Thursday, January 29, 2015

We do not see things as they are or hear things as they are said. Instead, we catch bits and pieces, work them over, and reassemble what registers on our senses. To use the metaphors that currently dominate discussion of learning, we process information and construct meaning, and apparently we do so in stages (Erickson, Peters, & Strommer, 2006). We store this information in our short-term memory, which has limited capacity (seven plus or minus two bits of information), and cannot be stored there for long. Which brings us to long-term memory. If the new information is meaningful, it can be transferred to long-term memory, which is like a filing system. So how do we make the new information meaningful so that it will connect to one of the long-term files in our student's brains? There is another factor that comes into play. Students, especially first-year students, use a surface processing approach to learning. Frequently they memorize and then purge once they use it. To discourage this, we need to remind our students why the information is important now and how they will need to use it in the future. The deeper learning that we want is a product of active learning: reading, writing, talking, thinking, and applying the new information.

Since I have received a few requests for dealing with larger classes, I wanted to share some new information I found. Of course you can take a look at my previous posts on the subject. Deb Wingert and Tom Molitor with the University of Minnesota feel that "the difficulties of involving students in large classes can be overcome." They suggest a few approaches including interactive lectures, cooperative learning groups, jigsaws, games, constructive controversies, and group tests in their article Actively Engaging Large Classes in the Sciences. Daniel J. Klionsky with the University of California-Davis offers some ideas of his own in the article Tips for using Questioning in Large Classes. He suggests "setting the tone seems to be critical. In a general sense, I find that students will accept almost any rules for how I run a class, as long as I make them clear at the outset and am consistent in their application. This includes how I want the class to interact with me as an instructor. I want the students to be an active part of the class, to be thinking while they are sitting there and not simply writing down every word I say. On the very first day I make it clear that I want them to ask questions and interact with me during lecture.

"Do You Know Who I Am? Creating a Culture of Engagement in Your Classes" is the title of the next professional development workshop to be held on Thursday, February 5 at 1:00 pm. We will discuss why engagement is important for student success. We will also be discussing what engagement looks like, the standard, pedagogies, and tools of engagement, and some of the methods you can use in your classes. This interactive workshop requires that you bring your questions and ideas so that we as a community of scholars can increase the overall level of student-faculty engagement. You can register now. The workshop is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center and will be held in 311 Magnolia Building (Mid City Campus). For more information, feel free to contact me (

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The first week of class is always filled with possibilities. Motivating students to create the life that they wish for begins during the initial class sessions, whether it be face-to-face or online. The aim during this time is to create that engaged relationship that will pay dividends throughout the semester. Dr. Mary Clement, who visited BRCC in the past and shared her best practices, suggests that we find out what type of high school experience our students had before we explain our expectations. Sharing the major differences between high school and college is vital for our first-time students. She notes, "How do we change this mindset going from high school into college? The number one way is to put your policy in writing in the syllabus. If the paper is due Monday, and the student is not in class that day, will the paper be accepted after Monday? Will it be accepted after Monday at all? If the answer is yes, until when and with what penalty?” Further, because there’s so much variation across different high schools in terms of homework, attendance requirements and making up for missed work, and grading practices, Clement recommends creating an interest inventory to give students during the first week of class. If it is anonymous, students may feel more comfortable answering the questions. You can find more suggestions here.

Are you looking to increase the amount of peer-review experiences in your courses but are afraid that some of your students may not be ready? Here is an interesting learning experience you can use that will provide good feedback to students, allow students to practice this skill, and alleviate some of the worry you may have. Dr. Trent Batson shares the following, "I used the following technique that worked well in my writing classes:  the writer and the peer reviewer both have a copy of the paper in print. They are both sitting at computers and communicating via chat or some other real-time tool. As the reviewer reads the paper, starting with the first paragraph, she types her immediate reactions and thoughts -- almost like a think-aloud protocol -- thereby providing a strong sense of what any reader might be wondering or reacting to as the reader goes through the paper. I found that using chat made the communication more neutral and helped the reviewing student "speak" (through typing) more freely and off-the-cuff.  The writer of the paper gets a strong lesson in reader-based writing and also gets good advice about where confusion arises or where good points are made. I didn't ask the reviewer to evaluate the paper, just provide that think-aloud response." Dr. Robert Danberg recommends the book Beat Not the Poor Desk by Marie Ponsot as a useful resource for this active learning technique.

