Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Have you ever struggled with determining what student participation looks like and how to assign a grade for it? Carolyn Ives, Curriculum Planning and Development Coordinator at the Centre for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence at MacEwan University, has written an informative article that may clarify things for you. She writes, "So, then, how can instructors facilitate student engagement and helpful participation? There are a few strategies that can help such as the creation of a supportive classroom environment that is skillfully facilitated and discussion-based, the creation of clear expectations around student preparation and student roles in the classroom, and creating student buy-in. All of these strategies are helpful, but the most useful method I have found to evaluate student participation is the inclusion of formative assessment techniques in my classes. Formative assessment may take a variety of forms (such as practice quizzes, one-minute papers, clearest/muddiest point exercises, various kinds of group work in the class, etc.), but it provides students with opportunities to practice skills or test knowledge in a “safe” way.

The next faculty development workshop sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center occurs on Thursday, September 15 at 1:00 pm. Natalie Smith, writing center specialist, will present an interactive session focused on how you can help your students improve their writing even if you don't happen to teach an English course. She is also interested in hearing from you about other issues that may occur in your classes related to student success and writing impediments. There is still time to register by sending an email to Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder at  This event will be held in the T+LC (room 311 Magnolia Building).

Louisiana hasn’t made much progress in the past seven years in a national assessment of educational achievement, according to an article in the Shreveport Times. In its “Leaders and Laggards” report, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Louisiana as the second-worst laggard, at the bottom of all 50 states but ahead of the District of Columbia. Louisiana has grades of F in 5 of 11 categories. The most damning are Fs in academic achievement and academic achievement for low-income and minority students in its 2014 report. The state received a D for its efforts to improve overall academic achievement in 2007 and a B for its efforts to improve academic achievement for low-income and minority students. The academic scores are based on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a standardized exam administered across the nation on which Louisiana students traditionally perform poorly. The study used 2011 results.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The first Mid-Day Musings attracted a nice group and the conversation was rich and filled with great ideas. The question of the day was "What Should We Be Telling Our Students At Orientation?" The focus was on having consistency between what the students hear in the orientation sessions and what they are hearing, seeing and experiencing in their classes. Part of the conversation was about how we present ourselves as an institution. "It is important that we share the benefits of attending a community college as opposed to entering a 4-year school right out of high school. We need to compliment our students on making a good choice. Share the data that shows them that students who start here do very well when they transfer," said one participant. Most of the participants agreed that orientation would be very impactful if it was presented by our students. "Having student testimonials would be powerful. Having a student talk about the top ten insider tips of how to succeed at BRCC would be great as well," said another participant. We also spent some time talking about how we can attract more students who have spent some time working or raising a family and now want to return to college. "What they care about is very different from what a typical 18 year old cares about. Catering to this group of students could prove beneficial as I have found them to be very motivated and focused and their presence can help some of the younger students in the class," said another participant. We will gather again on September 24 at noon in the Bienvenue faculty dining room. Please plan to join us then and watch your email for the next topic.

Dr. Angi Thompson has written an interesting article on how you can encourage student participation in large classes. She writes, "If you’re interested in approaches that encourage students to participate in class and develop their public-speaking skills, as well as techniques that help you learn student names, then my “daily experts” strategy may be of use to you. What are daily experts? I list five or six students’ names on a PowerPoint slide at the beginning of my classes (which are typically 65-150 students). These individuals, assuming they are in class that day, then become my daily experts—the first ones I ask questions to or opinions of before opening discussion to the whole class. The approach provides for one-on-one dialogue in the midst of a larger class creating an environment that encourages interaction." She goes on to explain the benefits of using this active learning method for the students, faculty and the rest of the class.

Did you know that liberal arts is the single most popular major at community colleges in the United States? Take a look at Dr. Matt Reeds blog post about this fascinating fact. He notes, "I mention this because it’s almost entirely absent from national discussions of higher education. In the popular press, 'liberal arts' are assumed to be the exclusive province of the affluent, particularly at older small colleges that are full of people who use words like 'problematize.' (I attended one myself, so I know whereof I write.)  When higher ed policy types talk about liberal arts, they usually have in mind literature majors at places like Sarah Lawrence. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but it’s only a part of the picture." It is also the largest major at BRCC but some of that is because of things that Reed writes about in his blog. With the recent completion of "Concentration Week" it will be interesting to see if things have changed for us.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Many of us have more students in our classes this semester. That provides us with a great opportunity to try some different active learning methods that we might not have been able to use with smaller groups. One method, team-based learning (TBL), is a natural for larger classes because it breaks students down into small groups for learning. The key components for TBL include permanent teams, readiness assurance, application activities, and peer evaluation. The University of Texas faculty development center has a great video explaining the concepts although you need to remember that a large class for them is a lot bigger than us and usually starts at 150 students. TBL teachers report high levels of student attendance, preparation, participation and critical thinking. TBL students report being more motivated and enjoying class more, even when the subject is not in their major. Please visit the online resource library posted in the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Faculty Development community for more resources about active learning and managing large classes. You can also make suggestions to help your colleagues on the community discussion board. As always, let us know how the Teaching+Learning Center can help.

