Those who write about teaching persona (the slice of our identities that constitutes the “public teaching self”) encourage us to start by reflecting on the messages we want to send to students. A dialogue with ourselves is a useful beginning, but for the last days of a semester another option might be more intriguing and revealing.
The end of a long academic year is probably the time when we are most open to the idea of a rejuvenating instructional experience. In a recent workshop, I heard two teachers describe just such an experience. They team-taught an introductory English lit course with content that explored veteran experiences. Before the workshop started, it was clear they were an unlikely team. She was the rather typical English prof, a tad disorganized, fussing with the technology, comfortably relaxed before the group. He was a former Marine, standing off to the side, trying to look relaxed but actually more at attention than at ease.
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Many college courses today incorporate some form of group assignment, such as a project, presentation, or a collaborative paper or report. However, instructors are frequently met with resistance from students who don’t like working in groups and don’t want their grade to be affected by peers who may not pull their weight. Nonetheless, research shows that there are many benefits to group work, in terms of both active learning and expanding teamwork skills. Other benefits include better communication skills, critical-thinking abilities, time management, problem-solving skills, cooperation, and reinforcement of knowledge (Forrest & Miller, 2003; Hammar Chiriac, 2014; Kilgo, Ezell, & Pascarella, 2015). Furthermore, since the use of work groups and teams in the workplace has increased, it is important for students to have prior experience in group work. Certainly, a collaborative attitude and the ability to work with others are important at most places of employment.
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How many explanations do you think you offer during a full week of teaching? Explanations are one of teaching’s most central activities and yet something we rarely think about, in general, or how we do them, specifically. Maybe we can remedy that by considering some features of clear explanations.
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What does it mean to be a wallflower? Such a person might be thought of as shy and might sit apart from others at a party or social gathering, choosing to listen and observe rather than participate. And in the online classroom, a wallflower might be the person who reads course information and discussion boards regularly, but never posts. So how do instructors know if this online wallflower is really engaged in the course?
It was always the same scenario. I’d be feeling a great sense of accomplishment because I had spent hours grading a set of English papers—painstakingly labeling errors and writing helpful comments. Everything was crystal clear, and the class could now move on to the next assignment. Except it wasn’t, and we couldn’t. A few students would inevitably find their way to my office, plunk their papers down on my desk, and ask me to explain the grade. Something had to change. I knew exactly why I was assigning the grades, but I obviously needed to find a more effective way of communicating these reasons to my students.
With the academic year nearly over and final exams upon us, it’s a good time to consider how we assess student knowledge in our courses. Cumulative finals are still used in many courses, but a significant number of faculty have backed away from them because they are so unpopular with students, who strongly voice their preferences for exams that include only questions on content covered in that unit or module.
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Every higher ed administrator knows that mental health services are becoming increasingly important on-campus. Fewer know that they are also important for students who study primarily or entirely online. This is the contention of Bonny Barr of Creighton University.
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Good teachers care about their students. We all know that, but sometimes over the course of a long semester, it’s easy to forget just how important it is to show our students we care about them. I was reminded of this importance by two recent studies, which I read and highlighted for the December issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter.
There’s a growing body of evidence that indicates the educational benefits of game-based learning. Although some courses are likely to be more conducive to a game-based approach, it’s helpful to consider how game elements might enhance the learning experience.
A little before the middle of each semester, I ask my students to fill out an anonymous one-minute paper to indicate what they would like to “stop, start, or continue” in my course. I like to think I am a good teacher, and good teaching, it is generally acknowledged these days, asks us to reflect on our teaching, scrutinize our teaching, and challenge our assumptions about teaching. We’re also encouraged to ask for and be responsive to student feedback.
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A lot of faculty worry that they do. Given the cheating epidemic in college courses, why wouldn’t students be even more inclined to cheat in an unmonitored exam situation? Add to that how tech-savvy most college students are. Many know their way around computers and software better than their professors. Several studies report that the belief that students cheat more on online tests is most strongly held by faculty who’ve never taught an online course. Those who have taught online are less likely to report discernible differences in cheating between online and face-to-face courses. But those are faculty perceptions, not hard, empirical evidence.
Early in the semester, I assigned my first-year students a blog post as a low-stakes “read and respond” writing assignment. Written by psychiatrist Samantha Boardman, the article “Stop This Habit Today!” focused on the habit of beginning and ending our days with technology. As you can probably tell from the title, Dr. Boardman is opposed to this habit, particularly when it interferes with things like sleep and real-world interaction.
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A quote from my June 3 blog post appeared in the October 18 issue of the New York Times. I was thrilled until I read the beautifully written op-ed piece. It proposes more lecture and less active learning. My quote was used to illustrate the perspective of those of us who favor active learning.
As college faculty, we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to talk. We want to cover the course content and thoroughly explain our assignments. We want to sound smart, share what we know, and communicate convincingly about the work of our disciplines. Our students assume we are experts, and we don’t want to disappoint them. All this amounts to teacher-centered pressure that confuses talking and teaching.
It’s no secret that technology continues to transform the way educators teach and the way students learn. Increasingly, students want to be able to learn on their own terms--that is, they want to be able to study whenever, wherever, and however they choose, and they expect institutions and faculty to be accommodating. We’ve likely all had students who for one misguided reason or another believed that their professors—particularly those teaching online—were available around the clock to answer questions, provide feedback, and generally just be there if needed. As unrealistic as this belief is, wouldn’t it be nice if instructors could approximate being available 24/7? Well, you can—sort of—through the power of podcasting.
As instructors, promoting learning is, or at least should be, our primary task. As an online instructor, I must enforce deadlines, respond to requests for accommodations, post announcements, provide guidance and clarity, assess student performance, provide feedback, and post grades. Instructors have a variety of duties inside and outside the classroom to meet the standards required by the university, yet our primary mission should remain ensuring that students are gaining new knowledge.
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Peer assessment in groups has been shown to effectively address a number of group process issues, but only if the peer assessment has a formative component. Many studies have shown that if peer assessment is used at the end of a group project, group members will punish their dysfunctional members—those who didn’t do work, didn’t turn work in on time, didn’t come to meetings, and didn’t do quality work—but they won’t confront those group members when they commit those dysfunctional behaviors. After-the-fact peer assessment gives the teacher input on who did and didn’t contribute in the group, but it doesn’t change what happened in that group or help students learn how to confront group member problems when they emerge.
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Today’s young adults are often criticized for turning to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram for real-time feedback, but new research from McGraw-Hill Education suggests that this behavior could be a significant asset when it comes to studying with the help of technology. According to “The Impact of Technology on College Student Study Habits,” the third report in an annual series conducted by McGraw-Hill Education and fielded by Hanover Research, 87% of college students report that having access to data analytics regarding their academic performance can have a positive impact on their learning experience. The finding suggests that students seek the same immediate feedback in the classroom as they do in social media and that this can be beneficial to learning.
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In some types of assignments, it’s the process that’s more important than the product. Journals and online discussion exchanges, even homework problems, are good examples. Students are thinking and learning as they work to sort through ideas, apply content, or figure out how to solve problems. So what the student needs to get credit for is not the product, but the process. And the way most faculty make that determination is by deciding whether the student has made a good faith effort.