As you look over the professional development opportunities listed on the spring 2015 calendar that we distributed at the kickoff event last Wednesday, please note that the first Faculty Learning Community (FLC) is set to begin on February 6 at noon. We still have a few slots open for the FLC which will be using the common reader Inspired College Teaching by Dr. Maryellen Weimer. The book has been praised by new teachers and those with lots of experience. Some of the topics to be covered include maintaining instructional vitality (the midcareer challenge), feedback for teachers that improves learning for students, and reflection for growth and change. If you would like to join the FLC, please send an email to

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The world is definitely flat, as Dr. Thomas Friedman so famously declared in his book of the same name a decade ago (can it be that 10 years have passed). The events in Paris that occurred last week demonstrated that in a tragic and vivid way. I hope that you join me in using this terrible occurrence as a teachable lesson with your students. Inserting the lesson into your class may be easier for some of us (history, political science, CSSK, art) than others (chemistry, math, welding, nursing) but there are ways to make it happen. If you decide to incorporate it into your class, maybe as part of the larger human rights project being led by Dr. Val Holliday in Philosophy, please share your experience with me so that I can post it here.

Are you having problems capturing and keeping your students attention in class? Mary Loyd, with the journal Prism, has written an interesting column about this issue. She writes, "Ask instructors to name their biggest challenge, and classroom distractions very likely would top most lists. Even experienced engineering educators must compete for students' attention against social media and texting. Classroom management has become so vexing that ASEE's 2014 annual conference devoted several sessions to the topic, including Shepard's panel presentation, I Did Not Anticipate This: Experiences From the Early Years. Research has documented an increase in disruptive behavior and cheating by students over the past 20 years. And it's not just among weaker students." Take a look at the rest of the post here.

Faculty Focus provides a great article at the right time addressing effective ways to structure discussions in the online environment. The good news is that you can use Dr. Maryellen Weimer's suggestions for your face-to-face classes as well. She writes, "The use of online discussion in both blended and fully online courses has made clear that those exchanges are more productive if they are structured, if there’s a protocol that guides the interaction. This kind of structure is more important in the online environment because those discussions are usually asynchronous and minus all the nonverbal cues that facilitate face-to-face exchanges. But I’m wondering if more structure might benefit our in-class discussions as well. Students struggle with academic discourse. They have conversations (or is it chats?) with each other, but not discussions like those we aspire to have in our courses. And although students understand there’s a difference between the two, they don’t always know exactly how they’re supposed to talk about academic content when discussing it with teachers and classmates. Would providing more structure provide that clarity and make the value of discussions more obvious to students?" Read more here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Welcome to the year 2015. I hope that you had an enjoyable holiday break. I spent part of mine reading Dean Man Walking by Sr. Helen Prejean and am looking forward to her visit to the Black Box Theatre at noon on January 16. The bi-annual faculty development workshop that kicks off each semester will be held on Wednesday, January 14 beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the Louisiana Building's boardroom. We will spend some time on purely pedagogical and assessment issues but you will also hear from the Academic Learning Center, as well as the eLearning and Innovative Learning programs. Looking forward to seeing you next Wednesday. I will be sharing the spring schedule of professional development opportunities with you on that day as well. Since they have proved to be so popular, we will again offer two faculty learning communities. One will use the classic What the Best College Teachers Do which we have used in three previous instances at BRCC. Check with your colleagues if you need to hear personal testimonials but I can tell you that the FLC format is a wonderful way to deeply explore teaching and learning and Dr. Ken Bain's book (which we will provide) is a great compass. In addition, I will offer a FLC using Inspired College Teaching: a Career-Long Resource for Professional Growth by Dr. Maryellen Weimer. This will be the first time I use this book but I also spent part of my break reading it and I have found it be very useful. You can sign up for either or both FLCs next Wednesday. Another new program that has proved popular is the Mid Day Musings held on the second and fourth Wednesdays at noon of each month. We meet in the faculty and staff lounge in the Bienvenue Building which makes it easy for you to grab lunch before joining the discussion. The topic for each session will be announced on the Monday preceding the gathering. If you have ideas for topics you would like to have discussed, feel free to send them to me (

