Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Now that you have finished posting your grades, it is time to take a look at your student rating report. This can be accessed using your Canvas account. As I have said in the past, taking a look today and then putting it away for a week will help give you some perspective. The next time you take a look, really open yourself up to "hear" your student's perspective. The IDEA Center also has some sage advice ON THIS TOPIC in this paper.

Implementing active learning is a fantastic way to liven up discussions and encourage higher-level thinking. But what does active learning look like in practice? Shawn Orr, Manager of Faculty Training & Engagement at Cengage Learning, recently led a webinar on this very topic, in which she shared strategies she uses to get her students enthusiastically participating.  You can access the webinar here.

Do you consider yourself a risk taker? Some of us would like to try new things but assume that it may be overwhelming or not worth the effort. Karine Veldhoen has a blog post that encourages us to take the risk. She writes, "Pedagogy is the method or practice of teaching an academic subject or theoretical concept. We are pedagogues, yet we can always try new methods or practices and take risks. It will be out of our comfort zone and might even be scary. We won't feel like an expert, but it might be exhilarating, and who knows what our potential is? What new pedagogy can you risk? Project-based learning? A new technology? A different assessment method? Student-led conferences?" Read the entire post here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

If you are looking to spend some time this summer enhancing your teaching toolkit, the Teaching+Learning Center will be hosting a Faculty Learning Community (FLC). The topic will include strategies to strengthen students' self-awareness and learning skills. We will meet five times at a date and time to be determined by the FLC membership and will use Dr. Linda Nilson's book Creating Self-Regulated Learners (which will be provided by the Teaching+Learning Center). If you are interested in participating or need additional information, please send an email to

Dr. Randy Bass has written a thought provoking post about the intersection of what we know about teaching and the application of that knowledge to enhance learning. A growing appreciation for the porous boundaries between the classroom and life experience, along with the power of social learning, authentic audiences, and integrative contexts, has created not only promising changes in learning but also disruptive moments in teaching. Our understanding of learning has expanded at a rate that has far outpaced our conceptions of teaching. This tension between an expansion of learning and the limits of our structures is intrinsic to the learning paradigm. Read the entire post here.

Yoram Neumann and Edith Neumann tell us what we have learned about online education over the past few decades. In its infancy, online learning was viewed as a more accessible alternative for students unable to commit to the traditional higher education path. But in recent years online education has been gaining more acceptance. The most recent U.S. Department of Education data from fall 2014 indicate that 5.8 million students took at least one online course, with 2.85 million of them studying exclusively online. After thousands of online launches and millions of students, it is important to assess the advancement made in online learning as we look to further enhance online learning for future students. Read more here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Most of you are familiar with the active learning paradigm that encourages students to listen, write, read, discuss, and apply new knowledge so that it becomes part of their long-term memories. Dr. Rodger Bybee and his colleagues have come up with a similar pedagogy based on teaching in the sciences. It is called the 5E Learning Cycle and is based on the constructivist view of learning. The five E's are engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. Using this process allows the instructor to identify and challenge students' misconceptions and provide students time to explore, investigate, and reconstruct their knowledge. You can learn more about this process in the article Which Comes First-Language or Content? in the Science Teacher magazine (April/May 2016).

When teaching in a traditional classroom, we are often able to assess how our students learning best through observation, low-stakes feedback, or by using active learning methods. So how does that work in an online environment? Adrienne Erin has an interesting post about just that. "Different Learning Styles: How to balance your eLearning program" describes the way different learners might be motivated to learn. She notes, "Learners work alone, in groups or with instructors. Interactions with others are either synchronous or asynchronous. Because of its open-ended nature, eLearning has exceptional advantages. Learners can be located anywhere in the world, as long as an ISP is available." Read more here. To learn more about the dual coding theory, click here.

