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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The world is definitely flat, as Dr. Thomas Friedman so famously declared in his book of the same name a decade ago (can it be that 10 years have passed). The events in Paris that occurred last week demonstrated that in a tragic and vivid way. I hope that you join me in using this terrible occurrence as a teachable lesson with your students. Inserting the lesson into your class may be easier for some of us (history, political science, CSSK, art) than others (chemistry, math, welding, nursing) but there are ways to make it happen. If you decide to incorporate it into your class, maybe as part of the larger human rights project being led by Dr. Val Holliday in Philosophy, please share your experience with me so that I can post it here.

Are you having problems capturing and keeping your students attention in class? Mary Loyd, with the journal Prism, has written an interesting column about this issue. She writes, "Ask instructors to name their biggest challenge, and classroom distractions very likely would top most lists. Even experienced engineering educators must compete for students' attention against social media and texting. Classroom management has become so vexing that ASEE's 2014 annual conference devoted several sessions to the topic, including Shepard's panel presentation, I Did Not Anticipate This: Experiences From the Early Years. Research has documented an increase in disruptive behavior and cheating by students over the past 20 years. And it's not just among weaker students." Take a look at the rest of the post here.

Faculty Focus provides a great article at the right time addressing effective ways to structure discussions in the online environment. The good news is that you can use Dr. Maryellen Weimer's suggestions for your face-to-face classes as well. She writes, "The use of online discussion in both blended and fully online courses has made clear that those exchanges are more productive if they are structured, if there’s a protocol that guides the interaction. This kind of structure is more important in the online environment because those discussions are usually asynchronous and minus all the nonverbal cues that facilitate face-to-face exchanges. But I’m wondering if more structure might benefit our in-class discussions as well. Students struggle with academic discourse. They have conversations (or is it chats?) with each other, but not discussions like those we aspire to have in our courses. And although students understand there’s a difference between the two, they don’t always know exactly how they’re supposed to talk about academic content when discussing it with teachers and classmates. Would providing more structure provide that clarity and make the value of discussions more obvious to students?" Read more here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Welcome to the year 2015. I hope that you had an enjoyable holiday break. I spent part of mine reading Dean Man Walking by Sr. Helen Prejean and am looking forward to her visit to the Black Box Theatre at noon on January 16. The bi-annual faculty development workshop that kicks off each semester will be held on Wednesday, January 14 beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the Louisiana Building's boardroom. We will spend some time on purely pedagogical and assessment issues but you will also hear from the Academic Learning Center, as well as the eLearning and Innovative Learning programs. Looking forward to seeing you next Wednesday. I will be sharing the spring schedule of professional development opportunities with you on that day as well. Since they have proved to be so popular, we will again offer two faculty learning communities. One will use the classic What the Best College Teachers Do which we have used in three previous instances at BRCC. Check with your colleagues if you need to hear personal testimonials but I can tell you that the FLC format is a wonderful way to deeply explore teaching and learning and Dr. Ken Bain's book (which we will provide) is a great compass. In addition, I will offer a FLC using Inspired College Teaching: a Career-Long Resource for Professional Growth by Dr. Maryellen Weimer. This will be the first time I use this book but I also spent part of my break reading it and I have found it be very useful. You can sign up for either or both FLCs next Wednesday. Another new program that has proved popular is the Mid Day Musings held on the second and fourth Wednesdays at noon of each month. We meet in the faculty and staff lounge in the Bienvenue Building which makes it easy for you to grab lunch before joining the discussion. The topic for each session will be announced on the Monday preceding the gathering. If you have ideas for topics you would like to have discussed, feel free to send them to me (

Even though distance ed, online or eLearning classes have been part of the educational landscape for quite a while, there are still some that have not fully embraced the delivery method. Michelle Pacansky-Brock has posted an interesting piece about what she describes as teaching without walls. She describes how faculty attitudes can be improved when it comes to online teaching. She writes, "Given the correlation between attitudes and behavior, we should be pondering the impact that skeptical faculty have on the future of high quality online learning.  Institutions should be making an effort to explore ways to improve faculty attitudes about online teaching and learning. To change a person's attitude, one must be engaged at both a cognitive and emotional level.  For example, if you wish to convince me that I need to exercise every day, you'll need to provide me with information, as well as engage me emotionally by making connections between this new behavior and the things that are important to me.  Just telling me to exercise because it is good for me will not be enough to sustain a change in my attitude." Read more here.

I encourage yo to take a look at Dr. Matt Reid's community college-related column. He writes, "Western Governors’ University is sending applicants who aren’t quite academically ready to enroll to StraighterLine to get themselves up to speed before coming back to WGU. I won’t speak to that arrangement specifically, because I don’t know the details well enough. But the concept strikes me as making all kinds of sense. It’s setting up a farm system, like minor league baseball. In a farm system, players who aren’t yet ready for the big leagues aren’t just turned away; they’re sent to the minors to develop and prove themselves. The ones who succeed at the minor league level eventually make it to the bigs." Once you have read the column, give him some feedback int he comment section.

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.