Faculty Focus

How to Add the Human Element to Online Learning

The online classroom can sometimes feel like a lonely place due to a lack of presence of the instructor and other students. This lack of presence can negatively affect learning and lead to student attrition. Fortunately, some relatively simple measures

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Things I Wish My Department Chair Would Say about Teaching

I’m imagining that this department head works at an institution where budgets are tight, everyone works hard at recruitment and retention, and teaching is an important part of the institution’s mission. The wishes aren’t in any particular order.

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Babson Study: Distance Education Enrollment Growth Continues

The 2015 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), Pearson, WCET, StudyPortals, and Tyton Partners, reveals the number of higher education students taking at least one distance education course in 2015 is up 3.9% over the previous year. Growth, however, was uneven; private non-profit institutions grew by 11.3% while private for-profit institutions saw their distance enrollments decline by 2.8%. These and other findings were published today in a report titled, “Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States.”

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Class Discussion: From Blank Stares to True Engagement

Thirty years of research in the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education have demonstrated that when students are engaged in the classroom, they learn more (Pascarella and Terezini 1991, 2005). Classroom discussion is likely the most commonly used strategy for actively engaging students. Whether it is a seminar course centered on discussion or a lecture punctuated by moments of interaction with students, discussion is likely second only to lecture as the most frequently used pedagogical strategy.

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Understanding Project-Based Learning in the Online Classroom

In his wonderful TED talk, Dan Meyer describes how he began one of his math classes by showing students a video of a hose slowly filling a bucket with water. After a while of watching the video, one of the

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Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?

Some thoughts about change—not so much what to change, as the process of change, offered in light of its slow occurrence.

Yes, lecture is a good example. In a recent survey, 275 econ faculty who teach principles courses reported they lectured 70 percent of the class time, led discussion 20 percent of the time, and had students doing activities for 10 percent of the time. The article cites studies in that field from the mid-’90s reporting similar percentages. Maybe some other fields have changed more, but evidence supports a continuing reliance on lecture in many fields.

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Making the Most of ‘Reporting Out’ after Group Work

Have you seen the following scenario take place? Students are engaged in some form of group work in class; think/pair/share, working through an assignment, or simply brainstorming ideas in small groups. The students may start out slowly, but soon they are actively engaged, everyone is sharing their ideas and the class is filled with energy.

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Designing Effective Team Projects in Online Courses

Participating in team projects offers students the chance to develop interpersonal communication skills (Figueira & Leal, 2013), build relationships with classmates, and increase the level of collective competencies as each group member brings something different to the group. However, in the online environment where the majority of the work occurs asynchronously, students may resist having to work with others (Smith et al., 2011) on graded assignments. Students often say that they do not like group work because they expect that they will have to contribute more than their teammates or that they will have difficulty scheduling times to meet with other group members. They also may be uneasy about being assigned an individual grade based on the work of the team.
After teaching fully online courses for the past five years, I offer seven best practices for teamwork in online courses:

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Five Ways to Improve Exam Review Sessions

Here are two frequently asked questions about exam review sessions: (1) Is it worth devoting class time to review, and (2) How do you get students, rather than the teacher, doing the reviewing? Instead of answering those questions directly, I decided a more helpful response might be a set of activities that can make exam review sessions more effective.

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Ready to Flip: Three Ways to Hold Students Accountable for Pre-Class Work

One of the most frequent questions faculty ask about the flipped classroom model is: “How do you encourage students to actually do the pre-class work and come to class prepared?”

This is not really a new question for educators. We’ve always assigned some type of homework, and there have always been students who do not come to class ready to learn. However, the flipped classroom conversation has launched this question straight to the top of the list of challenges faculty face when implementing this model in their classrooms. By design, the flipped model places more emphasis on the importance of homework or pre-class work to ensure that in-person class time is effective, allowing the instructor and the students to explore higher levels of application and analysis together. If students are unprepared, it leads to frustration, stress, and anxiety for everyone.