Based on suggestions from you, we are offering a new faculty development opportunity. It is called Mid-Day Musings and will meet on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at noon. We plan to gather in the faculty dining room of the Bienvenue Building, which allows you to grab lunch and bring it with you. The Monday before the gathering, we will send an email announcing the topic for the week. Again, we are looking to you for ideas so if you have something that you think will generate an inspiring discussion, please send it to Registration is now open. We hope to see you this coming Wednesday for the first Mid-Day Musings gathering.

The next faculty development workshop will be held on September 25 and the topic is Writing Across the Curriculum. Writing Specialist Natalie Smith, who directs the Academic Learning Center's student support services for writing, will deliver a powerful, informative workshop building on her teaser presentation at the Faculty Development Kickoff last month. She will cover a number of topics including how you can integrate writing into your classes and the different types of writing used in our courses. Since she is also an adjunct faculty member who teaches English, she will offer valuable insights about the BRCC student profile. Be one of the first to register for this workshop and look for more details as the date approaches.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If it is the beginning of the fall semester, then it is time for Beloit College to issue its annual "Mind Set" list to "remind professors and administrators that their experiences are very different from those of the students who are starting off in higher ed (at least those who are coming straight from high school)." One item on the list that really stood out for me is "During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center." That sounds like a great teachable moment. I am certainly going to try to create a learning experience around this event. If nothing else, I think it is a great conversation starter to enhance my engagement with them. Another that caught my eye is "Women have always been dribbling, and occasionally dunking, in the WNBA." As the father of three daughters, I have to admit this made me feel somewhat better about our society. Now let's take a look at the salary inequity between our WNBA and NBA stars. As I enter my thirty-third year in higher education, I have seen a lot of change as well. Remember when there wasn't even an IT person, much less an IT department? Do you remember how protective you were of the font balls for the IBM typewriters and how we could never seem to part with the last one just in case? I also remember sitting in the LSU Assembly Center (now known as the Pete Maravich Assembly Center or PMAC) trying to convince students to take one of my computer punch cards for biochemistry. Most of them didn't even know what biochemistry was and they did not see it as an elective option. No problem; they came around when everything else was full. While nostalgia is fun, I am glad that we have seen such great inventions as the personal computer, cell phone, and Wi-Fi. It has certainly made our lives easier as faculty and made it simpler for our students to get the information they need. What do you think?

Do you use games to teach in your courses or have you ever wanted to learn how? James Lang has written an interesting article about just that for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Lang tells us about Reacting to the Past, a teaching methodology pioneered by Mark Carnes at Barnard College in the 1990’s, and now spreading rapidly across higher education RTTP assigns students roles in historical-simulation games in order to encourage intensive reading of complex texts, help students develop core intellectual skills (writing, speaking, thinking), and motivate them to take a deep approach to their learning. Although these games were initially developed for history courses, they now span the disciplines, in fields as varied as political science and chemistry. Faculty members and students play simulation games at institutions of every type, from community colleges to research universities. To learn more visit the RTTP website for information about existing games and those in development.

Thank you to all of the faculty who participated in the Faculty Development Kickoff on August 21. I have tried to tailor that event to your specifications and always appreciate feedback on how we can better meet your needs. At your suggestion, we moved the event up a day from last year to give you more time to implement changes in your courses. I hope that you were able to add a few new tools to your teaching toolkit and I appreciate the enthusiasm and participation that many of you displayed that day. The Mentoring Program Kickoff will occur on Thursday, August 28 at 1:00 pm in the Teaching+Learning Center (T+LC). All mentors and mentees should have received an invitation for this meeting. On Friday at noon, we begin the first of two faculty learning communities planned for this semester. The How Learning Works FLC still has room for one or two more participants. Contact Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder ( or at 216.8228) to sign up. In addition, the first faculty development workshop of the semester takes place on Tuesday, September 2 at 1:00 pm in the T+LC (311 Magnolia). The topic is Designing Assessment That Measures Learning and will focus on testing, assessment, alignment, and more. Join the conversation by registering now.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Catharine F. Bishop, Michael I. Caston, and Cheryl A. King have a recently published article that is helpful in understanding the term learner-centered and how to create an environment conducive to learning. They wrote, "Learner-Centered Teaching (LCT)has been an effective approach for enhancing the learning experience for students in higher education. A LCT approach means subjecting multiple teaching actions (method, assignment, or assessment) to the test of a single question: Given the context of my students, course and classroom, will this teaching action optimize my students’ opportunity to learn?. To be specific, the classroom for a learner-centered environment is quite different from traditional classrooms. Students are required to take on new learning roles and responsibilities beyond taking notes, listening to teachers teach, and passing exams. It is an environment that allows students to take some real control over their educational experience and encourages them to make important choices about what and how they will learn." They go on to list a number of interventions and approaches that can move a classroom from a coverage-model to learner-centered. The article appears in the latest version of the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Access is free but you do have to register.