Even though distance ed, online or eLearning classes have been part of the educational landscape for quite a while, there are still some that have not fully embraced the delivery method. Michelle Pacansky-Brock has posted an interesting piece about what she describes as teaching without walls. She describes how faculty attitudes can be improved when it comes to online teaching. She writes, "Given the correlation between attitudes and behavior, we should be pondering the impact that skeptical faculty have on the future of high quality online learning.  Institutions should be making an effort to explore ways to improve faculty attitudes about online teaching and learning. To change a person's attitude, one must be engaged at both a cognitive and emotional level.  For example, if you wish to convince me that I need to exercise every day, you'll need to provide me with information, as well as engage me emotionally by making connections between this new behavior and the things that are important to me.  Just telling me to exercise because it is good for me will not be enough to sustain a change in my attitude." Read more here.

I encourage yo to take a look at Dr. Matt Reid's community college-related column. He writes, "Western Governors’ University is sending applicants who aren’t quite academically ready to enroll to StraighterLine to get themselves up to speed before coming back to WGU. I won’t speak to that arrangement specifically, because I don’t know the details well enough. But the concept strikes me as making all kinds of sense. It’s setting up a farm system, like minor league baseball. In a farm system, players who aren’t yet ready for the big leagues aren’t just turned away; they’re sent to the minors to develop and prove themselves. The ones who succeed at the minor league level eventually make it to the bigs." Once you have read the column, give him some feedback int he comment section.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Here we are at the end of another semester in the week of final exams. For some of us, it is our very first semester teaching. For others it is something we feel we have always done. So what do we do at the end of the semester that will help us to improve our teaching and in turn increase our student's learning in the next semester. As Dr. Margaret Walsh pointed out in her terrific article from the past, "The ending of a course deserves greater attention than it typically receives. While we have thoroughly ritualized the start of a new semester often somewhere between weeks 11 and 14, what seemed like reasonable plans are regretfully sidelined and we launch into catch-up overdrive." She offers this suggestion among a number of other useful tips: On the last day of class, hand out a list of suggested readings from your own bookshelf, along with a brief commentary on why you’re recommending them. Dr. Maryellen Weimer also shares some of her wisdom about the end of the semester. She urges "everyone to write about the courses that have just ended. What do you think you will remember about them in five years? Are there students you will remember? Others you hope to forget? What were the best and worst moments in those courses? How did your relationship with each class begin, evolve and end? What was new, different and exciting about the content? Did you teach well? Did students learn well? If you could change one thing about your teaching and their learning next semester, what would it be?"

The breaks between our semesters are a perfect time for course redesign. I have already pulled my journal entries made throughout the semester (usually right after class had ended) that deal with this issue. I am using those notes to redesign my class in the hopes that the new approaches and learning experiences will create a more fertile learning environment for my students. I recently read an interesting article related to this topic. It focused more on gateway courses that have been shown to give students the most problems. The article suggests that peer instruction may be just the active learning method that turns the light on for our students in those gateway courses. The research has shown that peer instruction is a great teaching method to use in larger classes. The article is very well done and includes videos and lists the research on this topic. If you are beginning to work on your course redesign, you should take a look at the article. The information on how to get started with peer instruction is very useful. Also, feel free to reach out to me throughout the semester break if you are looking for advice or help in finding resources.

