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.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"We can more effectively shape learning outcomes if we start with objectives that force us to get specific about what we want students to know and be able to do. Most of us write objectives for the course approval processes and they appear on many of our syllabi, but are they front and center when we make assignment decisions? If not, we can come at this from the other direction. We can look at the products produced by the assignment to make some determinations about what and how students are learning. I can hear some being adamant that the better way to start is with objectives, and that may be right. I’d rather be adamant about all of us understanding the relationship between assignment design and the learning that results." That is just part of Dr. Maryellen Weimer's post about how the design of assignments affect student learning. Read more here.

Since we are migrating to Canvas as our new LMS, now is a great time to look at the design of your course material. Take a look at this free ebook. You will have to create an account first. There you will find a great explanation of what accessibility means in the e-learning setting. Course navigation is also discussed as well as the use of audio and video. Here is one of the tips from the ebook, "Make sure that every activity, object, and element in your course that conveys meaning is keyboard accessible. And just what does 'keyboard accessible' mean? It means you shouldn’t include any activities that require a mouse—such as drag-and-drop assessments and rollover effects. If visually impaired learners can’t use their keyboards to access content or an activity, they’ll miss it."

The excellent folks in our Academic Learning Center recently sent us some reminders about the services they offer for all of our students. As we enter the home stretch of the spring semester, it is a great time to make sure that your students are aware of all of the academic support available to them. For instance, Smarthinking is an online tutoring service that provides assistance 24/7. Our students can access it through their Blackboard account. If your students would rather work individually, the peer-tutor program in the ALC is the best option. The program was developed using the best research available and the ALC staff continue to update their strategies and intervention methods. If you are looking for more information on the ALC, visit the website or contact them at 216.8300.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The excitement is building for the College's transition to new LMS Canvas. Two members of the BRCC Implementation Team, eLearning Program Manager Susan Nealy and LMS Administrator Lenora White, are attending a two day train-the-trainer session now. In addition, we have developed our training plans to accommodate  you as we move for full integration beginning in the summer semester. You can register for various sessions now. The face-to-face sessions will be held on various dates and times (including evening sessions) in the Teaching+Learning Center (311 Magnolia Bldg.) on the Mid City Campus. We will also have sessions at the Acadian Campus (location TBD). Project Canvas: A Transition Primer is session 1 and will provide an overview of the tool and discussion of a course blueprint in a one hour format. Registrants are asked to bring a copy of their course syllabus. Project Canvas: The Basics is session 2 and will cover the various Canvas functions in a hands-on two hour format. Project Canvas: Superusers is session 3 (a three hour format) and will be targeted at the eLearning faculty (online and hybrid) and anyone else who wants to fully integrate this technology tool into their course. A self-paced option is also being offered by Canvas. Please check your email for an invitation to enroll in this course on Monday, March 30 (checking your junk folder is encouraged as the email may end up there). This optional training consists of six modules including a quiz at the conclusion of each module. Credit can be earned for completing this course with at least a 70% score on all six modules. Send questions or comments to any of the BRCC Implementation Team including Susan, Lenora, Chief Information Officer Ron Solomon, or Dean of Innovative Learning and Academic Support Todd Pourciau.

Are you finding it harder than ever to attract and keep your student's attention during class? Have you noticed that your students are more easily distracted than in the past? Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) may be the culprit. First introduced by Dr. Edward Hallowell as a very real but under-recognized neurological phenomenon, the core symptoms are distractability, inner frenzy, and impatience. ADT sufferers have trouble staying organized, setting priorities, managing time, and staying focused. We have continued to research the effects of ADT and have uncovered interventions that have produced positive results in the classroom. This topic was previously discussed in an Academic Minute podcast by McGill University's Julio Martinez-Trujillo post that highlighted the idea of switching in the brain (what many have described as multi-tasking). The research begins with the assumption that you cannot change something if you are unaware of its existence. In this case, many students are unaware that forcing their brain to switch very quickly between many tasks is actually "training" this behavior. Obviously this type of habit is not conducive to deep learning that is required for complex tasks in a college setting. Dr. Joe Kraus contends that we are creating and encouraging a culture of distraction mostly linked to the plethora of technology available to everyone. This phenomena illustrates that teaching is a complex process that requires its practitioners to continuously learn and practice and the Teaching+Learning Center is here to help on that front.

Dr. Naomi Eisenberger argues that the brain reacts to social pain much as we react to physical pain. She lists five social rewards and threats that are deeply important to the brain: autonomy, certainty, fairness, relatedness, and status. It explains why people receive feedback in a negative way because it is an attack on a person's status. This aligns with research by Dr. Barbara Gross Davis that grades are a sigh of approval or disapproval and can be taken very personally. She says, "If you devise clear guidelines from which to assess performance, you will find the grading process more efficient, and the essential function of grades–communicating the student's level of knowledge–will be easier. Further, if you grade carefully and consistently, you can reduce the number of students who complain and ask you to defend a grade."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rob Jenkins, who writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote a provocative article recently focusing on what he feels are the four properties powerful teachers need to have or develop. He begins the article noting that we are in a teaching renaissance period where a "renewed interest and commitment to the subject [has occurred] across academe. He writes, "As a faculty member for almost 30 years, I have been inspired and motivated by all of the online chatter. Those experiences have led me to conclude that, when we boil down all the metrics, we’re left with four qualities that all powerful teachers possess. I’m not just talking about adequate, effective, or even good teachers. I’m talking about the ones who most move us, who have made the most difference in our lives, and whom we most wish to emulate. Perhaps we can’t all be that kind of teacher, but I suspect many of us at least aspire to be. So what makes those teachers so great?" Read more here.

Casey Fabris posted a blog article focused on the prevalence of the use of videos in our classrooms. Fabris quotes a new study that found that 68 percent of students watch videos in class, and 79 percent watch them on their own time, outside of class, to assist in their learning. Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that students do not like videos with speakers who are monotonous, appear nervous, or do not make eye contact with the camera. Videos with animations, real-world examples, and new material were well received. The ideal length of a video ranged from five to 20 minutes. Most students, according to the study, go to YouTube to look for educational videos. They also use Google and frequent course websites. Very few students rely on the library for such materials, with only 32 percent of respondents saying they had searched for videos on their library’s website.

As you know, we will begin using the Canvas LMS during the summer term at the College. Several of you are participating in the eLearning faculty certification spring institute which is being delivered using Canvas. We will be offering several informational sessions about Canvas at our campuses and sites in the coming weeks. Those will be followed by more hands-on sessions designed to help you build your courses. You can start acclimating yourself with the new LMS in a few ways. The first is by using Canvas to build your course content. The second is to join Canvas Community 2.0 which is being offered as a sneak peek now. The Canvas Community is home to all the resources that Instructure provides to help Canvas users succeed (the Canvas Guides, Video Tutorials, Sample Courses, etc.) Users can find answers to questions about Canvas through these resources and from one another in the community forums.The Canvas Community 2.0 will also be a place where Canvas users can connect and interact with Instructure and with each other to discuss and share best practices, ideas for new Canvas features, and even coalesce into community groups of practice and interest including institutions, geographies, roles (e.g. teachers, instructional designers) and other common interests (e.g. all business schools, schools with unique needs).