Here’s a set of questions about large classes that I’m thinking we ought to be discussing more than we are.
1. How many students make it a large class? Teachers who do and don’t teach large classes have their opinions, but it’s not clear who has the right answer. Often faculty views seem related to the size of their college or university. I once consulted at a small liberal arts college where I was asked to sign a petition against classes enrolling more than 35 students. At about the same time, I saw a list of the 10 courses most often taken by beginning students at my R1 university. Only two—English composition and physical education—enrolled fewer than 30 students, and most had many more.
In the 1970s, my mother, a fifth-grade teacher, would lament, “The TV remote has ruined my classroom! I can almost feel the kids trying to point a clicker at me to change the channel!” Little did she know that college students today don’t need to wish for a remote control to switch from their professor to entertainment—an endless assortment of distractions are all on their smart phones.
Successfully transferring a face-to-face course to the online learning environment requires careful preparations that take into account differences between these two modalities.
“If you simply take your face-to-face class and put it online and teach it electronically, you will fail miserably,” says Paul S. Caron, director of education at Lewiston-Auburn College, whose first experience teaching online taught him some valuable lessons about how to provide students with an effective, supportive, and motivating learning experience.
I just finished putting together some materials on grading policies for a series of Magna 20-Minute Mentor programs, and I am left with several important take-aways on the powerful role of grading policies. I’m not talking here about the grades themselves, but instead the policies we choose as teachers.
Perhaps no other word has been as popular in higher education during the past few years as the term “flipped.” As a result, there is no shortage of ideas and opinions about flipped learning environments. Some faculty consider it another way to talk about student-centered learning. Others view flipped classrooms as an entirely new approach to teaching and learning. Still others see flipping as just another instructional fad that will eventually run its course.
Faculty Focus recently surveyed its readers to gain a better understanding of their views on flipped learning. The survey sought to find out who’s flipping, who’s not, and the barriers and benefits to those who flip. The findings are available in today’s report, Flipped Classroom Trends: A Survey of College Faculty.
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Is this situation at all like what you’re experiencing? Class sizes are steadily increasing, students need more opportunities to practice critical thinking skills, and you need to keep the amount of time devoted to grading under control. That was the situation facing a group of molecular biology and biochemistry professors teaching an advanced recombinant DNA course. They designed an interesting assessment alternative that addressed what they were experiencing.
There’s only one first day of class. Here are some ideas for taking advantage of opportunities that are not available in the same way on any other day of the course.
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This summer I am reading Linda Nilson’s book Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills, which offers instructors a wealth of assignments and activities to help students grow their self-regulation and metacognitive abilities. Teaching students how to learn well on their own and to evaluate that learning is a goal I have been pursuing for the past few years, and I am convinced that occasional, brief self-assessment exercises can help college students perform better as well as understand the learning process.
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Many faculty seek to make creative use of films in their teaching, whether in traditional class screenings or through flipped classrooms. However, there are many obstacles to teaching with videos: the costs and constraints of DVD as a technology; limited DVD collections at some libraries; time involved in creating videos for one’s own classes; the popularized, questionable nature of many videos found on YouTube; the lack of institutional subscriptions to mainstream streaming services; and copyright concerns. Fortunately, in recent years, most campus libraries have subscribed to copyright-licensed and academically oriented streaming video collections such as Kanopy, NBC Learn, Films on Demand, PBS Video Collection, and Swank’s Digital Campus. These “Netflix” of academia offer fantastic functionalities and curated content designed with pedagogy in mind.
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We are definitely way more interested in learning than we used to be. In the early years of my teaching and faculty development work, it was all about teaching: improve it and students will automatically learn more. Now the focus is on how students learn and the implications that has for how we teach.
Lately I’ve been wondering about the learning practices of those of us who teach—what we know about ourselves as learners and how that knowledge influences the decisions we make about teaching. I’ve been trying to recall what I’ve thought about myself as a learner when I was in college. I think I self-identified as a student. I took courses and learned content. I liked some subjects and didn’t like others, which was sort of related to what I thought I could do. But the concept of learning as an entity was pretty much a big amorphous fuzz.
Flipped learning environments offer unique opportunities for student learning, as well as some unique challenges. By moving direct instruction from the class group space to the individual students’ learning spaces, time and space are freed up for the class as a learning community to explore the most difficult concepts of the course. Likewise, because students are individually responsible for learning the basics of new material, they gain regular experience with employing self-regulated learning strategies they would not have in an unflipped environment.
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My educational philosophy is a combination of how I desire to teach and my motivation to be a lifelong learner. As a teacher at the Army Management Staff College, I am constantly learning during classroom and student interaction. Therefore, I am also a student.
Students perform poorly in our courses for a variety of reasons. Here are some students you’ve likely encountered over the years, as well as a few ideas on the type of feedback that best helps them turn things around.
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The educational benefits of writing are undeniable. Challenging students to write about our disciplines for diverse purposes and audiences deepens learning and promotes critical thinking. And so we put a great deal of effort into creating writing assignments that do not merely ask students to report back to us the content we have “delivered," but instead require them to explore course content and address a target audience that has specific needs.
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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?
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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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.
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.
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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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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