Faculty Focus

Why Won’t They Ask Us for Help?

Faculty mentoring

After teaching statistics classes for more than 25 years and seeing so many students struggling to be successful, I became increasingly frustrated by the fact that no matter how much I believed myself to be approachable, available, and willing to help students outside of class, very few took advantage of the opportunity. I began to wonder not only what barriers existed between me and my students but also how to investigate those barriers and seek solutions.

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New Report Examines What’s Next for Academic and Research Libraries

NMC Horizon Report reveals the top trends, challenges, and technology developments disrupting academic and research libraries worldwide.

The New Media Consortium (NMC), University of Applied Sciences (HTW) Chur, Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB), ETH Library, and the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) are jointly releasing the NMC Horizon Report > 2017 Library Edition at the ACRL 2017 Conference. This is the third edition of the NMC Horizon Report that explores the realm of academic and research libraries in a global context.

This report describes annual findings from the NMC Horizon Project, a 15-year-old ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies poised to influence learning, teaching, and creative inquiry. Six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in educational technology are placed directly in the context of their likely impact on the core missions of academic and research libraries.

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Learning Outside Your Comfort Zone

stepping outside comfort zone

When we learn something outside the comfort zone, we attempt to acquire knowledge or skills in an area where we’re lacking. Part of the discomfort derives from learning something we anticipate will be difficult. We have no idea how to do it, or we think it requires abilities we don’t have or have in meager amounts. Moreover, poor performance or outright failure lurk as likely possibilities. In other words, it’s going to be hard and require concentration, and what we’re struggling to do, others can accomplish beautifully, seemingly without effort. Their skills, and our obvious lack of them, raise questions about our merits as a learner and maybe even our worth as a person.

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Activities for Developing a Positive Classroom Climate

student-led discussion

Positive classroom climate can encourage students to participate, think deeply about content, and engage peers in intellectual debate. Creating a classroom climate conducive to that type of expression can be difficult. Classrooms are filled with a diverse cross-section of our society representing multiple learning preferences and expectations. Professors aspire to reach all students and engage them in meaningful, content-rich examinations of the subject matter, but peer-to-peer relationships, personal struggles, students’ perception of course content, and even the novelty of the college classroom itself can all impact the class climate. The key to overcoming these variables is the professor. The professor is the one piece that most students attribute their success or failure and their positive or negative experiences in a college classroom (Boesch, 2014). The following describes a pilot project completed in the fall of 2016 in a small liberal arts college.

After several courses in which I was dissatisfied with the frequency and depth of student participation, I designed two sets of opening activities for students to do at the beginning of class. These class starters would act as a conduit for developing a climate of respect, cooperation, and emotional safety (Matsumura, Slater, and Crosson, 2008; Shuck, Albornz, Winberg, 2007). I believed by establishing a positive classroom climate, students would be more willing to participate in content-based discussions and activities.

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A Study-for-an-Exam Assignment

students studying in library

To remediate the exam preparation study skills that beginning (and other) students are missing, most of us respond by telling students about those skills that make for good exam performance. “Come to class.” “Take notes.” “Keep up with reading.” “See me during office hours if you need help.” And most of us have discovered that this approach isn’t particularly effective. It doesn’t always work well for two reasons. First, students tend not to listen all that closely to advice on how to study when it’s offered by people who sound and often look like their parents, and second, it’s not enough to know what they should be doing. Students need to work to develop and refine those skills.

Consider an approach that might succeed where how-to-study admonitions fail. It starts with a first-year seminar program. A first-year seminar provides a perfect structure for this assignment, but it could be used in a variety of courses. In this first-year seminar course students get the usual instruction on learning strategies, but more importantly they complete an assignment in the seminar called a Strategy Project Assignment. It’s a “multistep project requiring students to plan, monitor, and evaluate their newly learned strategies as they prepare for a test in a course in which they are currently enrolled.” (pp. 272-3)

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Supporting Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning

online teaching and learning

How can institutions support excellence in online education? The question is one of paramount importance to all institutions with online course offerings, but it may be a particular challenge to residential, research universities, which are not necessarily designed with online education in mind. But Julie Schell, EdD, Director of OnRamps and Strategic Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin, is meeting that challenge. She is passionate about the way that course design can be used to foster excellence in online teaching and learning.

First, she explains that it is important that institutions not “use technology to take old methods and [scale them up].” For example, she notes that many online courses such as MOOCs may take pedagogical methods that work in the face-to-face classroom and uses technology to scale it up to reach a (sometimes much) larger audience. “That’s not supported by research,” Schell says.

Instead, she urges departments, faculty, and instructional designers to “think about who is the user and what…they need.”

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Three Ways to Engage Students In and Outside the Classroom

group work activity in college classroom.

When students become directly engaged in the learning process, they take ownership of their education. The following learning activities have helped me to engage students in and outside the classroom. The strategies also help keep my teaching relevant, fresh, and creative.

Get real
Silence filled the classroom when the grimacing woman wearing layers of torn sweatshirts and mismatched work boots kicked an empty desk by the door. She fished out a wrinkled paper from her jean's front pocket and waved it high in the air. "The court sent me," she said, looking directly into the eyes of a startled young freshman. "And I want to know, who's gonna make me stay?" Rolling the document into a ball, she quickly darted to the back of the room and dropped it onto the desk of the biggest guy in the room. She asked him, "Is it you?"

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What Research Tells Us about Online Discussion

Student typing. Online discussion.

Student discussion differentiates online education from the old correspondence courses. But there are still many questions to answer in order to facilitate good discussion online. Hong Zhiu, of the University of Texas at San Antonio, did a meta-analysis of studies

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Mid-Career Faculty: 5 Great Things About Those Long Years in the Middle

Professor with small group of students.

I’ve been thinking here lately about that long mid-career stretch where there is no clearly defined beginning or ending. You’re no longer a new faculty member, but aren’t yet an old one. From a pedagogical perspective, what makes that time window unique? In a recent post on tired teaching I identified what I think is the major challenge of those years—keeping your teaching fresh and keeping yourself engaged, enthusiastic, and instructionally moving forward. On the other hand, some special opportunities are afforded by that long stretch in the middle. The question is whether we’re taking full advantage of them.

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Immediacy Questionnaire

professor helping student in computer lab

Building rapport with students can go a long way in increasing motivation and preventing incivility in the classroom. Below is a list of 20 verbal and nonverbal communications that can affect the classroom climate. Use the questionnaire to rate yourself on these observable behaviors. If you're feeling daring, hand it out to your students and ask them to rate you.

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