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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Beginning another semester always draws our focus to the tools of teaching. Things like the syllabus, the text, our learning experiences, and the course learning objectives. Good learning outcomes are a helpful reminder for us and our students. I challenge students to use the daily learning objectives as a tool to measure their learning. Using Linda Nilson's suggestions in her book Creating Self-Regulated Learners (BRCC Library LB1060 .N55 2013) helps us to understand how we can facilitate life-long learning habits in our students. Inside Higher Ed has a good article today written by Cathy Davidson about learning outcomes and the path that a senior faculty members takes as she tries to understand (in her own words) "what we require, how we organize knowledge, how we facilitate learning and what we hope our students will gain from what they learn." It is a terrific starting point to help us decide what it is we will truly focus on during that precious class time (or synchronous instruction time in our elearning courses). As our students move through the material we teach, how will they themselves know when they have truly learned something? Ms. Davidson concludes the article with samples of what she has come to determine to be good learning objectives. One of her aspirational learning objectives is, "Form an appreciation of the importance of critical and creative thinking and problem-solving and use these to guide my future life and work." A good standard for all of us to use I think.

Monday, August 14, 2017

As we enter the last week of planning for our fall semester, I wanted to share just a few tips for the first day of class/semester. A great way to start a class and semester is having your students write a letter to their future selves. Have them list the things they want to learn and accomplish in your class. You should have them turn them in so that you can use the pre-feedback (is there a better word for that?) to shape your class throughout the semester. Be sure and return it to them at or near the end of the term so that they can reflect and use that experience for their next course (or life in general). Why not give the final exam on the first day? I have advocated in the past for this idea. It really provides a road map to guide your students throughout the term. It also identifies very clearly what they can expect to know by the end of the course. Give a low-stakes quiz on the course syllabus during which students can use their mobile devices to access a Canvas quiz. Alternatively, begin an interactive poll that involves students using their classroom response device after which they can see their results. Follow the poll with a classroom discussion before having students retake the poll to improve on their initial answer (Poll everywhere works well for this type of learning experience). Create an inclusive classroom that values all students, their perspectives, and contributions to the community of learners. There are several ways to create inclusive classrooms including using icebreakers, incorporating meaningful and worthy classroom policies, helping students contribute to the learning process, and using teaching strategies that engage students and motivate them to learn. Calling students by name helps to engage with them and shows them that they are important to the class. Establish a culture of feedback where you encourage students to share their classroom experiences. Explain that the feedback you give to students is as meaningful as the feedback they share with you about the course and that you will listen and consider all suggestions. Got more ideas? Please share them in the comments section or forward them to me and I will post there here. Have a great semester!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The beginning of a new semester is always an exciting time. Instructors are excited about new learning experiences they want to try. Students are excited about moving one step closer to graduating but many of them are anxious about what the semester will bring. I like to start the first class by sharing the journey ahead with my students. It puts them at ease, excites them about the possibilities, and motivates them to learn. It also takes care of the number one expectation of current students, "How is this going to be relevant to my life?" Another topic I spend some time on is the typical misconceptions new students have about college. Dr. Stephen Chew has a classic article about this very topic. He notes there are four things that students typically are misinformed about. He writes, "Students think that learning can happen a lot faster than it does. Take, for example, the way many students handle assigned readings. They think they can get what they need out of a chapter with one quick read through (electronic devices at the ready, snacks in hand, and ears flooded with music). Or, they don’t think it’s a problem to wait until the night before the exam and do all the assigned readings at once. 'Students must learn that there are no shortcuts to reading comprehension.' Teachers need to design activities that regularly require students to interact with course text materials." You can read the rest of his short and concise article here.

Monday, July 17, 2017

If an instructor delivers a lecture and no one learns anything, did teaching really take place? Is this one of your recurring nightmares? I know I spend a lot of time assessing the effectiveness of my teaching and this question really resonates with me. I just finished a good article by Alla Kushniryk and Kenneth J. Levine about multitasking (or switch-tasking as some of the literature describes it). It validates what others have discovered as well; basically that it is very difficult for anyone to listen well and write good notes that will allow them to learn. They write, "It was found that multitasking significantly decreased performances on both the listening and writing tasks. The experiment also uncovered that the degree of social presence did not affect students’ performances on the listening or writing tasks in the learning environment. The perceived degree of social presence was the same in the virtual- and live-presenter groups." The social presence portion of their findings is crucial information for our eLearning colleagues. Teaching in an online or hybrid environment presents its own challenges but this research notes that learning can be done well even when the mode of delivery isn't in the traditional face-to-face version. The scientists did add, "In the virtual-presenter condition, the participants of the study might consider the listening task as being secondary and the writing task as being the most important." Understanding how learners perform in different settings is crucial if we are to deepen our understanding of effective teaching. This study certainly helps but more should be done to discover what works best in 21st century learning environments.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

While we often talk about moving from lectures to more active learning methods, we sometimes forget an important component. Student feedback can be very useful when we are transitioning. That is why Dr. Grant Wiggins post about engaging lessons caught my attention. His results are from high schoolers but so many of the comments could be put to good use in our college classrooms as well. One student wrote, "I thought that making your own nation in politics was extremely interesting and fun. It was interesting because it gave us students the ability to design our perfect environment." How many different discussions can you see coming from this type of learning experience based on that response? In a time when students are becoming hyper-interested in the political system, assigning this type of learning experience could really allow students to develop critical thinking skills. Another student wrote, "For our AP French class we had to construct a resume and cover letter for a foreign French related career opportunity that we found. This is interesting as we learned a highly useful life skill that should’ve been taught in another class but also because we got to explore opportunities around the world." This illustrates the very critical need to make lessons as relevant as possible. It is one of the most repeated complaints that many students share about their classroom experience. How many times have you heard the question, "Why do we have to know this?" Luckily, active learning lends itself to these types of lessons. So as you begin thinking about increasing the amount of active learning you have in your classes, take a look at your student rating comments and use them to help shape your teaching.