With the final exam period beginning on Monday, you may notice that your students are more tense and anxious. This is certainly understandable as they struggle to indicate to you what they have learned and how they can apply it. Dr. Maryellen Weimer has posted an informational piece about how you can help your students lower their anxiety and produce their best work. She writes, " Teachers can’t cure test anxiety. But they can offer remedies that students should be encouraged to try. Information about good study strategies should be included in every course. Sometimes that information is more persuasive if it comes from fellow classmates. Discussion of the study strategies used for the test ought to be part of the debrief session." Read more here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

When teachers tell me about some new strategy or approach they’ve implemented, I usually ask how they found out about it and almost always get the same response: “Oh, a colleague told me about it.” I continue to be amazed by the amount of pedagogical knowledge that is shared verbally (and electronically) between colleagues. And I’m equally impressed by the spirit of sharing. Even if it’s an idea I thought up myself, one I’ve spent time and energy developing that I could ostensibly copyright or patent, if you want to use it—go right ahead. It’s yours. There are no intellectual property rights on good teaching ideas, and that’s a beautiful part of our culture. So writes Dr. Maryellen Weimer in a new post about pedagogy sharing. You can read the entire post here.

Did you know that blended courses, that meet face-to-face and online throughout the week, have some of the highest completion rates and students report that they are very effective at helping them learn? Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti has an interesting post about blended courses and offers, "Think about what it takes to make a blended learning class successful. Of course, you need a faculty member who is able to teach the course, a robust set of learning objectives, a clear instructional design that integrates both the online and face-to-face aspects, and the instructional content required to successfully teach the course. But you also need support of librarians who can help students with varied types of assignments, academic advisors who can effectively counsel students into the right kind of blended course for their learning style, plus various student support services that can help students with variable campus attendance requirements navigate registration, book purchase, and payment. Indeed, the decision to offer a blended course or program can influence the entire university." Read more here.

Group assignments teach students far more than simply what they glean from the research they conduct and the project they complete. Astute students will also learn important lessons about communicating clearly, establishing plans and schedules, and collaborating in a proactive and positive manner. They may also hone their leadership skills along the way.Students taking online courses gain the additional benefit of learning to work with others in technology-mediated settings. To learn more about this topic, click here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Dr. Maryellen Weimer gives us some ideas for the last class of the semester. She writes, "First and last class sessions are the bookends that hold a course together.” I heard or read that somewhere—apologies to the source I can’t acknowledge. It’s a nice way to think about first and last class sessions. In general, teachers probably do better with the first class. There’s the excitement that comes with a new beginning. A colleague said it this way: “Nothing bad has happened yet.” Most of us work hard to make good first impressions. But by the time the last class rolls around, everyone is tired, everything is due, and the course sputters to an end amid an array of last-minute details. Here are a few ideas that might help us finish the semester with the same energy and focus we mustered for the first class." Continue reading here.

Before she was a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Angela Duckworth was a middle school math teacher. As a rookie teacher, she was surprised when she calculated grades. Some of her sharpest students weren't doing so well, while others who struggled through each lesson were getting A's. "The thing that was revelatory to me was not that effort matters—everybody knows that effort matters," Angela told Shankar. "What was revelatory to me was how much it matters." Read more about the power and problem of grit here.

At this time of the semester, our attention turns to finals, projects, and the inevitable student ratings. Dr. Stephen Burt, a professor of English at Harvard University, explains how he has come to see the value in this ritual. He writes, "O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as others see us!” Robert Burns wrote, in a poem with a thick Scottish accent. “It wad frae manie a blunder free us.”  That power lies in student evaluations. They have obvious flaws, and all college teachers know how they can be misused—but colleges, and instructors, do better with them than without them. They can free teachers from blunders as well as flatter our self-regard, they remind us that if we care what our students learn, we ought to care about what they think; anonymous evaluations are one of the few ways that we can try to find out. Read the entire post here.

Friday, April 8, 2016

David F. Feldon in his article Why Magic Bullets Don't Work (Change ) encourages us to "let our students in on the secret once we have figured out what content needs to be taught." He notes that students "sincerely appreciate knowing up front what they will be learning, what is expected of them, how they will be assessed, and how all of these elements fit together." Sharing this, he explains, prevents them from "extraneous effort."

Rediscovered this op-ed by Steven J. Bell in which he opines that many professors are perplexed by their students’ entitlement complex. To their way of thinking, say the faculty, students see themselves as customers who deserve being treated as “always right” no matter how wrong, rude, inconsiderate, or otherwise bizarre they behave. Bell suggest that "faculty members should try designing an actual experience for their students, modeled on the principles and qualities of iconic user experiences."

