; (2) use active forms of learning; (3) give frequent and immediate feedback to students on the quality of their learning; (4) use a structured sequence of different learning activities; and (5) have a fair system for assessing and grading students." Read the entire article here.

There is nothing so dispiriting for teacher or for student as a discussion section in which questions fall flat, conversation drifts aimlessly, and a small number of predictable voices predominate. That is the opening sentence of Dr. James Dawes article concerning class discussions. He offers a list of ten strategies to help you bring out the best in your students. Read the entire article here.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Did you know that the community colleges in the United States provide access to higher education for over 10 million students each year? Bailey, Jaggars, and Jenkins in their book Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A clearer path to student success say that because community colleges are designed to provide access to a wide variety of students with a wide variety of goals, community colleges give students many choices which may be one of the causes for low completion. But they don't just give us the gory details and horror stories, they also provide some paths for solutions. The Teaching and Learning 101 Faculty Learning Community is using this book along with material from other educational scientists during the summer session. Although FLCs are mainly professional development opportunities, the structure and focus often lead to new ideas, movements, or proposals that can lead to positive change for their institutions. If you are interested in learning more I encourage you to talk with one of the FLC members who include: Amy Atchley, Cristi Carson, Pearce Cinman, Cindy Decker, Christopher Guillory, Divina Miranda, Rhonda Picou, and Todd Pourciau. The FLC meets on Wednesdays at 1:00 pm in the Teaching+Learning Center.

Dr. David Gooblar has written an interesting blog post about an issue that dogs many of us. The difference between covering all of the material versus helping students learn. I did say versus but it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, research shows that if we work to help our students become independent scholars who are interested in the subject at hand, the coverage can occur naturally. Goobler writes, "How do I balance my desire to integrate student-centered learning practices with my almost pathological need to have every last bit of the course planned out and thought through? Most of my pedagogy research has suggested that we as faculty should be looking for ways to give students a real sense of ownership in the classroom. One of our goals should be to create an atmosphere that leaves space for students take an active role in their own learning. How, then, do we design a course before even meeting our students? Isn’t there a danger in showing up to the first day of class with a syllabus that shows the whole course planned out? By doing so, aren't we clearly communicating to the students that the instructor is in charge, that if you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow these rules?"

Studies have consistently shown that when we exercise we are more aroused: there is increased blood flow to the brain, greater neurotransmitter secretion, and increased brain growth and plasticity over time. All of this improves our memory, attention spans, and executive functions like reasoning, problem solving, and planning. Our brains are alert and we experience a decrease in stress, which has proven to be a performance killer. So what am I telling you? Do I want you to have your students do a little physical activity in the classroom? Why not? That is what active learning is all about. Get your students to move around (group to group, pairing off, or going to the board) and see what happens.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

One of the things that all faculty wish they had more of is time. That is why I try to give you as much information as possible in as many different formats as available. If you would like to see very brief teaching and learning tips, you should definitely become a follower on the Teaching+Learning Center's Twitter account. Each tweet is guaranteed to be 140 characters or less. You can easily create a Twitter account for yourself in order to follow. I would encourage you to use the account for your teaching as well. It is a great way to remind your students of upcoming deadlines, assessments, or any other important announcements or information.

The Active Learning Manual has been updated for the 2015-16 academic year. I have added additional methods on how you can quickly learn your student's names at the beginning of each semester. It is a sure fire way to enhance engagement and create an environment that promotes student success. I have also added a section specifically for our eLearning faculty but the methods can be used in face-to-face classes as well. Finally, I added a few interventions to help keep disruptive students on track. If you would like to receive the electronic version of the ALM, please send me an email request to

