Tuesday, November 28, 2017

As we approach the end of another semester, we turn our attention to a final assessment. Something that will allow us to determine if our students learned and (maybe even more importantly) can they apply their learning and solve problems. Once again, Dr. Maryellen Weimer gives us a great article that illustrates insight into how and why students should study. She notes that " Students’ success as learners would advance if they had a larger repertoire of study strategies, if they could match study strategies with learning tasks, and if they constructively confronted how they studied with how they performed. Students need help on all three fronts, but courses are already packed with content. Most teachers have time to do little more than admonish students to study hard, avoid cramming and memorizing minutia, and abstain from any sort of cheating." She goes on to provide some recent research on the matter. Take a look at the entire article here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


We are regularly told that if we can just make our classes more exciting, our students would be motivated to learn. While I have found that to be true, I have also come to believe that using self-motivation and critical self-reflection is vital for any student to really become what I would call a super learner. This type of person wants to learn about new things because they understand that it enhances their quality of life. While they do want to get a great job (don't we all?) they know that hard work pays off and that learning for the sake of being a better informed person can be motivation enough. As I was going through my bookmark list, I found an article from 2013 that validates my observations. “Boring but Important: A Self-Transcendent Purpose for Learning Fosters Academic Self-Regulation”, is a paper that was published based on research by David S. Yeager, Marlone D. Henderson, Sidney D’Mello, David Paunesku, Gregory M. Walton, Brian J. Spitzer, and Angela Lee Duckworth. They write, “Many important learning tasks feel uninteresting and tedious to learners. This research proposed that promoting a pro-social, self-transcendent purpose could improve academic self-regulation on such tasks. Results showed that a self-transcendent purpose for learning increased the tendency to attempt to deeply learn from the tedious academic task.” Because their research was very extensive and actually included four studies, I strongly encourage you dive into the article here.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

We are rapidly approaching the part of the semester/term when our students seem to really begin to zone out. They are waiting for the Thanksgiving break or the end of the semester, or something. Now is a really good time to look at using active learning in your classes. Dr. Maryellen Weimer offers some great ideas in this article. One of the suggestions she offers is, "How often do you ask a question and when do you ask it? How often does depend on the teacher but there’s evidence from more than one study that a lot of us over estimate how often we ask questions. How often should you seek student contributions? More than you do? Do you ask after you’ve covered a chunk of content and are thinking about how much you still have to get through? Do you ask at the end of the period when a lot of students are hoping nobody says anything so they can get out a couple of minutes early?"

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Every now and then, someone posts a blog about their undergraduate experience. It is usually written by someone who is now an instructor in college. Sometimes the post is more about reminiscing rather than providing good ideas built on their experience.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Do you have students in your classes that never participate although you know from their work that they are bright and articulate? Maybe they are introverts? Karen Costa has written a terrific article about her college experience as an introvert. She provides some really good questions that we should be asking ourselves on this topic. She even suggests that maybe introverts are better built for elearning courses. She writes, "While critics will argue that extroversion is the ideal mode of existence and that as higher educators, we are therefore bound to press all students into a life of extroverted servitude, let us return to where we began, in the work of Susan Cain, whose 'quiet revolution' made the leap from a book to a movement. Cain has dedicated her life to remedying what she calls the 'grave mistake' of idealizing extroversion and argues that we must stop treating introversion as a 'second-class personality trait.' One of Cain’s model introverts, Rosa Parks, is a reminder that quiet can also be powerful. Isn’t it our job, after all, to help all of our students claim their power, even if that means letting go of our deeply held beliefs about primacy in learning modalities?" Read the entire article here.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sarah Jones, a doctoral student at Michigan State, reminds us in her insightful post that giving more low-stakes assessments has a multitude of benefits for our students. She writes that providing your student with low-stakes testing will "produce large improvements in student final exam scores, help narrow the grade gap between poorly prepped and highly prepped first year college student, and might even result in more positive course reviews." She cites research by Scott Freeman, David Haak, and Mary Pat Wenderoth (Published in the Life Sciences Education edition of The American Society of Cell Biology) who wrote "We found no evidence that points from active-learning exercises inflate grades or reduce the impact of exams on final grades. When we controlled for variation in student ability, failure rates were lower in a moderately structured course design and were dramatically lower in a highly structured course design. This result supports the hypothesis that active-learning exercises can make students more skilled learners and help bridge the gap between poorly prepared students and their better-prepared peers." Some may be worried that their already heavy workload will be further burdened by more assessment. But the use of Canvas can actually reduce the amount of grading you have to do if you set up the quiz or analysis using the LMS. You can also use peer review, a great active learning tool that enhances learning for all students.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

