Faculty Focus

Practical Tips for Cultivating a Learning Relationship with Students

Author: John Orlando, PhD
Posted: March 27, 2015, 12:45 pm

Take a moment right now to ask yourself who your best teachers were growing up. Now list the qualities that made them your best teachers.

Looking at your list, you will probably notice something interesting. When I have faculty do this, they invariably list qualities such as “cared for my learning” or “cared for me as a person.” They do not list qualities such as “the most knowledgeable person in their field.” In other words, they list relationship qualities as the factors that make for a great teacher, not knowledge qualities.

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Teachers, Students and the Classroom Tango

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: March 25, 2015, 12:44 pm

"From the way students act at the beginning of a class we can tell a great deal about the profs who taught them previously." It's an insight offered by David Johnson and Roger Johnson, the well-known cooperative learning researchers and advocates.

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Coaching Strategies to Enhance Online Discussions

Author: Lolita Paff, PhD
Posted: March 23, 2015, 12:50 pm

I am not an athlete. I lack coordination and have some physical limitations. My husband, on the other hand, is an excellent skier. He isn’t a teacher but he believed I could learn to ski, convinced me to try, and partnered with me in the learning process, like the best teachers do. Learning to ski taught me 10 coaching strategies bridging four areas: establishing a safe space to learn, sharing responsibility, providing feedback, and empowering the learner. I apply these strategies to facilitating online discussions, but they relate to a range of learning contexts.

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The Best Post Wiki: A Tool for Promoting Collaborative Learning and Higher-Order Thinking

Author: Stacy E. Greathouse, PhD and Lisa H. Rosen, PhD
Posted: March 20, 2015, 12:50 pm

Pedagogy specialists including Armstrong & Hyslop-Margison (2006) support democratic collaborative activities as a positive predictor of student satisfaction. This transfers to online and hybrid (blended) courses. A sense of democratic community within an online course encourages engagement, which can promote higher-level thinking. This raises the question: How can instructors create successful collaborative learning communities online?

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Using Cumulative Exams to Help Students Revisit, Review, and Retain Course Content

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: March 18, 2015, 12:44 pm

The evidence that students retain content longer and can apply it better when exams and finals are cumulative is compelling. When I pointed to the evidence in a recent workshop, a faculty member responded, “But I can’t use cumulative exams. My students would revolt.” Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason we should be using them: they force regular, repeated encounters with the content. And it’s those multiple interactions with the material that move learning from memorization to understanding.

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Using Context to Deepen and Lengthen Learning

Author: Tyler J. Griffin, PhD
Posted: March 16, 2015, 12:43 pm

Nearly every teacher has experienced students forgetting something important. This forgetfulness comes in various forms. It might involve not following instructions for an assignment, missing a due date, forgetting important details on a test, or even forgetting to take the test itself. Whatever the memory infraction, there are usually good reasons why students forget. Gratefully, there are a few simple ways teachers can build context to help students achieve deeper and longer lasting learning.

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Using Facebook to Enrich the Online Classroom

Author: Danielle Geary, EdD
Posted: March 13, 2015, 12:47 pm

“Am I writing to myself?” That’s what I used to wonder when I first started teaching Spanish online a year ago. My learning management system, message boards, and group emails were impersonal and unresponsive—more like writing in my diary than sharing information with my students. I never knew for certain who read and understood my announcements or received an (electronic) handout or assignment directions. In the traditional, on-campus classroom, I’m a very interactive, hands-on kind of instructor, so I also went from knowing each and every one of my students by name and even a little bit about them to having nothing more than a roster with 115 names and majors. I just wasn’t satisfied, so I did something that others in the field had encouraged me not to do; I created a Facebook group for the class, and I’m not going back.

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Three Questions to Reframe the Online Learning Conversation

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: March 11, 2015, 12:48 pm

Is it time to change the online learning conversation? The debate about whether online courses are a good idea continues with most people still on one side or the other. Who’s right or wrong is overshadowed by what the flexibility and convenience of online education has offered institutions and students. Those features opened the door, and online learning has come inside and is making itself at home in most of our institutions. No doubt the debate over the value of online learning will continue, but perhaps it’s being judged by the wrong criteria.

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Moving from Multitasking to Mindfulness

Author: Kristin L. Roush, PhD
Posted: March 9, 2015, 12:55 pm

“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is master of himself if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”
William James, (1842 – 1910)
Psychologist, Philosopher

Looking out at our students in classrooms today, with their texting, Facebook updates, Instagram messages, e-mail checking, Google searches, and tweeting, it’s hard to imagine what was so distracting for college students more than 100 years ago when James made this statement. Yet, even then, he recognized the propensity of the mind to constantly seek novel material, to leap from thought to image to belief to fear to desire to judgment and back again — all following one’s own quirky train of thought resembling the chaotic movements of a swarm of bees around a hive. Time passes through a warped dimension when the student finally returns to some semblance of attention, unaware of all the cognitive detours taken between points A and B. And that’s just the internal process, prompted by nothing in particular. How much more distraction is invited by today’s mobile technology?

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Thoughts on Professionalism and Communication Skills When Content Reigns

Author: Kelly Grattan, PhD
Posted: March 6, 2015, 1:54 pm

Instructors, particularly in online schools and those with open admission policies, often work with students who struggle with a lack of communication skills (namely writing) and professionalism. This is particularly troublesome for business schools that want to graduate students who possess a certain level of these skills in order to best represent the school in their professional lives. Schools that solely operate in the virtual environment are already subject to more scrutiny than their bricks and mortar counterparts. Graduating students who lack critical skills perpetuates the stigma that is still associated with online schools.