During our most recent faculty professional development workshop. Dr. Crystal Allen of Lone Star College in neighboring Texas spoke about helping students develop a growth mindset. Although I have presented this theory in previous workshops, Dr. Allen brought a fresh perspective to this important topic. Enhancing each of our student's self-efficacy levels is vitally important to increasing our retention and completion rates. Helping them to understand that knowledge is not a fixed commodity but something that can grow throughout our lives is the key to this approach.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Finals week is upon us and soon we will be preparing for another exciting commencement day (May 22). But there is still work to be done. We all need to submit our grades by Monday (May 18) and while we have prepared and given our finals, there is grading so this weekend may be very busy for many of us. I thought I would continue the end-of-semester theme for you. While many of you are transitioning your online content to the new LMS Canvas, some of you may be too busy for that now. The good news is that Blackboard does not go away until June but then, that is it. Dr. Steve Volk of Oberlin College provides us with an interesting post that is filled with great end-of-semester ideas. One that I particularly like concerns looking back at the semester and judging our progress. Dr. Steve Krause at Eastern Michigan University has a nice post also. One of my favorite quotes from his post is this gem, "When I was growing up, my mother—who, like me, was a “contingent” professor—would sequester herself for days to grade, emerging Medusa-haired and demanding of sympathy. But the older I got, the more that sympathy dissipated: “If you hate grading papers so much,” I’d say, “there’s an easy solution for that.” My mother, not to be trifled with when righteously indignant (that favored state of the professoriate), would snap: “It’s an English class. I can’t not assign papers.” Be at peace and send me your thoughts.

So that brings us to another topic that is top-of-mind at this time. How and where are we going to store all of our electronic data and files? Hopefully you are using one of the Teaching+Learning Center USBs that I have been distributing but that is mainly for things you use frequently. The cloud is the obvious place that you want to save things, especially long-term. EdTech, the epublication that focuses on technology used by higher education, has an informative article about using the full potential of the cloud. Take a look here for more information.

A report recently released by the William T. Grant Foundation sheds some light on how we can best advise our students about alternative paths to the baccalaureate. This new research indicates progress on the access front, but many unexpected obstacles (lack of counseling, confusing choices, chaotic schedules) that contribute to students failing to complete.  While 37 percent of on-time high school graduates enrolled in a community college with the intention of getting a bachelor's degree, nearly half drop out within eight years often taking on debt and gaining no wage advantage from the experience. Just 33 percent of community college students earn an associate degree in eight years, the report found. Read more here.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The migration to our new LMS Canvas continues as members of the implementation team from BRCC (Susan Nealy, Todd Pourciau, Ron Solomon, and Lenora White) participate in the LCTCS System process. BRCC will be using Canvas for all eLearning, hybrid and face-to-face classes beginning in the Summer 2015 semester. Most of the faculty have completed the Project Canvas training, either with the Teaching+Learning Center or utilizing the online certification process. If you have questions or need additional help, please contact eLearning Program Manager Susan Nealy of LMS Administrator Lenora White.

Brain scan research reveals that kinestethic learning (learning by doing) has been shown to be very effective for students in science classes. The research results were published online April 24 in Psychological Science. The study included experiments in the laboratory involving student behavior and brain imaging and one randomized trial in a college physics classroom. The hands-on studies used a system of two bicycle wheels that spun independently on a single axle, which allowed students to understand the concept of angular momentum—at work when a moving bicycle appears more stable than a stationary one. To experience angular momentum, students held the wheels by the axle and were instructed to tilt the axle from horizontal to vertical, while attempting to keep a laser pointer on a target line on the wall. When the axle tilted, the students experienced torque—the resistive force that causes objects to rotate. Read more here.

Looking towards the completion of another semester at BRCC, it is a good time to share some end-of-semester suggestions. There are a number of suggestions from posts in the past. As Maier and Panitz note, ending a course with only a final exam often leaves students with a feeling of dread or inadequacy, rather than with a sense of accomplishment. A better goal for teachers is to help our students leave the course with a solid idea of what they have learned and how they can carry that new knowledge and skill base into future experiences. Here are a few ideas of how you can end your semester in a meaningful way.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

IDEA provides some great tips on how you can help your students learn fundamental principles, generalizations, or theories. How can students show they “comprehend” a principle, generalization or theory? Bloom describes three ways. First, they can restate the principle, generalization or theory in their own words, which Bloom calls translation.  When asked what is Newton’s third law of motion, the student might answer, “It’s when two things hit each other, they push each other equally in opposite directions.” Bloom states that translation can take one of three forms: translation into the student’s own words, as we’ve just seen; translation into symbolic form e.g., from verbal to graphical form (inserting arrows into a picture to depict the forces operating on the chair in the example above); translation from one verbal form to another, e.g., metaphor, analogy. Read more here.

