Faculty Focus

When Should We Lecture?

There are purists among us who would say that we should never lecture, but I don’t think that’s terribly realistic, and I’m still not ready to totally rule out lectures. As faculty, we bring expertise to learners and having an expert around when you don’t know something can be very helpful. Do most teachers still talk too much? They do. Are lectures fraught with well-established impediments to learning? They are.

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Students Riding on Coattails during Group Work? Five Simple Ideas to Try

The idea for sharing this post came from a session I recently conducted at the annual teaching conference organized by my university. A pedagogical conundrum was raised by a colleague whose enthusiasm and question stayed with me and inspired me to write this post. The question posed by this colleague is relevant to all instructors who have ever used group work to assess their students: How should one deal with the issues that arise when members of a group are not picking up their share of the responsibilities during a group work project?

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Group Work Challenge: Assessing Team Members

Teachers who use group work frequently incorporate some sort of peer assessment activity as a means of encouraging productive interactions within the group. If part of the grade for the group work depends on an assessment by fellow group members, students tend to take their contributions to the group more seriously. Often teachers use some sort of point distribution system where a given number of points must be divided among members, and they cannot be distributed equally. The problem with these systems is that the feedback they provide lacks specificity. Students don’t know what they are doing that accounts for the score they’ve received, and this makes improvement less likely.

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Why Don’t We Teach the Telephone Book?

I don't get it! Every fall the new telephone book arrives, filled with lots of information and with loads of new numbers, so why don't we design a class that covers this material? Nowhere do we teach this information. Why don't we expect folks to study the telephone book and memorize the numbers? Grudgingly, I am forced to admit that no real justification for memorizing telephone numbers exists, as tempting as it might be for me to teach this course.

For one thing, there are just too many numbers. Back when there were only a dozen or so, it might have been possible to memorize them all—not that it would have served any existential purpose, but just as an exercise. Now there are way too many. My critics tell me the real problem is that the telephone book is pretty useful as a reference. It is well organized and easy to find a number when you need it. In fact, it turns out that most people have no interest in memorizing telephone numbers and only learn those they use regularly, although speed dial can remove even that reason. Basically, all that folks need to know is how to use a phone book.

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Diversifying the Role Course Content Plays

Peter Burkholder’s recently published piece in The History Teacher (highlighted in the October issue of The Teaching Professor) is another reminder of how much we need a different way of thinking about course content.

We all pretty much agree that we try to cover too much material in our courses, programs, and majors, but the thought of leaving things out often causes personal and profession anguish. We argue with ourselves that a certain piece of content is too important to cut, and our students need to know the information to pass certifying exams and to get jobs. Then there are departmental expectations. Most courses establish knowledge bases for subsequent courses. Our colleagues are depending on us. We further complicate matters by making course and instructor reputations a function of content quantity. A decrease in the amount covered means lower standards and a dilution of the intellectual currency of the course. Bottom line: We know we’ve got a problem, but these realities and our thinking have us backed into a corner.

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How Does Temperament Affect Online Student Success and Retention?

o certain personality traits increase students’ chances of success in the online learning environment? It’s an intriguing question that has not received much attention, an oversight that Ben Meredith, director of the Center for Distance Education at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, has sought to remedy.

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Articulating Learning Outcomes for Faculty Development Workshops

The use of student learning outcomes (SLOs) is commonplace at regionally accredited colleges and universities in the United States. I have been working with SLOs in one form or another for the past decade, even before they became fashionable. Many years ago, while I was an instructor in the US Navy, SLOs were called Terminal Objectives. After the service, I taught GED classes and at that time SLOs were referred to as Learning Goals. Regardless of the latest trendy technical name, SLOs are clear statements that describe the new skills students should be able to demonstrate as a result of a learning event such as a college course (Ewell, 2001). Whether teaching online, on-ground, or via a blended environment, the importance of defining the intended outcomes, before instruction takes place, cannot be overstated because SLOs identify fundamental and measurable student skills, help outline needed curricular content, and define appropriate assessment.

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Does Discussion Make a Difference?

Here’s the scenario: Students are taking a chemical thermodynamics course. The instructor solicits clicker responses to a conceptually based multiple-choice question. Students answer individually, write a brief explanation in support of their answer, and indicate how confident they are that their answer is correct. They are then encouraged to discuss their answers with two or three (self-selected) other students. After that discussion, they have the opportunity to change their answer if they wish, write another explanation for the answer, and once again indicate their degree of confidence in their answer. Do you think that discussion would make a difference—particularly, would it make a difference in their understanding of the concept?