We all know that formative assessment tools are important to our ability to determine if learning is occurring during a lesson. We usually use it to determine if we are ready to move to a more advanced or new topic. Here are a few examples of formative assessment tools you can use in your classes everyday. Having your students write a brief summary of the learning experience (or reading if you gave them an assignment before class) is always a great way to measure learning but you can also get creative and ask them to write a poem using a set number of key terms or have them create it from the information they highlighted in the reading. This tells you immediately if they learned how to differentiate between what is important from all of the other material. They can also do this using a class journal, which is a great way for them to measure their growth throughout the semester. You can also ask them to write a quiz based on the new material, have them select one of the short-answer type questions and reply to it. This gives you some idea of what their expectations are related to assessment and the short answers will give you a good indication if learning occurred. You can ask them to create a public service announcement using the new information which requires them to not only understand the new material but to be able to apply it and explain it to others. They can also write a letter to someone explaining the new information or write to the author of the textbook outlining what they learned and what is still confusing. You could have them prepare to be a guest on a television show where they will be the expert on the new material. Ask them to prepare notes or pair them up and have one ask questions while the other answers them (having them alternate lets everyone play both parts). Finally, see if they can answer the question of what they learned by putting it into a Twitter format. Remind them that they are limited to 140 characters. This requires them to be focused and concise. If you have some favorite formative assessment tools, please share them with me and I will be sure to post them here.

Many of us struggle with having our students complete the assigned reading. Lola Aagaard, Timothy W. Conner II, and Ronald L. Skidmore provide us with a number of suggestions to make this task more likely to be completed in their new research article College Textbook Reading Assignments and Class Time Activity. They note, "Strategies reported to most likely prompt reading the textbook included in-class quizzes over text material, assigning graded study-guides to complete while reading; testing over material found in the textbook but not covered in class; and assigning shorter reading assignments. Preferences for use of class time varied by experience in college, but the majority of students preferred group discussion and application of material to real life rather than just lecture over the textbook content." The article can be found in the latest version of the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mark Phillips has written a really interesting article for Eutopia about myths associated with education. His inspiration was a book by Drs. David Berliner and Gene Glass titled 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education. The book focuses on the U.S. public education system, but many of the myths apply equally to our own college students. Phillips put the myth that teachers are the most important influence on a child’s education as his number one. He writes, "Of course teachers are extremely important. Good teachers make a significant difference in achievement. But research indicates that less than 30 percent of a student's academic success is attributable to schools and teachers. The most significant variable is socioeconomic status, followed by the neighborhood, the psychological quality of the home environment, and the support of physical health provided." I understand his argument to mean that teachers are very important but part of a larger system that can include many impediments that a student and teacher must overcome for teaching and learning to occur. I am familiar with Dr. Berliner's work and have seen him present a number of sessions at the annual American Educational Research Association. I am anxious to read the entire book. Let me know what you think of the list and the book.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article this weekend that proclaims that economic mobility is alive and well for Americans who pursue technical or practical training. That is a fact that we are well aware of at BRCC and hopefully we are continuing to make sure that our course content is relevant in preparing a workforce-ready graduate. Tamar Jacoby writes, "Americans have a host of postsecondary options other than a four-year degree—associate degrees, occupational certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships. Many economists are bullish about the prospects of what they call "middle-skilled" workers. In coming years, according to some, at least a third and perhaps closer to half of all U.S. jobs will require more than high school but less than four years of college—and most will involve some sort of technical or practical training." The future is indeed bright for BRCC and our sister schools of LCTCS.

