Faculty Focus

The Power of Mindfulness in the Classroom

How long is your students’ attention span? For that matter, how long is your own?

According to one estimate, the average attention span in the year 2000 was 12 seconds; by 2012, it had dropped to eight seconds. By comparison, a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in your class could manage to be mentally present for the entire class? What kinds of learning could take place if they were?

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A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning

At its most basic level, the syllabus is used to communicate information about the course, the instructor, learning objectives, assignments, grading policies, due dates, the university’s academic integrity statement, and, in some cases, an increasingly long list of strongly worded admonitions on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in the college classroom.

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Where Does Innovative Teaching Come From?

There’s a long-standing tradition of informal sharing of pedagogical innovation among K-12 teachers and a whole line of research on this phenomenon, which is known as teacher leadership. The same type of informal faculty leadership exists in higher education as well, but there is very little research on this topic, according to Pete Turner, education faculty member and director of the Teacher Education Institute at Estrella Mountain Community College.

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Three Tools for Supporting Student Success

One of the three key tenets of metacognitive engagement in the classroom is teaching students heuristic strategies specific to the subject matter (Pintrich, 2002; Bembenutty, 2009). The other two are teaching students when to use the strategies and how to self-assess the successful use of those strategies. When considering critical thinking classes, this might involve teaching specific problem solving strategies, like the difference between permutations and combinations, as well as when each should be applied. However, other types of strategies could be beneficial, such as templates for assignments, video instructions, and detailed rubrics for self-assessment.

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What Fitness Bands Can Teach Us about Classroom Assessment

A colleague of mine recently engaged with a new technology tool that has changed her life. She purchased and became a vigilant user of the fitness band. This wristband tracks her movement and sleep. Although fitness bands are cool tech tools, their “magic” is rooted in the continuous feedback they provide on one’s progress toward fitness goals determined by age, height/weight, and activity level. This amazing device has helped my colleague lose 40 pounds and increase her activity level fourfold in the last seven months. Watching her response and seeing her success have caused me to revisit what we know about the power of formative assessment as a learning tool.

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First Day of Class Activity: The Interest Inventory

The interest inventory is a simple tool to help you acquaint yourself with your students. Unlike many icebreakers, the interest inventory is a paper-based activity and students do not have to give answers aloud in front of class. The interest inventory, therefore, helps you get to know your students privately and allows you to ask different questions than you would during oral introductions.

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Cooperative Learning Structures and Deep Learning

Cooperative learning structures such as jigsaw and think-pair-share are widely used in college classrooms. The two most basic tenets of cooperative learning involve positive interdependence and individual accountability. “Positive interdependence means that group members perceive that the collective effort of the group is essential in order for the individual learners to achieve their goals.” (p. 176) And individual accountability establishes that students are assessed individually on their achievement of the learning goals.

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Why Change Our Approach to Teaching?

Jennifer Roberts first noticed the difference a few years ago in Geology 101.

The course regularly draws 300 or more students a semester, and Roberts, an associate professor of geology, was teaching in much the same way she had since she took over the course in 2002: lecture and exam.

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Rethinking Direct Instruction in Online Learning

Direct Instruction has a bad reputation. It is often associated in higher education with long lectures and passive learners. “Passivity isn’t wrong because it’s boring; it’s wrong because it doesn’t work” (Daniel and Bizer, 2005, p. 103). Direct Instruction is an instructional model that consists of three main components: modeling, guided practice with formative feedback, and independent practice. When utilized correctly, the Direct Instruction model is anything but boring, and students should never be passive recipients of learning. Beyond the scope of a traditional classroom, there are ways to incorporate Direct Instruction in an online format. The I Do, We Do, You Do structure of Direct Instruction can be utilized to present new material, guide students through the learning process using constructive feedback, and allow space for students to feel part of a larger community of learners as they work in collaboration with peers to demonstrate their understanding. This takes intentionality and effort on behalf of the professor, but this is a worthwhile endeavor as we strive to educate our online learners.

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A Tool for Keeping Faculty Meetings Collegial

If your faculty meetings have turned into what feels like an excerpt from the Hunger Games, we have something that might help. When faculty meetings turn into a great big giant nasty-fest, where the aggressors walk away feeling self-satisfied, while the less fortunate (or non-tenured) walk away licking their wounds, it’s time to be proactive toward building a culture of civility. Without a plan, even the boldest faculty members can be shocked into silence by unexpected comments meant to target and degrade specific individuals. In some departments, passive-aggressiveness rules the day, where personal agendas are hidden within the safety of veiled insults that should not go unanswered.