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Strategies for Managing Online Discussions

In small online courses, instructors have the luxury of participating in frequent personal interactions with students in online discussions. But doing this with more than 15 students can be difficult. Fortunately, there are ways to maintain instructor presence and participation in online discussions without becoming overwhelmed. In an interview with Online Classroom, Heidi Ash, online program director for the Department of Health Studies at Texas Woman’s University, offered the following ways to address this issue:

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When to Use Whole Class Feedback

Whole class feedback … you know, when the teacher returns a set of papers or exams and talks to the entire class about its performance, or the debriefing part of an activity where the teacher comments on how students completed the task. I don’t believe I have ever seen anything written about this feedback mechanism, even though I think most of us use it pretty regularly. Is it a good way to provide feedback? Do students pay any attention to feedback delivered in this way? When is whole class feedback most effective? After an exam? During group projects? Is it better to provide the feedback verbally or post it online? Should students be involved in this discussion of how well the class did or didn’t do?

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Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome: Advice for New Faculty

Last week, an imposter took over my classroom. Come to find out, that imposter was me.

I started teaching three years ago. I was fresh out of graduate school, equally thrilled and terrified at the prospect of teaching my own classes. On paper it sounded straightforward: teach others the same material I just finished learning myself. I could do that, I told myself confidently. Then on the first day of class I met The Imposter.

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Six Principles for Measuring and Communicating the Value of Your Faculty Development Center

This is an era of rapid transformation and heightened opportunities for Faculty Development Centers (FDCs). There is a growing realization that faculty development can be a crucial component in addressing some of the most significant challenges facing higher education, including technology’s impact on teaching, reliance on part-time and distance faculty, and student success.

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10 Recommendations for Improving Group Work

Many faculty now have students do some graded work in groups. The task may be, for example, preparation of a paper or report, collection and analysis of data, a presentation supported with visuals, or creation of a website. Faculty make these assignments with high expectations. They want the groups to produce quality work—better than what the students could do individually—and they want the students to learn how to work productively with others. Sometimes those expectations are realized, but most of the time there is room for improvement—sometimes lots of it. To that end, below is a set of suggestions for improving group projects. A list in the article referenced below provided a starting place for these recommendations.

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Introduction to Key Concepts in Five Minutes or Less: The ‘Did You Know?’ Microlecture Series

The traditional, hour-long lecture that is so familiar to on-the-ground undergraduates has little place in an online learning environment. However, a shorter, more tightly focused microlecture can help engage learners and add a multimedia punch to a course. Cognitive science indicates that learners have a limited capacity for learning, both in terms of concentration time

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“She Didn’t Teach. We Had to Learn it Ourselves.”

Yesterday I got an email from a faculty member who had just received her spring semester student ratings (yes, in August, but that’s a topic for another post). She’d gotten one of those blistering student comments. “This teacher should not be paid. We had to teach ourselves in this course.” I remember another faculty member telling me about similar feedback, which was followed later with a comment about how the course “really made me think.”

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Strategies for Dealing with a Certified Jerk

Incivility and lack of collegiality are on the rise in institutions of higher education (Cipriano, 2011). This phenomenon can range from disputes and tension at one end of the spectrum to violence at the other. There are many departments that suffer from non-collegial, uncivil, and nasty encounters between faculty members, faculty members and professional staff, and faculty members and students.

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Building Community and Creating Relevance in the Online Classroom

Remember feeling nervous before starting your first day on the job? You may have experienced butterflies in your stomach, had questions about expectations, or concerns about learning the rules and finding information. Students feel the same way with a new professor, regardless if the class is face-to-face or online. With technology, you can reduce new-class jitters and get your students on track for success.

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Creating Connections between Disciplines: What Paintings Can Teach Students about Politics

The liberal arts environment demands that faculty show students connections between disciplines. As a political scientist, I often link course topics with economics, history, and sociology, but last summer I realized that I could make linkages with visual art. Because I was soon traveling to Washington, D.C. and New York City, I could take pictures of paintings at the National Gallery of Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art and then utilize them in my Introduction to World Politics classes.

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Those Magical and Mysterious Learning Moments

I’ve been reading some old issues of The Teaching Professor newsletter and ran across a lovely piece by William Reinsmith on learning moments. He’s writing about those times when students get it, when something turns the lights on and they glow with understanding. It may be a moment when they finally figure out how to do so something—a long elusive skill or a solution to a problem. Other times it’s a moment of insight, often a possibility or explanation that had never crossed their minds, or a set of ideas that come together and create a new perspective on a familiar issue.

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A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Raising, Communicating, and Enforcing Expectations in Online Courses

As an instructor new to the online environment, I carefully reviewed the syllabus and the requirements for the course discussions and assignments and incorporated the following ideas from Myers-Wylie, Mangieri & Hardy: a “what you need to know” document that includes policies about late work, formatting, source citations, grading and feedback, and the dangers of plagiarism; a separate “assignments at a glance” calendar that details due dates and submission instructions; a “frequently asked questions” thread in the discussion forum; detailed scoring rubrics for each assignment, and example assignments. As is typical in the online environment, my course was equipped with areas for announcements and discussions and a grade book with a place to post comments for individual students. I used all these formats to communicate with students about course requirements and provide detailed feedback.

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