Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Many people learn from a young age that making mistakes feels terrible and can be embarrassing. That lesson often gets learned in school. But in her TED Talk, Kathryn Schulz says those terrible feelings come from realizing wrongness, not the feeling of actually being wrong. Because often, people are wrong for a while before they realize it, and in that intervening time, being wrong feels eerily like being right. In education there’s a lot of talk about valuable failure, the necessity of mistakes for learning and celebrating the learning that comes out of being wrong. And while teachers, parents and students may understand that concept in the abstract, in the moment, they still don’t want to be wrong. To protect ourselves from ever being wrong, we try to be perfect, but inevitably fail, making things worse. Schulz points out that nothing ever turns out as we expect, and that’s a core part of being human. Continue reading

Math proficiency is a subject of a lot of anxiety for college leaders, students and even national leaders. Employers and educators alike know that math skills are crucial to many of the science, technology and engineering jobs expected to be ever more important in the future, but students’ math comprehension continues to stagnate. In his TED Talk, mathematician Conrad Wolfram argues much of this angst is about how well students can compute by hand, not how well they understand math. He breaks math down into four steps: 1. Pose the right question about an issue; 2. Change that real world scenario into a math formulation; 3. Compute; and, 4. Take the math formulation and turn it back into a real world scenario to verify it. Continue reading

I recently sent you an update noting that I had added a student resource about avoiding procrastination on the Teaching and Learning Faculty Development Canvas site under Modules. Here is another short article you can share with your students about studying. The author, Dr. Christine Harrington, writes, "The strategy that most students use- and is unfortunately the least beneficial- is reviewing notes.  Think about it- reviewing your notes doesn’t take much effort or energy.  It’s a pretty low level cognitive task." Continue reading

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Shana Oliver has done an exceptional job of pulling together all of the best ideas that have emerged from the research about faculty and student engagement. The article provides a nice concise list of ten ways you can use to engage under-performing students. She writes, "What is the intended goal of the lesson? Remember, there is one essential question per lesson, and students must be able to answer this question by the end of the lesson. With essential questions, teachers really have to be intentional about what they want the students to be able to do, and it has to be at the highest-level of learning. The students have to be able to analyze and apply; they cannot just answer the question with a yes or no. It has to be an extended response. An essential question must be "multi-skill" in order for it to be a good one." To read the rest of the article, click here.

If Santa Monica College had relied solely on data analytics to predict whether Jaime J. would succeed, the picture would have looked bleak. He was, after all, a financially struggling, first-generation Hispanic student who was juggling a job with classes. His math skills were shaky. But there was more to the picture than that. Using a 30-minute online assessment that focuses on noncognitive skills, advisers at the two-year institution in Southern California learned that Jaime was also a conscientious student with good study habits who had long dreamed of becoming a computer engineer. The college assigned him a success coach (the college’s dean of counseling and retention), who met with Jaime weekly to keep him motivated. Continue reading.

When students talk about the grades we’ve “given” them, we are quick to point out that we don’t “give” grades, students “earn” them. And that’s correct. It’s what the student does that determines the grade. But that statement sort of implies that we don’t have much of a role in the process—that we’re simply executing what the grading policy prescribes. We shouldn’t let that response cloud our thinking. Who sets up the course grading policy? Who controls it? Who has the power to change it or to refuse to change it? It’s these policies that involve us up to our eyeballs. Continue reading.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Another semester is about to begin and the bears are coming out of hibernation. I could add to your stress level by asking "are you ready?" I would rather help you make a smooth transition by giving you some resources that can help. There are a number of what to do during the first class/week suggestions here. I have also posted the latest version of our Active Learning Manual on the Canvas BRCC Teaching and Learning Faculty Development page. I sent an invitation for you to join that group on yesterday. If you have not accepted yet, you might want to take a minute to do that. Here is another tip sheet with some specific strategies you can use. This link includes videos that may be helpful to you.

