Faculty Focus

Incorporating Active Learning into the Online Classroom

Gary Ackerman, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Mount Wachusett Community College, works with faculty to incorporate active learning into their online and face-to-face courses, and while there are differences in these learning environments, active learning can be implemented just as well online as face-to-face.

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Academic Integrity: Defining Originality across Campus

The faculty members in the chemistry department are confused.

Last semester, the campus teaching center held a series of workshops to get faculty more familiar with the anti-plagiarism tool that the university adopted and linked into everyone’s online course environment. The teaching center showed everyone who attended the training sessions 51 ways that they could help to catch cheaters, based on research conducted by two researchers at the University of Texas’ Telecampus (McNabb and Anderson, 2009). But the 51 strategies are not why the chemistry faculty are confused.

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Instructional Design Based on Cognitive Theory

Andy Stanfield, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at Florida Institute of Technology, is a proponent of using Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning to improve instructional design.

This theory posits the following:

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Could We Be Doing Better with Our Assignments?

Assignments are a terribly important part of the teaching and learning equation. They aren’t just random activities that faculty ask students to complete for points and grades; they are the vehicles through which students learn course content. By studying for exams and engaging with content as they write their papers, students deepen their understanding of key concepts and build learning connections. In short, assignments represent learning experiences for students and, as Dee Fink reminds us, we want those learning experiences to be “significant.” Is that how you’d describe your most often-used assignments? Are they the only ways students could encounter and explore course content? Are they still the best ways?

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Would They Play? Would They Learn? Finding the Sweet Spot between Games and Learning

What began as a routine summer workshop on incorporating games and game-like elements into instruction turned into the surprise of the summer; two weeks of fun and intense online game play by an engaged and committed cadre of faculty and staff who were working to apply the principles of gaming to their courses and student activities. I had planned to end the workshop with a two-week follow-up online game for participants, but I didn’t seriously think anyone would do it.

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Is It Time to Rethink How We Grade Participation?

My colleague, Lolita Paff, has been exploring student attitudes and beliefs about participation. Most of her beginning economics and accounting students describe themselves as “limited” or “non-participants.” They say they don’t participate because they don’t want to look foolish in front of their peers or they learn better by listening. At this point, she has gathered some rather compelling data that grading isn’t motivating her students to participate more. “I had been pretty strongly in the if-you-grade-it-they-will-do-it camp. The evidence surprised me and made me rethink grading participation,” she writes.

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Turnitin Acquires LightSide Labs to Support Formative Feedback on Student Writing

Turnitin, the leaders in originality checking and online grading, today announced the company has reached a definitive agreement to acquire LightSide Labs, an online service that uses machine learning to provide real-time, automated feedback on student writing. The agreement will allow Turnitin to integrate its leading originality checking and online grading features with LightSide Labs’ innovative approach to providing high quality feedback to students across the writing process. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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Seven Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Multiple-Choice Questions

The goal of any well-constructed test is to test students’ expertise on a topic and not their test-taking skills. We need to eliminate as many flaws in our questions as we can to “provide a level playing field for testwise and not-so-testwise students. The probability of answering a question correctly should relate to an examinee's expertise on the topic and should not relate to their expertise on test-taking strategies.” (NMBE, 2001, p 19)

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Alternative Assessment Methods for the Online Classroom

Tests and quizzes are often the primary means of assessing online learner performance; however, as Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt, online instructors and coauthors of numerous online learning books, including Lessons from the Virtual Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching (2013), point out, there are more effective and less problematic alternatives.

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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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