In their 1995 Change magazine article, “From Teaching to Learning—a New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education,” Robert B. Barr and John Tagg described the Learning Paradigm, which emphasizes learning over teaching and student discovery and construction of knowledge over transfer of knowledge from instructor to student.
Who are you when you teach? When asked this question, most of us immediately respond by describing our teaching approaches. We might say “I’m more of a facilitator now.” Or we might respond with something like “I am a learner-centered teacher” or “I’m more of a lab teacher than lecturer.” But consider this question in another way: What “teaching presence” or persona underlies what you do as a teacher?
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Discussion boards. Google documents. YouTube videos. TED Talks. Khan Academy. These are just a few of the many resources some of us have used in our ever-growing arsenal of techie tools. We want to stay on the cutting edge. The Sloan Consortium (now Online Learning Consortium) predicts this trend toward an increased usage of technology will continue into the foreseeable future. So we continue to hone our skills, taking advantage of an ever-increasing array of technological options. We attend conferences, exchange ideas with colleagues, read up on the latest innovations—all in the interest of keeping our teaching on the technology edge. But I sometimes worry that we may have gone over the edge.
There is growing interest in the pedagogical literature in something called feedforward. It is, as the name implies, the opposite of feedback, which provides input after the fact. Feedforward offers input focused on the future. It lets students know what they should be doing or could be doing differently next time. If it’s a similar assignment, the “do differently” is specific advice on changes that will improve the next assignment. If it’s a different assignment, the “do differently” identifies what’s not the same about the next assignment and what needs to be done in a different way.
I once heard class discussions described as “transient instructional events." They pass through the class, the course, and the educational experiences of students with few lingering effects. Ideas are batted around, often with forced participation; students don’t take notes; and then the discussion ends—it runs out of steam or the class runs out of time. If asked a few days later about the exchange, most students would be hard-pressed to remember anything beyond what they themselves might have said, if that. So this post offers some simple suggestions for increasing the impact of the discussions that occur in our courses.
Online instructors focus most of their teaching on curricular issues—what they will teach, how they will teach it, etc. But studies have found that differences in curriculum have little, if any, effect on student outcomes. John Hattie compared more than 100 factors related to student achievement from more than 180,000 studies and ranked the factors from most significant to least significant. Remarkably, “Programmed Instruction” came out at the bottom. While faculty toil over getting that perfect lecture, the variation in learning outcomes from different lectures is negligible.
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Policies are necessary. They serve as a warning to students: this is what will happen if you are absent, miss an exam, turn work in late, text or surf the Web during class, and the like. Most institutions recommend teachers spell out consequences in their syllabi. Some schools employ institution-wide policies for certain behaviors like academic dishonesty. If policies are supposed to prevent these unproductive behaviors, why do students still engage in them? Are there reasons why policies don’t work?
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There’s no arguing with Ryan’s (2009) observation that “coming to class prepared and with some background knowledge transforms students from passive to active learners” (para. 3). But how to get our students to this state of “transformation readiness” is an age-old issue challenging most instructors throughout their careers. I’m sure the struggle also extends to my own students, who are aspiring or practicing language-teaching professionals juggling multiple personal, academic, and professional demands. Research shows that reasons for not completing reading assignments also include factors such as reading comprehension, low student self-confidence, and lack of interest in the topic (e.g., Lei, Bartlett, Gorney, & Herschbach, 2010).
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Scenario-based learning can be an effective way for students to apply what they have learned to realistic situations. There are many different ways to design scenarios for online delivery, from text-based case studies to interactive, immersive simulations. Regardless of the resources that you have available, there are effective ways to put students in scenarios that contribute to their learning.
Here’s a strategy you can tuck in your folder of good ideas: a survey tool for assessing student expectations for the course. The survey’s designers believe that knowing what students expect is helpful. They also cite research documenting that discrepancies between teacher and student expectations often exist. So they compiled a short survey that asks students what technology they’re expecting in the course, what learning activities they’re anticipating, what they’re thinking they’ll be graded on, their expectations regarding faculty-student interactions, and how soon they’re expecting faculty to answer emails, post grades, and/or return assignments and be available to meet with them. Here’s a link to the survey: http://bit.ly/1EXVUAi. Surveys like these are great idea generators. What course expectations do you and your students have?
It’s good to regularly review the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used test questions and the test banks that now frequently provide them.
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Enter the term “group work” into a Google search, and you’ll find yourself bombarded with dozens of hits clustered around definitions of group work, benefits of group work, and educational theories underpinning group work. If you dig a little deeper into the search results, however, you’ll find that not all of the pages displayed under the moniker of “group work” describe the same thing. Instead, dozens of varieties of group learning appear. They all share the common feature of having students work together, but they have different philosophies, features, and approaches to the group task.
Instructional strategies acquire names, labels that describe what the strategy involves—active learning, problem-based learning, cooperative learning. Sometimes the strategies gain popularity. They become widely used, and so do the terms that describe them. After a while teachers stop describing what they are doing in class. They simply refer to it by the label: “Yes, I have students work in groups. I use cooperative learning.”
“How are you enjoying retirement, Tom?” This is the question I get everywhere I meet old friends and colleagues. “I read that nice article about your retirement in the local paper and see that the mayor even declared in a proclamation that this event was to be honored in the city as ‘Dr. Thomas R. McDaniel Day,’ and I see that the governor awarded you the Order of the Silver Crescent for your contributions to the state and region—very cool way to go out.”
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Recent research verifies that when looking at small differences in student ratings, faculty and administrators (in this case, department chairs) draw unwarranted conclusions. That’s a problem when ratings are used in decision-making processes regarding hiring, reappointment, tenure, promotion, merit increases, and teaching awards. It’s another chapter in the long, sad story of how research on student ratings has yet to be implemented in practice at most places, but that’s a book, not a blog post. Here, my goal is to offer some reminders and suggestions for when we look at our own ratings.
There is a discourse of deficiency around students—what they can’t do, how “ill prepared” they are—that gets aired at nearly every faculty meeting. We read it in op-eds online. We hear it in state legislatures and in copier rooms. It is the air we breathe, especially if we teach in community colleges. Certain populations of students are considered more deficient than others. These populations are partitioned by institution type and placement level, rather than by race or class. Community college students and students who have landed in developmental classes are considered the most deficient of all. We blame the high schools they came from and, sometimes implicitly, we blame them. They are lazy. They need handholding. They simply don’t have the skills. There is only so much we can do with them.
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Advances in neuroscience and digital imaging give us an unprecedented understanding of how individuals access, process, and respond to information. Previously we may have had an intuitive understanding that our students learned differently. Now functional MRI scans demonstrate this in living color. However, simply recognizing learner diversity is one thing; navigating this challenge in the classroom is quite another. How can we possibly hope to present content, structure learning experiences, and devise assessments that will be appropriate and effective for students with different learning strengths and challenges? Fortunately, researchers have developed a framework based in neuroscience that can help.
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There’s an assumption that students arrive at college with some idea of how to study. They have, after all, completed four years of high school prior to their arrival, earning a seat in a college classroom.
But college is different. And we all know what happens when we assume.
Knowing how to handle student complaints is an essential skill for department chairs. In an interview with Academic Leader, Patricia Markunas, chair of the psychology department at Salem State University, offered advice on minimizing the number of complaints and managing those that do make it to the department chair.
“I don’t believe in giving students rubrics,” a faculty member told me recently. “They’re another example of something that waters down education.” I was telling him about a study I’d just read that documented some significant improvement in student papers…