How would you describe good teaching? Ben Johnson recently joined an online discussion about that topic. He remarked, "My experience is that good teachers care about students. Good teachers know the content and know how to explain it. Good teachers expect and demand high levels of performance of students. Good teachers are great performers and storytellers that rivet their students' attention. Great teachers engineer learning experiences that maneuver the students into the driver's seat and then the teachers get out of the way. Students learn best by personally experiencing learning that is physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. John Dewey had it right in 1935 when he espoused his theories on experiential learning. Today we call this constructivism" Many of the things he had to say echo what you will find in the pages of Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do, a book that we used as a common reader in the fall 2013 semester (and plan to use again this fall). So do you think the comments above describe you? Although I aspire to be what Johnson and Bain have described and challenge myself through critical self-reflection, I know it is a journey that we are all called as teachers to make.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The numerous students we are seeing at the orientation sessions this summer tells me we are going to have a very busy fall semester. We have been stressing to all of the incoming students that the key to success is preparation. While you have some time, why not sift through your class lists from the spring semester and identify some students who could benefit from the College Success Skills class we offer. An email from you could be just the inspiration they need to take better control of their academic career. As we continue to focus on student success strategies that work, I encourage you to try some intrusive advising.

Dr. Peter Riley Bahr has developed a new way to classify community colleges based on their use by students. As it is important for us to understand patterns like this to fully understand and prepare to meet the Grad Act benchmarks, I encourage you to read the full article that appeared in the Research in Higher Education journal (June 2013).  Bahr writes, "The implementation of performance accountability systems for community colleges is complicated by the multifaceted mission of these institutions. This mission often is divided into the three categories of workforce development, upward transfer to four-year institutions, and community education. In addition, it is not uncommon for a fourth category to be mentioned, though the specifics vary. Some argue that the fourth category is remediation, while others suggest that it is general education.”

Active learning is most commonly defined as several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning on learners. To enhance learning, teaching must encourage students to do more than just listen: they must read, write, discuss, and be engaged in solving problems. We are currently working on updating the Active Learning Manual but the current version is still available and we will forward a copy to you if you send us an email request ( A recent article in Faculty Focus extolled the virtues of the one-minute paper, an active learning standard. Problem-based learning is another good active learning technique that can be used by any discipline. The aforementioned article notes, "Case studies are a form of problem-based learning that encourage the student to think critically and apply “book knowledge” to everyday practice and problems that will occur in the workplace. A literature review reveals very little research on using case studies in fields other than health, law, and business. However, case studies could certainly be written for any field of study." You can also use video in your courses to promote active learning. Whether you are just getting started in the active learning realm or have moved far to the right of the continuum mid-point, there is always room for improvement. I have found that as I use some of the suggested active learning methods, new ideas begin to emerge. Sometimes the students themselves suggest new ideas.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mariale Hardiman and Glenn Whitman have written a really interesting piece about assessment and the learning brain. The article starts out by noting, "Research on the connection between motivation and learning has focused on two types of mindsets that students develop, based on the kind of experiences (including assessments) we present them with in school. Students tend to develop either performance-related goals or mastery goals (Ames & Archer). Performance-related goals are those linked to more traditional types of assessments. Students become motivated by the grades they achieve, their rankings compared to other students, and extrinsic rewards such as honor rolls or school awards. In contrast, students who develop mastery goals are motivated by the actual learning experiences. Their rewards arise from the challenges of acquiring and applying new knowledge and skills. While students may possess a combination of both types of goals, those motivated primarily by performance goals tend to lose motivation and confidence when faced with difficult academic challenges or when set back by failures. In contrast, students who are motivated by mastery goals are more likely to persevere in the face of such challenges. Difficult tasks or setbacks do not diminish their motivation or self-esteem (Pintrich; Grant & Dweck). Students with mastery goals mindsets are more likely to choose more difficult but rewarding ways to demonstrate learning."

Do you see pictures in your head as you are reading? Dr. Mark Sadoski has a solid article outlining the research he did on mental imagery. He notes, "The mental imagery that we experience while reading, either spontaneously or induced by instruction, is now known to have powerful effects on comprehension, memory, and appreciation for text. This may seem self-evident today, but it was not long ago that purely language-based theories of cognition and memory prevailed. If imagery was recognized at all, it was held to be incidental and of little importance." The article goes on to provide some relevant research that, while not comprehensive, is extremely thorough and the implications include a suggestion that we might want to use imagery in our assessment of learning.

