Large group training workshops to facilitate online course design can be a mechanistic experience and a nightmare to schedule given perpetually busy faculty with overloaded calendars. Equally ineffective static, “self-serve” online materials only go so far and can leave faculty disengaged or confused (Riegle 1987; Howland and Wedmen 2004). Personal support services modeled on the hotel concierge are used successfully in health care and private industry and, to a lesser extent, in higher education (Michelau and Lane 2010). They hold promise as an approach for supporting online course development.
“What has held me, and what I think hold many who teach basic writing, are the hidden veins of possibility running through students who don’t know—and who strongly doubt—that this is what they were born for, but who may find it out to their own amazement, students who, grim with self-deprecation and prophecies of their own failure . . .can be lured into sticking it out to some moment of breakthrough, when they discover that they have ideas that are valuable, even original, and express those ideas on paper. What fascinates me and gives hope in time of slashed budgets and enlarging class size, and national depression is the possibility that many of these [students] may be gaining the kind of critical perspective on their lives and skill to bear witness that they have never before had.”
Faculty know that holding student writing conferences will overwhelm them, or at least that is what they’ve heard from colleagues. They’ve even heard such advice from those who never conference with students to provide individualized attention and feedback on their writing.
Perhaps the most disheartening is that conferencing faculty need to take on new and enervating roles as scheduler, negotiator, and time manager. And yes, reader—let’s not forget all those papers conferencing professors “have to read” before students arrive at their office doors!
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When it comes to connecting with students, good relationships and good rapport go hand in hand. The desired rapport develops when faculty are friendly, approachable, respectful, and caring toward students. And how do students respond to professors who’ve established good rapport? They “like” those professors, and that’s the point at which some of us experience a bit of nervous twitching. If students like us, does that mean they learn more? Does education hinge on the popularity of the professor? The ethical ground feels stronger if what students learn and take from their educational experiences results from actions that support learning. And that circles us right back to rapport and the powerful role it plays in determining how students respond to the content in our courses, their daily attendance, and the study time they devote to what we’re teaching. Student commitment to a course increases if rapport with the instructor is good. So, be nice, chat with students, and show that you love teaching.
New Approaches, Instruments and Emphases
Eddy, S. L., Converse, M., and Wenderoth, M. P., (2015). PORTAAL: A classroom observation tool assessing evidence-base teaching practice for active learning in large science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes. Cell Biology Education, 14 (Summer), 1-16.
Identifies best practices in active learning and designs an observational tool that can be used to document the extent to which instructors incorporate these practices in their classrooms.
Hoon, A., Oliver, E., Szpakowska, K., and Newton, P., (2015). Use of the Stop, Start, Continue method is associated with the production of constructive qualitative feedback by students in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40 (5), 755-767.
A simple feedback mechanism improved the quality of student provided feedback.
Smith, M. K., Jones, F. H. M., Gilbert. S. L., and Weiman, C. E. (2013). The classroom observation protocol for undergraduate STEM (COPUS): A new instrument to characterize university STEM classroom practices. Cell Biology Education, 12, (Winter), 618-625.
Focuses on what students are doing and what the instructor is doing at 2 minute intervals during a class. Does not offer judgments but identifies behaviors. At 1.5 hours of training, observations are reliable. Can be used in individual faculty, departments and/or institutions.
Mistake # 1 – Let content dictate instructional decision making.
Marshall Gregory, an English professor at Butler University, has written a fine essay that explores the role of content in learning. In the excerpt below, he discusses why we have students learn certain content. Some discussion questions follow, which I hope will encourage you to think more about Gregory’s point and more importantly about the extent to which content influences your instructional decision-making.
“In my view, the curriculum is a means to an end, not an end in itself, which means that there is no intrinsic reason whatever that says that my students must appreciate the art, ideas, or historical position of Gray’s “Elegy” [“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray]. Once students leave my course, it is a fair bet that not a single one of them will ever again have to read or even hear a reference to eighteenth-century British poetry in their whole lives. Should I conclude that those who do not learn to love this poem, or that the unwashed crowds in other courses who will never read it at all, are somehow uneducated slobs? To think that there is some intrinsic value in learning about the “Elegy” would be to treat the curriculum as an end, not a means.
“If maximum coverage is the end of education, then there are no educated persons, because even the most deeply educated among us merely scratch at the surface of all there is to know.
“My point is that teachers who love specific kinds of content often misrepresent the kind of usefulness that content will have for most of their students. Mostly, students do not get educated because they study our beloved content. They get educated because they learn how to study our beloved content, and they carry the how of that learning with them in the world as cognitive and intellectual skills that stick long after the content is forgotten. In short, the curriculum is not an end in itself.”
Reference: Gregory, M. (2005). Turning water into wine: Giving remote texts full flavor for the audience of Friends. College Teaching, 53 (3), 95-98.
- Do you agree with Gregory, or does the veracity of his point depend on the content? Why or why not?
- How much content is enough in a survey course for nonmajors? In an introductory course for majors? In a senior seminar?
- At what point do we need to challenge the assumption that more is always better when it comes to course content?
- What would you see as the difference between covering content and using it? Is that distinction the same thing Gregory is talking about when he proposed content should be the means not the end?
- If your students took last semester’s final three weeks into the new semester, how well would they score? To what degree would these scores be a function of how they studied? To what degree would they be a function of the instructional methods you used to teach them?
When I confront “problems of practice” in my teaching, I like to turn to my smart friends for advice. About a year ago, I was really confounded by my students’ trouble with reading for deep understanding. While I could see that the students were completing assigned readings, they weren’t always able to process the information deeply to analyze the concepts or apply the content to new situations. Since I don’t have much experience teaching reading, I turned to my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Shettel. Jen is a literacy professor and has run several tremendously successful close-reading workshops in our area. I figured she could give some advice. Our conversations prompted some pedagogical experimentation with different literacy-based strategies which Jen and I will be sharing in a preconference workshop at The Teaching Professor Conference this June.
Any course in ethics demands a high degree of student engagement and discussion as students wrestle with ethical dilemmas presented in case studies and real-life situations. Without discussion, an ethics class becomes a lecture on ethical systems and viewpoints from which students must infer their own positions from values that might not align with their moral outlook.
The past several decades have seen an interest in learning surge. It’s always been part of our educational endeavors, but the recent focus on it has been intense—that is, for teachers. Our interest is not shared by most of our students. They are still pretty much all about grades, preferably those acquired easily. They will work for points, but not very enthusiastically, if at all, without them.
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When hot moments ignite in the classroom, it is important to engage thoughtfully and purposively in strategies that maintain a supportive communication climate. Managing hot moments is a complex endeavor, and it is our responsibility to maintain a climate that is conducive to learning by not adding fuel to the fire.
How to intervene when someone makes a blatantly inappropriate remark (Adapted from Obear, 2010):
Ask clarifying questions to help you understand intentions.
- “I want to make sure I heard you correctly. Did you say…”
- If they disagree with your paraphrase, you could end the conversation. If you suspect they are trying to “cover their tracks,” you may consider making a statement about the initial comment.
- “I’m glad to hear I misunderstood you, because, as you know, such comments can be…”
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