Most of us can describe what good teaching looks like and many of us accept the premise that learning occurs when student accept the new knowledge and are able to apply it to different contexts. But when does learning end or does it have to? That is the basis of Dr. Maryellen Weimer's latest blog post. She writes, "With courses ending so definitively, it’s easy to think that whatever impact you or the course might have on students is over. But learning doesn’t always end when the course does. Some insights and understandings are iterative and cumulative. Students arrive at them after repeated exposure, as the evidence mounts and their skills and experiences deepen. Other intellectual development happens when students are finally ready to learn.Read more here.

Are you sure that the feedback you are providing to your students is really helping them? It is a question that nags at us. We want to provide enough feedback to help our students from repeating the same mistakes. We also want them to learn from what they did right and wrong. But we are always concerned about giving feedback that demotivates our students. Dr. Matt Gomes and doctoral student Noel Turner offer their own take on this dilemma. They suggest that we have students identify a specific outcome or assessment criterion they are concerned with, and respond only to that concern. When Dr. Gomes uses this strategy, the question becomes “What does this student need to do in order to perform better along specific project goals or assessment criteria? What do they need to do to become a more reflective writer (project goal) or to organize their claims effectively (criterion)? This strategy has the added benefit of prodding him to specifically elaborate on his understanding of outcomes or assessment criteria." Read more here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

You will get a range of reactions when you bring up the subject of online group activities. As Gregory Wells notes, "The skills learned by participating in a group project are applicable to nearly any career that a student is currently interested in or will be interested in at a future date. It is rare in today’s global economy that an individual will work independently on a project. Therefore, it is important that opportunities are provided to students to not only learn content, but to apply that content in a practical, near real-world environment." So how can you improve the process to satisfy you and your students? Read more here.

Cathy Davidson has a really interesting post on the HASTAC website. She writes that if we cannot change higher education as rapidly as we would like, we can change our classrooms to reflect our values. At a recent workshop, she asked the participants to answer the following questions, "Maybe you cannot change the world but, for most of us teaching in classrooms,  [what] are ways of making changes in one's own class that can make a difference--to one's students, to one's own role in replicating inequity, and as a model to our institutions seeking to "transform higher education?"  She admits that "what we are advocating is almost the opposite of 'outcomes' thinking; it is structuring empowerment at the input level, designing a syllabus that acknowledges structural inequality by countering it." Read more here

Taylor Massey writes "Detecting plagiarism may be an endless battle for instructors, but avoiding it is sometimes easier said than done for students. For many college students, knowing when and how to cite correctly is the biggest challenge. With only so many hours in a semester, writing and citation instructions are not always able to be covered in-class. To give students an idea of where to begin, share these tips with them for easily avoiding plagiarism." Want to see tips offered to help prevent and catch plagiarism, click here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dr. Thomas Fisher has written a thought provoking post about how the physical space of a classroom can inspire or inhibit learning. He and his students spent the semester as nomads, moving from space to space throughout the term. He writes, "We had pedagogical reasons for doing so. The course focused on how the built environment both reflects and affects our ideas about the world around us, looking at how philosophical concepts, cultural constructs, and social, economic, and environmental constraints help shape the spaces that human beings inhabit. Given that, it seemed appropriate to experience a variety of spaces and to reflect upon the relationship of each one to the content of the course. We noted as the course progressed how much the spaces in which we met helped shape the conversation, as we expected, given the focus of the course and the fact that all of the students were either undergraduate or graduate architecture students." Read more about his experience here.

We have discussed the need to have our students think about thinking and how they learn best. Metacognition research continues to grow and new ideas and insights are emerging everyday. Dr. Lori Desautels asks, "What if we could dramatically improve our thought processes and learning strategies by tapping into the social genius of another? What if a classmate, colleague, or friend could help us recognize and claim our strengths, new habits of thought, and strategies from a perspective that we never imagined by ourselves?" Find out what she thinks here.

It is usually at this point in the semester when we begin to feel overwhelmed by all of our responsibilities. I think the anxiety is heightened because our students become more needy at this point. Many of them are trying to finish out their two year academic journey and move on, either to work or a four-year college. It is important for us to set boundaries so that we can finish out the semester with the same vigor and excitement that we began with in January. Amy Cavender offers her own tips for maintaining a balanced work/life schedule in this short post. Let me know what you think or share some ideas about how you stay focused and enthusiastic.