Dr. Michelle Miller, a professor of psychological sciences and co-director of the first-year learning program at Northern Arizona University, has a new book out about how to best use the online environment to improve learning. Her book Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology, published this fall by Harvard University Press is highly recommended by many educationalists including James Lang. He says, "If you teach with technology in any form, at any level, I recommend you put this book at the top of your tottering pile of required reading on higher education. It’s an outstanding book that provides a road map for truly effective online teaching." He goes on to say that what distinguishes her book from much of the research available on teaching with technology, and pushes it beyond arguments about improving access, is her emphasis on the ways in which online teaching tools can actually improve learning for all students—not just those who have no access to traditional face-to-face classrooms. Online courses—or an online component of a traditional class—offer a way to "give students repeated, challenging practice with the concepts we want them to know and the skills we want them to master," Miller said. "When I started out as a teacher, we cognitive psychologists already knew that things like frequent quizzing were incredibly beneficial to learning. I was excited to apply these findings, but when I got into a real classroom environment I found that it was overwhelmingly difficult and time consuming to actually do so. In many traditional courses you also can’t do things like offer repeated quiz attempts with different questions, or adapt the quiz to the topics that individual students are having the most trouble with."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Realizing that you have visual, aural, read-write and kinesthetic learners in each of your classes helps you to plan more effective learning experiences. Understanding that students self-identify themselves as usually fitting into two of these types and sometimes three or all four creates new opportunities for us. I have come to realize more and more that I tend to be a visual and kinesthetic learner. I like to see the situation in person and put myself in it before I begin to develop a solution or plan. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy reading (especially for pleasure) but love when someone can put things into motion for me to watch. Which brings me to a website I want to recommend to you. If you are looking to show your students how things work, take a look at the Animagraffs website. It's never to late to learn how to properly moonwalk!

Dr. Maryellen Weimer never fails to come up with a great post just when you need it most. Her latest comments concern the end of the semester. She notes, "For most of us, it’s that time of the semester when we are least likely to think positively about students. We’re tired, they’re tired, and there are still the proverbial miles to go. Some students have finally figured out they’re in trouble in the course, but none of their difficulties derive from anything they’ve done (or haven’t done), or so they think. Others remain lost in a thick fog that obscures even very fundamental course content. Passivity is the default mode for what feels like an increasingly large group. If there’s any lull in the action, they settle back, quickly finding their way to places of mental relaxation." Read more to find out how she turns this into a positive opportunity.

Emanuella Grinberg, Jamie Gumbrecht, and Thom Patterson, who write for, have a terrific story about community colleges. They write, "[Community colleges] provide technical programs for emerging careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that are comparable to -- if not better than -- some of their four-year counterparts, at a fraction of the cost. Often, they're the launchpad to baccalaureate programs for people without the time, money or academic skills to jump into a four-year program straight out of high school. And as part of the American Association of Community Colleges' 21st Century Initiative, they're updating their missions and nimbly shifting to serve the economy of the future. Here are some of the ways they're facing problems that weigh down all of higher education -- and succeeding." Click here to find out how they think community colleges are fixing higher education.

Monday, November 24, 2014

As many of you know, the eLearning program at BRCC was relaunched about two years ago. The new program guidelines called for quality and consistency based on a number of national benchmarks. Since the fastest growing part of most colleges is their online course offerings, we wanted to make sure that BRCC stood out by offering our students the best academic experience delivered in an electronic format. By moving to a approval system that certifies our courses and our instructors, we have been able to quickly build an eLearning presence approaching 80 classes. Many of you have participated in the eLearning institutes (the next opportunity will be offered in spring 2015) and have been certified to teach. We have undergirded that process with numerous professional development workshops offered through the Teaching+Learning Center. So we read with a lot of interest the recent column written by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti who offers us four factors in high-quality online classes as noted by Joseph McClary. He writes, "Distance learning is here to stay. Educational institutions should have a vision for what type of distance learning programs they will implement and the standards they will hold to. Institutions will master distance learning, or in some cases, distance learning trends and demands will master the school.” We are happy to say that you will find that all of the elements mentioned in this article are present in our eLearning program but we are not standing still and will continue to improve our processes.