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Different Types of Group Work: Clearing up the Confusion

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: March 4, 2015, 1:55 pm

The emergence of different kinds of group work is a welcome outgrowth of the move away from lectures. There’s still plenty of lecturing going on, but there’s less than there used to be. In its place are a variety of activities that more effectively engage students; one of the most common being the use of group work.

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Three Critical Conversations Started and Sustained by Flipped Learning

Author: Robert Talbert, PhD
Posted: March 2, 2015, 1:55 pm

The flipped learning model of instruction has begun to make the transition from an educational buzzword to a normative practice among many university instructors, and with good reason. Flipped learning provides many benefits for both faculty and students. However, instructors who use flipped learning soon find out that a significant amount of work is sometimes necessary to win students over to this way of conducting class. Even when the benefits of flipped learning are made clear to students, some of them will still resist. And to be fair, many instructors fail to listen to what students are really saying.

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The Power of Teachers’ Questions Lies in Their Ability to Generate Students’ Questions

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: February 27, 2015, 12:55 pm

I was looking at one of my old teaching and learning books, Kenneth Eble’s 1988 book The Craft of Teaching. Some parts are now a bit dated, but many are not. It was one of those books that greatly influenced how a lot of us thought about teaching and learning back then.

But I found something in the book that was even older. Eble includes a discussion of and several quotes from an 1879 book (actually the ninth edition) by Josiah Fitch titled The Art of Questioning. Eble writes that it’s a small book and was originally aimed at British Sunday school teachers. Here’s the quote that caught my attention.

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Use Team Charters to Improve Group Assignments

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: February 26, 2015, 1:57 pm

Many faculty now have students work in teams to complete course-long projects that are designed to accomplish multiple course objectives and that count for a significant part of the course grade. These groups do not always function well, which concerns faculty. If experiences in groups do not develop good teamwork skills, then maybe it’s better not to use groups and have students do assignments individually. Frequently that’s what they prefer anyway.

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Cohort Groups Can Present Special Challenges

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: February 25, 2015, 12:55 pm

Many of us have encountered cohort groups in our teaching, and by that I mean those groups of students that proceed together through a program, typically a professional one. They take all or most of their courses together, often in lock step. Cohort teaching happens to some degree in most courses. Students in a major at smaller institutions often end up taking many of their courses together. Sometimes there are cohort groups within a class, say a group of commuter students who went to the same high school, or students who live on campus in the same residence hall, or a group of adults taking a work-related course.

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Motivating Adult Online Learners

Author: Rob Kelly
Posted: February 24, 2015, 12:55 pm

When Sheri Litt became dean of arts and sciences at Florida State College’s Open Campus, one of her priorities was to address the issue of online learner satisfaction and success. “We started looking at the data,” Litt says. “We looked at students’ comments on surveys to find out what they were disappointed with in their online courses. And a lot of comments [said, in essence,] ‘I felt my instructor didn't care’ or ‘I felt my instructor would just log in once every six weeks’ or ‘It would take an entire semester for the instructor to grade an assignment, and [he or she] didn't really give me any feedback so I could develop my skills.’” Based on this qualitative approach, Litt and her colleagues developed a set of best practices that have improved student motivation, satisfaction, and success.

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Learner-Centered Pedagogy and the Fear of Losing Control

Author: Kenneth L. Parker, PhD
Posted: February 23, 2015, 12:55 pm

In the spring of 1991, I returned to teaching after more than five years as a Benedictine monk. The monastery had been founded in China in the 1920s, and when exiled after the Chinese Revolution, the community had relocated to the Mojave Desert in California. During my novitiate, I had taken up a private study of modern Chinese history, even though my research and academic formation at Cambridge University had been in early modern English puritan studies. When my community sent me to study theology at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, I also studied the history of missiology and continued to read about the modern emergence of Christianity in China. So when the history department of a small liberal arts college in Santa Barbara asked me to teach a non-Western course after I left monastic life, I suggested Modern Chinese History.

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Why Students Should Be Taking Notes

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: February 20, 2015, 12:55 pm

Students can be pretty demanding about wanting the teacher's PowerPoints, lecture notes, and other written forms of the content presented in class. And a lot of teachers are supplying those, in part trying to be responsive to students but also because many students now lack note-taking skills. If they can’t take good notes, why not help them succeed by supplying them with notes?

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Office Hours Redux

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: February 18, 2015, 1:00 pm

In the final post of 2014, I shared some comments about blog “conversations,” wondering what else we might do to take our exchanges to the next level. The comments made in response to a post are typically shared across a period of time. If you’re one of the first to comment, do you return later to read what other folks had to say? I’m doubtful that many us of have that sort of time.

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Office Hours Alternative Resonates with Students

Author: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Posted: February 17, 2015, 12:55 pm

Faculty regularly face the problem of getting the students most in need of help to come to the office for help. Not only do a small number of students take advantage of office hours, typically those who show up are not those who most need to be there. In previous issues we have reported on research that offers some reasons why this happens. When students start getting feedback that they are doing poorly, some begin to doubt their abilities. They conclude that they just don't have what it takes and so getting help isn't going to make any difference. Other times, it's the stress of having to face the professor with their failure. Some students are so lost, they don't even know what to ask, and their confidence is so shaken, they have trouble processing helpful information when it's delivered.

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