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Free ‘Clickers’ for All: Using Google Forms to Survey Your Students

As many educators are, I am interested in exploring methods that provide real-time, formative assessment in the classroom. Being a teacher of such courses as microbiology, microbial genomics, and immunology, which are dense in jargon and abstract concepts, I need to be able to quickly get a snapshot of how well my students are grasping important ideas or concepts. My students also need this information in order to assess their own learning. To this end, I started exploring the use of personal response systems, or “clickers,” as a method for rapid classroom assessment. The overall trend of the SoTL data gathered on this topic indicates that clickers can be used for formative assessment, including in my own field of biology. Awesome!

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Broadening Pedagogical Knowledge by Learning from Other Disciplines

The bulk of scholarship on teaching and learning continues to be embedded in our disciplines. It ends up there because that’s where it counts (if it does) and because there’s a long-standing and still fairly widely held belief that the teaching needed for a particular kind of content is unique. Unless you know the content, you can’t know how to teach it.

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The Rhythms of the Semester: Implications for Practice, Persona

We recognize that in the march of the semester we begin on a different note than we end on. The early weeks hold promise and high hopes, both often curtailed when the first assignments are graded. The final weeks find us somewhere between being reluctant or relieved to see a class move on. There is an inexplicable but evident interaction between our teaching persona and the persona a class develops throughout a semester. Some structural factors influence both: among them—the type and level of a course, the discipline, the time of day, and whether the students are a cohort or a unique collection of individuals.

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Goldilocks and the ‘Just Right’ Strategy for Helping Students Acquire New Content

When Goldilocks visits the three bears’ house, she tastes the porridge they left out in the kitchen; papa’s porridge is too hot, mama’s is too cold, but baby bear’s porridge is “just right” for her. Believe or not, this notion of “just right” is meaningful to college professors as they prepare content for their classes.

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Becoming a Better Teacher: Articles for New and Not-So-New Faculty

A couple of months ago a colleague asked me to recommend a book for his new faculty reading group. I rattled off the names of several, but then wondered if a packet of articles might not be a better option. When I started to identify articles, it came to me that the what-to-read dilemma for new and not-so-new faculty goes beyond the articles themselves. It is more about the categories of work on teaching and learning rather than individual pieces.

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Translating Research into Practice

During the past 20 years, college and university faculty have begun to utilize several areas of the learning sciences (including cognitive psychology) to inform pedagogy. Much of this work has happened in ways that have helped our profession more effectively teach and our students to more effectively learn. However, we still have much work to do if we are to claim that we have a well-developed set of tools that can be applied across disciplines.

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Flipping Feedback: Screencasting Feedback on Student Essays

Last semester I was faced with a larger-than-usual senior composition class for English majors—which of course also meant a larger-than-usual feedback load. With a new baby at home, I was more than a little concerned about finding the time to

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New Faculty Orientation Features Advice from Students

As director of our faculty support center, one of my responsibilities is to coordinate an orientation program for new faculty. Years ago we decapitated the “talking head” format of traditional orientation sessions and now try to provide interactive sessions that introduce our new colleagues to both our campus policies and our campus culture. While the transition of most topics to the interactive format has been easy, the session on the course syllabus has remained relatively dry—until this year.

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First Impressions: Activities for the First Day of Class

The old expression that you never have a second chance to make a first impression is certainly true in the classroom. Early in my career, I tried several first-day-of-class strategies, ranging from briefly introducing the course and dismissing students early to spending the entire time reviewing policies and procedures, but I began to feel that I was missing an important opportunity. Students are never more attentive than they are on the first day of class, when they’re eager to determine what kind of professor they’re dealing with, and although it is tempting to delay the real work of teaching and learning until the class list has stabilized, it can be difficult to change even the subtle norms that are established during this initial class. Several years ago, I tried a new approach, and I’ve been using it with great success ever since.

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Our Top 15 Teaching and Learning Articles of 2015

As another year draws to a close, the editorial team at Faculty Focus looks back on some of the most popular articles of the past year. Throughout 2015, we published more than 200 articles. The articles covered a wide range of topics, including assignment strategies, cell phone policies, course design, flipped classrooms, online discussions, student resistance, and grading policies.

In this, our last post of the year, we reveal the top 15 articles for 2015. Each article’s ranking is based on a combination of factors, including e-newsletter open and click rates, social shares, reader comments, web traffic, reprint requests, and other reader engagement metrics.

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