Drs. Claire Wladis, Katherine Wladis, and Alyse C. Hachey have written a great research paper that allows us to understand why many of our students are doing so poorly in online classes versus their counterparts in the face-to-face offerings. While the authors acknowledge that there is much research about the disparity, their new focus allows us to determine some of the possible causes. Looking at student's reasons for enrolling in online classes produced some surprising results. They found that the student's reason for taking the course, either as an elective or required, had a lot to do with their performance and effort. They write, "This research suggests that online course retention rates can be improved by providing extra support targeted specifically to lower level courses which are typically taken as electives or to satisfy distributional requirements. Such support could include self-assessment and orientation tools which could be used to help students assess their perceptions and preparedness for the course. At the course level, E-advisors could provide an early mechanism for academic counseling, additional technical support staff could assist students with technical difficulties specific to the online environment, and peer tutors could assist students with the course content." You can read more by logging onto the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Faculty Development Community where you will find the paper (Advising for Online Course Retention) in the Online Resource Library in the Advising folder.

Motivation is a powerful learning tool. If we as teachers, seek to meet the needs of our students, then discovering their motivation is paramount. Cengage Learning recently conducted a survey looking for the motivation that drives non-traditional or adult students back to college. They were able to gather 2,600 responses from students who are 25 years or older. While there are many of the responses you would expect like retraining for a new job or finishing what they started in their teen years, some of the responses are surprising. Take a look at the top ten reasons and see if these resonate with your adult students the next time you are meeting with them about their schedule or another academic matter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Have you ever used the active method of collaborative learning in your classes? Did you know that research tells us that collaborative learning is a proven method to help deepen learning for your students? It can also help to make the new knowledge stick. If you are interested in discovering the benefits of collaborative learning, please plan to attend the professional development workshop on Thursday, November 20 at 1:00 pm. in 311 Magnolia Building. The presentation will provide an introduction to the active learning method along with the benefits and some real-life examples of how you can implement into your courses immediately. You can register here but if you find yourself free at 1:00 pm tomorrow, please join us in the Teaching+Learning Center.

A number of you have asked about the broad category of academic rigor and how to insure that your learning experiences have it. Terri Heick has written a short blog post that I think can help. She notes, "Rigor matters because it imposes cognitive load on students, forcing them to confront misconceptions, reconsider positions, separate the implicit from the explicit, and other critical thinking practices that distinguish shaky familiarity from true understanding." Heick also provides a quick rigor checklist and debunks five myths about the subject.

Earlier this week, I shared the Tech Tuesday Tip of the week. The topic concerned how to determine the difference between an inquiry and a search. Of course we all know how relevant this becomes when our students are relying on online resources more and more. In this article, Terri Heick notes, "The contrast between inquiry and search then, is a matter of pace, volume, and scale. Digital search is always-on and simple and frighteningly fast. The speed at which “results” are issued–and their sheer quantity–obscure the macro perspective real inquiry requires. Pouring over irrelevant book after irrelevant book isn’t perfect either. It can be a huge waste of time, and encourage students to latch on to the first bit of data that seems evenly remotely pertinent." I received a very interesting response from one of your colleagues about the article who was looking to find a few more practical tips. So I am throwing it out to you. Anyone want to share how they incorporate this distinction in their teaching?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Mid Day Musings held earlier today delivered some powerful messages about student persistence and our efforts at retention. Bettinger's article about student supports spurred discussions about community college's missions, the Louisiana Grad Act, proactive advising, and financial aid. Amy Cable, Director of Financial Aid, made a surprise visit to dispel some myths and provide us with some great information that we can use to help our students make the best decision about their academic progress. Moon's article about high-impact educational practices provided the background for a conversation about the benefits of supplemental instruction (SI) programs. Dr. Jo Dale Ales, Dean of the STEM Division, shared her experience with SI by using examples of the current program they are using for gateway courses (calculus, physics, and engineering). Drake's article on academic advising encouraged a discussion about first-class experiences, namely spending most of the time talking about study skills, test preparation, and what is required to complete the class (other than just coming to class). Several ideas were generated that could be turned into pilots at BRCC that may increase our retention rates.