The summer break (for some of us) is always a good time to upgrade your technology resources. Are you looking for an easy way to create a game or short video? You should check out ClassTools. Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Do you enjoy the Ted Talks as much as I do? Visit this website to discover how you can use the material in the presentations to help your students learn. Looking for videos that you can use in your face-to-face classes or perhaps to post on your Blackboard site as part of a flipped lesson? Take a look at what PBS has to offer.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I am very excited to be one of the select few that will be heading to New Jersey to participate in Ken Bain's last Best Teachers Summer Institute later this week. Judging by the pre-conference homework (Dr. Bain's version of flipping), this promises to be an exceptional learning event. I wanted to share just a small sliver of what we are working on before coming together as a group. Dr. Bain has asked us to do some critical self-reflection (one of my favorite topics) and to specifically look at how we construct our syllabi. He asks, "how can a colleague develop a sense of you as a scholar by examining the various features of your course?" I hope that you do what I did when I saw that question and that is, quickly pull up one of your syllabi and begin to deconstruct it to determine the answer to this brilliant question. If our syllabi are truly the guiding documents for our partnerships with our students, shouldn't they reflect our teaching philosophy, our passion for the subject matter, and what we think is most important for student learning? In the same way, the assessment instruments we indicate on our syllabi are also telling an interesting story. I hope to bring back much more of this type of faculty development from the conference and am sure that our programming for the 2014-15 academic year will be shaped by what happens this week.

Drs. S. Michael Putman, Karen Ford, and Susan Tancock have written an interesting article about enhancing critical thinking abilities using discussion boards in online classes. They write, "The asynchronous online discussion (AOD) is a communicative tool that has been observed to promote “a level of reflective interaction often lacking in a face-to-face, teacher-centered classroom.” Inherent within successful AODs is the use of meaningful discourse to facilitate critical engagement with the content that is the focus of the experience. Numerous studies have shown that effective AODS produce an increased level of cognitive thinking and knowledge construction within participants. Potential for these outcomes were maximized when learning objectives were linked to real-life experiences within moderately complex tasks. Participants in the AODs were more effectively able to understand the applicability of the content within the greater context of learning. Knowledge development increased as participants shared information regarding their beliefs and experiences. Critically engaging with and reflecting on content prior to sharing was theorized to account for differences." They encourage the use of "facilitative Prompts" to fully realize the effects of online discussion.

Boredom is one of the most common complaints among university students, with studies suggesting its link to poor grades, drop out, and behavioral problems according to an article by Drs. Steven J. Kass, Stephen J. Vodanovich, and Jasmine Y. Khosrav. They note that "Boredom proneness was found to be significantly and negatively related to course grade and measures of satisfaction." They conclude that "students need and desire the opportunity to use the variety of skills learned in class. Putting these skills into practice allows students to see the connection between what they learned and the context within which it is applied , thus increasing satisfaction and internal motivation which they may demonstrate through greater class attendance and engagement. Students may also benefit by allowing them to make their own decisions and develop individualized approaches (i.e., autonomy) to completing coursework. Consistent with many different theories on training and learning, students must be provided with in formative feedback to help direct efforts toward accomplishing their goals." Certainly another reason to look at experiential learning and the use of problem-based situations in our courses.

Monday, June 9, 2014

We are already in the second week of class for the summer term and the campus is alive with teaching and learning. We are also seeing a good number of students who will begin their academic careers in the fall and their excitement level is very contagious. For those teaching during the summer (and the rest of us on break), I want to encourage you to journal throughout the semester. Critical self-reflection is crucial to any attempt to improve your teaching and add to your toolkit. The academic support staff is hard at work in the Division of Innovative Learning and Academic Support and we stand ready to assist you with your teaching and learning needs. If you are looking for some summer reading, I want to recommend Ken Bain's classic What The Best College Teachers Do. Remember to keep calm and be engaged.

There was an interesting research study published in the April 30 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience about how the brain responds to fairness. Using MRI scanners, Dr. Ryuta Akoi's team found that when people are offered the sames choices, they report being happier and their bran scans showed increased activity in the area called ventromedial prefrontal cortex. So how would you apply these findings in your classroom? I immediately thought of the awkward situation when students ask for extra credit work. It was validating to see that the explanation I always use related to the fairness of extra credit work is a good choice. By explaining to your students that your strategy to treat everyone fairly and equally will actually work to your advantage and leaves the student feeling satisfied.

Reading a recent column by Dr. Neil Haave about teaching philosophies and how they are usually developed made me think about learning styles. Although there is not a consensus on the matter of learning styles, most educationalists agree that students do use different methods to learn. Dr. Haave pointed out that many of us also teach using the method that we find most useful to our own learning. So it begs the question, do you know your own learning style preference? Have you ever taken one of the many online tests to determine your bias? I encourage you to take that step, especially if you are asking your students to determine how they learn best (and you should be). Learning about learning (or metacognition) should be a learning outcome for everyone's class. Let me know what you discover about yourself.