We have all heard of helicopter parents but have you heard about helicopter instructors? That is how Kristie McAllum describes instructors that she says "[have] replaced helicopter parents with helicopter professors. Through our constant availability to clarify criteria, explain instructions, provide micro-level feedback, and offer words of encouragement, we nourish millennials’ craving for continuous external affirmations of success and reduce their resilience in the face of challenges or failure.” I am not sure I totally agree with her argument but I do feel that we let our students off the hook when we assign reading and then lecture on everything they were supposed to read. It sends a clear message to our students that we will cover all of the material so why read the textbook. That is why I have encouraged all of us to ask questions at the beginning of class that allows the instructor to gauge the level of reading the students completed and the knowledge they retained from the reading. Dr. Maryellen Weimer offers the following suggestions as well. "Are there other benchmarks we could use to determine if we’re doing too much or too little? Could we look at individual policies and practices? Does extra credit coddle students? What about dropping the lowest score? What if teacher feedback is only provided on the final version of the term paper? Should we call on students who very obviously don’t want to participate? Or, must individual policies and practices be considered in light of course content and who’s enrolled in the course? Do students need more support when the content is especially challenging or requires sophisticated skills they have yet to develop? Does it matter whether the course is one taken by beginning students, majors, students fulfilling a general education requirement, first-generation students, or seniors in a capstone? Are there good reasons to do more for beginning students and less for seniors?" You can read the full article here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Anyone reading this blog knows that I am big proponent of active learning. You should also know that I believe that students have a lot to learn from their peers and I try to infuse my class with opportunities for them to review their peer's work. A recent article by Tiffany Potter, Letitia Englund, James Charbonneau, Mark Thompson MacLean, Jonathan Newell, and Ido Roll (University of British Columbia) entitled "ComPAIR: A New Online Tool Using Adaptive Comparative Judgement to Support Learning with Peer Feedback" provided me with a new appreciation for student interaction. One of the concerns of using peer review is that students, especially early in their college career, may not be able to properly evaluate someone else's work. What the folks from UBC found through their research is that using a comparison option alleviates some of that effect. Better yet, the process help students learn more deeply, improves their ability to assess their own work, and improves their capacity to provide feedback on the work of others in a collaborative learning environment. You can read the entire article here.

Monday, September 11, 2017

As we begin our 12 week classes today, I thought it would be good to revisit some of the strategies we can use to integrate active learning into all of our classes. The goal is to create self-guided learning. Not stressing about coverage allows us to teach our students how to learn and thus create critical thinkers for the future. Students may approach coursework from a fairly mechanistic stance: If the instructor gives me information, I will memorize it, and get a good grade. This approach to learning doesn’t lend itself well to an active classroom, which requires students to wrestle with difficult ideas in order to lead to deeper conceptual learning. The good news is that most of your students are looking for cues from you on what you expect so they are malleable to your ideas. First, you might want to reflect on your own ideas about learning? Your own implicit ideas can have a big impact on how you teach (Good, Rattan and Dweck, 2012). Do you implicitly have performance goals for your students – and yourself -- and a "fixed" rather than a "growth" mindset about intelligence? Think about the messages that you send students. Do you show your students that you want to be questioned during class, that you own up to your own errors, and that you also can learn from them? Do you praise students for their effort or their grades? Consider intentionally framing your classroom for learning mastery. You can emphasize that learning takes effort and that anyone can improve if they work hard (Dweck 2010; Good, Rattan and Dweck 2012; Anderman and Dawson, 2010). You can create opportunities for students to reflect on the process of their own learning so they become more self-directed learners (Elby 2001; Redish and Hammer, 2009; Bransford, Brown and Cocking, 2000). Helping students reflect on their own learning, or “think about thinking” is termed “metacognition,” a learned skill that is unfortunately not directly addressed in many college courses. Spending a few minutes in each session about metacognition can pay off in big dividends when it comes to self-guided learning.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Being an effective teacher is really hard work. When we really dig deep to help students discover how to learn, the work is long but the results are sensational. There is new research that tells us that studying smarter rather than longer or harder is much more effective. Students who excel at both classroom and standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT aren’t necessarily those who study longest. Instead, they study smart—planning ahead, quizzing themselves on the material and actively seeking out help when they don’t understand it. Researchers call them activist learner (which sounds a lot like active learners right?). That activist approach reflects what researchers call self-regulated learning: the capacity to track how well you’re doing in your classes and hold yourself accountable for reaching goals. So if you aren't doing it already, add another tool to your teaching toolkit and share this information with your students. If you want to read more, here is the entire article.