One of the latest teaching methods trending now is the use of games in class. According to an article by Katie Lepi, gamification of just about anything has been tried by teachers around the globe. She also provides a list of ten colleges who are leading the way in this trend. For instance, the University of Texas at Brownsville has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for the efforts of one of its professors to use video games to teach physics. Associate professor Soumya Mohanty created and taught the school’s inaugural “Elementary Physics Through Video Games” course in the 2010-2011 school year. He said the increased level of reality in modern games has made them valuable teaching tools for physical principles. He used three Playstation 3 consoles and two plasma screens for the course.

But what deeply moved me, largely because I had foolishly believed that it couldn’t possibly be true, was this important truth: Professor Northcut wants to be at Richland and she is there on purpose. She is convinced that community colleges serve a vital purpose in aiding the best and brightest students who lack the resources to attend four-year schools right out of high school, or perhaps got sidetracked along the way. By her description, Richland exists explicitly to help those students find their way to universities and brighter futures. She is not at Richland because she never found a better job, or to collect a few extra paychecks before retirement. And she certainly does not see her students as the caricatures they often become in our higher-education debates -- representatives of broken systems; too unprepared to make it at a “real college.” Are you intrigued enough to read more? If you do, I promise this op-ed piece will make you feel good about what you do at BRCC. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dr. John Orlando offers some great advice on how to handle student excuses in a recent article he wrote for Faculty Focus. He writes, as new teachers very quickly learn, students will come up with all kinds of excuses for missing assignments and other work. Students will never say, “I missed the exam because I was out late last night—it was one dollar taps at the Silver Horse, you know how it goes.” As a result, teachers must have a policy for handling these situations, which invariably involves a decision on trust. The problem is that grandparents do die—it happens—but they don’t die as often as we are told and their deaths don’t always coincide with major deadlines in the syllabus. So how do we know when a grandparent really dies, or a roommate actually does get deathly ill in the middle of the night, and when we are being handed a line? Read more here.

As we continue our campus-wide discussion about improving our student persistence and completion rates, the idea of learning communities keep coming to the front. Looking at the research in that area can be very instructional and can point us to some interventions that have worked elsewhere. Learning communities may be established in many areas of study to effectively address the learning needs for a wide variety of students while providing both faculty and students with an academic structure that promotes collaboration. Learning communities also help to develop a strong sense of student identity as they traditionally have smaller enrollment numbers. Grouping students into cohorts should not only be done for students who initially declare majors, but also for students transferring in from other colleges. It may be useful for BRCC to look at the Tiger Bridge student's data moving forward as somewhat of a pilot of this concept. If you want to read more about this approach, go here.

The Best Teachers Faculty Learning Community has settled into their group study using Ken Bain's book What the Best College Teachers Do. Faculty learning communities, as defined by Dr. Milton Cox who runs a summer institute to train facilitators, is a group of trans-disciplinary faculty of 8-12 members engaging in an active, collaborative, semester-long program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent meetings and activities that provide learning, development, transdisciplinarity, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and community building. The Teaching+Learning Center has sponsored three previous FLC including a Best Teachers group during the fall 2013 semester. The current Best Teachers FLC members include Dr. Jo Dale Ales (STEM), Dr. Gabriel Aluko (Science), Dr. Amy Atchley (Speech), Mollye DeLoach (Speech), Gery Frie (Construction Management), Vinetta Frie (Liberal Arts), Lucas Gassen (English), Steven Keeton (English), and Dr. Todd Pourciau (DILAS). Look for information on new Faculty Learning Communities planned for the spring 2015 semster in the near future or contact Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder ( or 216.8228) for more information.