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Research Highlights How Easily and Readily Students Fabricate Excuses

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the article An examination of factors and attitudes that influence reporting fraudulent claims in an academic environment, Active Learning in Higher Education, 15 (2), 173-185. The Teaching Professor Blog named it to its list of top pedagogical articles late last year.

“My grandmother fell down on her patio and I had to go stay with her for a few days and she does not have internet or a computer and all of my research was in my dorm room …”

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How a Course Map Puts You on Track for Better Learning Outcomes

For both new and veteran faculty, inheriting a syllabus to teach from is like being blindfolded on a long journey and being told, “Don’t worry, you’ll know it when we get there.” There’s a lot of trust required in order to follow someone else’s map. There are road hazards the mapmaker may not be aware of; there may be alternate routes that might get you there more directly; and it may even be prudent to choose another mode of transportation to get there.

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Keep Calm and Teach: Best Practices for Teaching Cohorts

The influx of nontraditional adult students in higher education has resulted in unprecedented institutional competition. Colleges and universities, vying for attention and increased enrollments, seek creative solutions to attract and retain students. Many degrees have been designed or modified to follow the cohort model, creating temporary cultures of students who participate in programs following an accelerated lockstep sequence. Cohorts start and finish programs as collective groups and share instructors and experiences along the way. Productive learning environments and the temporary culture of a group encourage student productivity and enhance the overall academic experience.

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Using Google Web Apps to Improve Student Engagement

In general education humanities courses, at least two problems seem universal:
1. How to blend the teaching of content and the teaching of critical thinking skills that are transferrable to other fields
2. How to encourage student participation and engagement

For years, my typical approach to these problems has been to “flip the classroom” and make my students more responsible for their own learning. I have minimized my lecturing and used carefully crafted discussion questions and small group in-class assignments to move my students through critical thinking processes as they unravel the complexities of literary texts.

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Getting Students to Do the Reading

Getting students to do their assigned reading is a struggle. Most teachers don’t need anyone to tell them what the research pretty consistently reports. On any given day, only 20 to 30 percent of the students arrive at class having done the reading. Faculty are using a variety of approaches to up that percentage: quizzes (announced, unannounced, online), assignments that require some sort of written response to the reading, reading journals, a variety of optional reading support materials, and calling on students to answer questions about the reading. Which of these approaches work best?

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The Power of Language to Influence Thought and Action

Language influences thought and action. The words we use to describe things—to ourselves and others—affects how we and they think and act. It’s good to remind ourselves that this powerful influence happens in all kinds of situations and most certainly with language related to teaching and learning.

Here are some big ones that come to mind.

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Helping Students Find Meaning in Core Curriculum Courses

Let’s face it: some courses are simply more applicable to the job market than others. For some, it’s easy to make the connection between what is taught in the classroom and the skills needed for landing that perfect job. But, what about those courses that are not geared toward generating employment?

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Tonic for the Boring Syllabus

It had happened before, sitting at the computer, working on a syllabus, again, fluctuating between excitement about a new course and a vague sense that life itself was being sucked out of me one sterile byte at a time. I was fighting boredom. And this was supposed to interest students? I tried to imagine it igniting their curiosity, but instead I saw them staring at it with the enthusiasm saved for the fine print on a life insurance policy. But they must read it. It is their life insurance policy for a future full of knowledge and wisdom! It defines how we’re going to relate! As I sat there writing my syllabus I had a vision of the Ferris Bueller video of the professor droning on and on while asking for input: “Anyone? Anyone?” That was not where I wanted to go. I had to stop and rethink what I was doing.

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What Is Teaching without Learning?

When you take ideas to places of extremity, they become distorted. “It is not part of my job to make you learn,” Philosophy Professor Keith M. Parsons writes in his syllabus to first-year students. “At university, learning is your job—and yours alone. My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge. Whether you drink deeply or only gargle is entirely up to you.”

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Flipping Assessment: Making Assessment a Learning Experience

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re already aware that flipped instruction has become the latest trend in higher education classrooms. And for good reason. As it was first articulated by Bergmann and Sams, flipped instruction personalizes education by “redirecting attention away from the teacher and putting attention on the learner and learning.” As it has evolved, the idea of flipped instruction has moved beyond alternative information delivery to strategies for engaging students in higher-level learning outcomes. Instead of one-way communication, instructors use collaborative learning strategies and push passive students to become problem solvers by synthesizing information instead of merely receiving it. More recently on this blog, Honeycutt and Garrett referred to the FLIP as “Focusing on your Learners by Involving them in the Process” of learning during class, and Honeycutt has even developed assessments appropriate for flipped instruction. What's been left out of the conversation about flipped classrooms, however, is why and how we might also need to flip assessment practices themselves.

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