If you are open to trying some new techniques to ramp up student learning in your classes, take a look at this short post by Anthony Persico. The use of videos in his mathematics class has proven to him that active learning is enhanced by flipping. "My students’ final-exam pass rates nearly doubled from the previous year," he writes. Read the entire post here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

There are many reasons for incorporating real-life situations into instruction. Foremost are that applications of theoretical material in real-life situations make content easier to understand and that the relevance of content is demonstrated by real-life examples. If we are trying to connect content to real-life situations, our assessments must demonstrate face validity. That is, they have to model the situations in which the new knowledge and skills will be used. If we only test for knowledge the opportunity to demonstrate that learning is relevant is missed. The preceding comments are from Dr. Michael Theall's paper Related Course Material to Real Life Situations.

Adam and Jaye Fenderson have released their new documentary chronicling the lives of several first-generation college students. The makers of the film are a married couple who said that they found it difficult not to help the students they were covering. “We actually made a decision when we started thinking about the film that we were not going to intervene in the students’ lives,” Mr. Fenderson said. “It was very difficult to sit there and listen to them talk about what their counselor told them when we knew that it was wrong. It was difficult to even sit in some of the counselor meetings and hear the counselors be so brief and quick with these students and these students not get answers that they really needed.” An absence of college graduates in a family can  result not only in a lack of financial support — many economic studies have suggested that college graduates make more money over time than high school graduates — but also a shortage of knowledge about the college admissions process. In the film First Generation, one of the student’s mothers is depicted as having no idea how to pay for college, and not knowing whether the cost is required to be paid in full upfront. The students, themselves floundering through the process, make misinformed financial decisions that limit their college choices and may even stifle their academic potential.

One of our most valuable resources, Dr. Maryellen Weimer has a new post about quizzes and the many ways you can use them in your classes. She writes, "I’ve been rethinking my views on quizzing. I’m still not in favor of quizzes that rely on low-level questions where the right answer is a memorized detail or a quizzing strategy where the primary motivation is punitive, such as to force students to keep up with the reading. That kind of quizzing doesn’t motivate reading for the right reasons and it doesn’t promote deep, lasting learning. But I keep discovering innovative ways faculty are using quizzes, and these practices rest on different premises." Read the entire post.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Amy Blanding, Kealin McCabe, and Heather Smith, PhD take a humorous approach to a learner-center teaching method called the Worst Lecture Competition. They write, "effective oral skills, well-designed presentations, and quality feedback are attributes that employers typically want from graduates. However, these skills are often expected to exist without appropriate support and training. Recognizing that public speaking often induces fear, a more positive, out-of-the-box approach could ease students into developing presentation skills. Regardless of personal perceptions regarding their own lecture proficiencies, students possess life experiences that give them the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of other presentations; sometimes they just need a prompt to acknowledge the value of their own experience. In addition to cultivating their own skills, it’s also essential for students to work on peer feedback skills. With these goals in mind, we created the Worst Lecture Competition" Read the entire post here.

Would you like to add podcasts to your teaching toolkit?  Michael Godsey has a helpful article that explains how he did just that. He writes, "I recently discovered my students voluntarily reading a story together, all at the same time. And they were inspired by an unlikely medium—podcasts—which is obviously ironic, as many people like podcasts precisely because they don’t have the time or inclination to sit down and read. In fact, Serial has an explicit warning at the beginning of their transcripts: Serial is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. Of course, teenagers are infamous for enjoying exactly what they’re told not to do, but I was nevertheless surprised that while listening to an episode of Serial in class, their collective eyes fixed on the transcripts displayed on a screen at the front of the room. And I was startled—happily so—by their shouts when I was tardy in scrolling down." Read the entire article here.