We had a nice turnout for the Faculty Development Kickoff on Wednesday morning. Thanks again to all of you that took the time to hear about the latest brain and learning research. Critical self-reflection, journaling, and participating in professional development workshop are three of the best things you can do to continue to grow as an instructor. The Teaching+Learning Center provided over 80 hours of professional development opportunities last academic year. Our job as instructors is hard but if we expect out students to put in the effort and succeed, it is vitally important that we continue to learn as well. The PowerPoint from the session on Wednesday is on the Canvas BRCC Teaching and Learning Faculty Development page as well. I will be sending out an invitation soon to invite you to continue the discussion about the "team-teaching" initiative proposed by the Faculty Learning Committees that met over the spring and summer semesters.

For those who did not attend, I want to repeat the challenge I made at the Kickoff session. Please reach out to at least one student this semester  and make them your priority. As instructors we are always concerned about all of our students but I am encouraging you to do something extra. Really commit to being an intrusive force for good in at least one student's life. Take the time to develop a deeper relationship with them. Be their advocate, coach, mentor, and source of irritation (if that is what is needed). If we all "adopt" one bear this semester, we will see a lot of those students return to us in the spring with a renewed sense of having been successful. Self-efficacy is a powerful motivator. Imagine what you can do!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The upcoming fall semester is shaping up to be something special now that we have new leadership in place. Dr. Dennis Michaelis joined us in late July and will serve as acting chancellor until the end of August when he becomes interim chancellor. Dr. Joann Linville will be interim vice chancellor for academic affairs beginning August 17. Both bring a wealth of experience, much of it at the community college level. Moving forward with the plans for Our Louisiana 2020 remains a priority for BRCC as we continue to realize the benefits of our recent merger. Things are looking up!

Speaking of the new semester, we will be offering a few opportunities to jump into faculty development before classes gets started. Please plan to join us on Wednesday, August 19 at 8:30 am in the Louisiana Building's boardroom. You will hear about the professional development opportunities for the semester provided by the Teaching+Learning Center as well as a session on your Canvas requirements provided by the eLearning Program. We will close with a session on an overview of the academic support available through the Academic Learning Center. The session will be a quick two hours with an opportunity for questions and answers. If you are a new faculty member and have not received an invitation to the New Faculty Orientation to be held on Monday, August 17 from 1:00-5:00 pm, please contact me now ( We will host a session on faculty development for all of our wonderful adjunct faculty on Monday, August 17 at 5:30 pm in the Louisiana Building's boardroom. This will be followed by a Canvas for Adjunct Faculty session at 6:30 pm in the same space. All eLearning faculty are required for a meeting on Wednesday, August 19 at 3:30 pm in the Teaching+Learning Center (311 Magnolia Bldg.). All of these events will be held on the Mid City Campus. Finally, if you are a veteran faculty who is looking to mentor the next generation of great instructors, please consider signing up to serve as a mentor for the 2015-16 academic year. You can do this by sending an email to me ( now. You will receive credit that can be used for college service. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder, eLearning Program Manager Susan Nealy, or Academic Learning Center Director Jeanne Stacy.

Over the summer session, we have implemented Canvas, our new learning management system (LMS). The smaller numbers proved beneficial as we were able to work out many of the kinks that could have caused serious disruption in what is typically our largest semester, namely fall. If you are looking to more fully understand how Canvas works with other software programs, you will want to attend eLearning Partner Integration Day on Wednesday, August 12. The day begins with check-in at 8:30 am while the programming begins at 9:00 am. Upon checking in, you will have a number of options as sessions will be running concurrently most of the day. The sessions set so far include ProctorU, Respondus lock down browser, TurnItIn, and Smartthinking. We will also have representatives from textbooks publishers Cengage, McGraw Hill, and Pearson. Each session will last between 30 and 45 minutes. Lunch is provided for the first 50 registrants. All sessions will be held in the Cypress Building on the Mid City Campus and the day concludes at 3:00 pm. You can register here. eLearning Program Manager Susan Nealy can answer your questions at 

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.