Don't have time to check out a set of clickers from the Library? Still want to survey your students during class? You can use Google Forms instead. Dr. Michael J. LaGier writes, "As many educators are, I am interested in exploring methods that provide real-time, formative assessment in the classroom. Being a teacher of such courses as microbiology, microbial genomics, and immunology, which are dense in jargon and abstract concepts, I need to be able to quickly get a snapshot of how well my students are grasping important ideas or concepts. My students also need this information in order to assess their own learning. To this end, I started exploring the use of personal response systems, or clickers, as a method for rapid classroom assessment.Within Google Drive, I discovered an online survey tool called Google Forms. With Google Forms I am able to create surveys that my students can answer in real time, for free, using any device that is Wi-Fi compatible and has an Internet browser capable of running Google (smartphones, tablets, and laptops all work)." Learn how to do it here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Looking for a good active learning method to kick off the second part of your semester? Forced debate is a great way to focus on critical thinking, allow your students to practice their communication skills, and gauge where the class is in terms of learning. To get started, identify an issue about which there are two clearly defined and opposed positions, and let students know one class in advance that they will be required to select a side and defend it. On the discussion day, divide the room physically into two sides and ask the students to sit on one side or the other. You should leave space in the middle for undecided students who, however, have to move to one side or the other before the class has ended. In fact, any student who changes their mind can move during the class: from one side to the other, from one side to the center, and back again. You can, of course, begin forced debates with a writing exercise, asking students to write a one‐paragraph explanation of why they are sitting on a certain side. Opening a forced debate is the easiest question you’ll ask all year: “Why are you sitting on that side?” Ask a handful of students on one side to respond to that question; by the time they are finished, the students on the other side are frantic to refute the points they are hearing. The physical division of the classroom facilitates the discussion as well, since whenever someone moves, you can pause and ask them why; it also helps the students see that others are changing their minds as a result of the discussion, as they learn from their peers. It is recommended that you use this learning experience at least once a semester in every class you teach. You can find more learning experiences like this one in the Active Learning Manual which is available on the Canvas site under Teaching and Learning Faculty Development under the Modules file.

Dr. Paula Bigatel, an instructional designer and instructor at Penn State University’s World Campus, has some good information for those of us teaching in the online environment. She writes, "During the past year and a half, our faculty development unit has been gathering data from students about how engaged they felt in their online courses. We wanted to use this data to develop a variety of strategies for faculty to use to better engage their students. Research provides evidence for the connection between higher student engagement and persistence and retention in online programs. We gained valuable insights from students when we asked: Define what it means to you to be engaged in a course." Read the full article here.

When a low-income parent gets evicted, what happens? Matthew Desmond’s new book, Evicted, looks closely at what happens to a series of low-income people, mostly parents, in Milwaukee. It should be required reading for anyone who works at a community college or a public school in a low-income area. Desmond insinuated himself into the lives of dozens of people in the Milwaukee area at the onset of the Great Recession, and followed their lives closely for years. The book is written mostly as a series of character-driven vignettes, rather than as academic sociology, though he connects the dots in passing and at the end. Continue reading Matt Reed's post here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Over the last 25 years, traditional lectures have taken a beating often portrayed as bad pedagogy. While some of the criticism is warranted, there are ways you can take your lecture-based learning experience and infuse it with active learning methods that promote student success. That is what the upcoming faculty professional development session is all about on March 17. Come and hear about the latest research, like Linda Nilson's self-regulated learners approach, that you can use to deepen your students recall and learning. The session begins at 3:00 pm and will be held in the Teaching+Learning Center (311 Magnolia Building) at BRCC-Mid City. Register now.

Effort and habit are instrumental to learning and writing, but they are often dimly lit in our grading systems according to Dr. Gary Hafer. He says that light needs to brighten with the help of new research and popular literature that highlight how essential habit, effort, and perseverance are to learning. "I’ve used an effort-aware grading system in my teaching for some time now, a B-grading contract that locks hardworking students into a minimum final grade of B. For grades rising above B, the quality of the writing is the focus (the product), but only for students who fulfill the contract (the process). I’ve become a proponent of the “Contract for B,” first proposed by Peter Elbow, because I like how it encourages students to experiment with their college writing in new and novel ways. As experts in our own disciplines, we can write stipulations of the contract to identify how and what we see prolific writers do in our disciplines. Even habits such as writing daily and talking about their writing in specific ways are tasks that students can achieve no matter their writing proficiency. Moreover, it’s important for students to read in the syllabus that 'any student who works really, really hard can achieve these tasks because they are habits that define a process.'”Continue reading his article here.

Joshua Block's latest post on the Edutopia blog  reminds us to understand where our students have been before we help them to move forward. He writes, "At their best, schools and classrooms affirm the power of community and what it means to be human. Teaching is complex work, and the challenges make it all too easy for teachers to lose focus of a greater vision for students and for society. Celebrating the potential of young people and the power of democratic education also means acknowledging and understanding the different ways that our society falls short." Continue reading his post here.