Faculty Focus

More Evidence That Active Learning Trumps Lecturing

The June-July issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter highlights a study you don’t want to miss. It’s a meta-analysis of 225 studies that compare STEM classes taught using various active learning approaches with classes taught via lecture. “The results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sessions, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” (p. 8410) Carl Wieman, a Nobel-winning physicist who now does research on teaching and learning, describes the work as a “massive effort” that provides “a much more extensive quantitative analysis of the research on active learning in college and university STEM courses than previously existed.” (p. 8319) And what does he make of these results? “The implications of these meta-analysis results for instruction are profound, assuming they are indicative of what could be obtained if active learning methods replaced the lecture instruction that dominates U.S. postsecondary STEM instruction.” (pp. 8319-8320) That’s a long way from the guarded language usually found in commentaries on scientific results.

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Flexible Faculty Development Opportunities

One of the most persistent challenges for instructional designers is finding a convenient time to schedule faculty development training sessions. If scheduled during the summer, the workshop is subject to poor attendance because faculty are preparing for the fall. If it is scheduled in the fall, teaching responsibilities and committee work can impede professional development attendance. The same holds true for the spring semester.

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Taking Risks in Your Teaching

Often in workshops when I’m speaking about the process of implementing change—deciding what to change and how to change it or considering whether to add a new instructional strategy—the question of risk lurks in the choices being considered. When attending a workshop or program that offers a range of instructional possibilities, teachers typically respond to some favorably. I see it—they write down the idea, nod, or maybe ask a follow-up question to be sure they understand the details. Not all the ideas presented get this favorable response. Occasionally, the response is overtly negative. But more often there is no response. The idea doesn’t resonate.

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Fostering Student Learning through the Use of Debates

There are many ways to get students engaged in a classroom, but when topics are controversial or taboo, students may shy away from sharing their thoughts on the subject. In contrast, some may be so overly passionate about a topic that they proselytize their point. One tactic that helps students feel comfortable enough to speak about controversial topics is through debates that are structured and promote students’ preparedness in defending or opposing a particular stance on a topic.

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Let Students Summarize the Previous Lesson

Students often think of class sessions as isolated events—each containing a discrete chunk of content. Those who take notes during class will put the date along the top and then usually leave a space between each session, which visually reinforces their belief that the concepts and material aren’t connected. But in most of our courses, today’s content links to material from the previous session as well as to what’s coming up next. A lot happens in the lives of students between class sessions, though, and if they don’t anticipate a quiz, how many review their notes before arriving in class? And so the teacher starts class with a review.

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Why Open-book Tests Deserve a Place in Your Courses

With the proliferation of learning management systems (LMS), many instructors now incorporate web-based technologies into their courses. While posting slides and readings online are common practices, the LMS can also be leveraged for testing. Purely online courses typically employ some form of web-based testing tool, but they are also useful for hybrid and face-to-face (F2F) offerings. Some instructors, however, are reluctant to embrace online testing. Their concerns can be wide ranging, but chief among them is cheating.

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Professor and Students Share Reactions to the Flipped Classroom

Professor Philip LaRocco is reimagining his Energy Business and Economic Development course with digitized lecture materials, collaborative assignments, and real-time feedback. With funding from Columbia University’s Office of the Provost, LaRocco teamed up with the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) to build a learning environment more conducive to the world in which his students currently intern, and plan to work in post-graduation. He is following a “flipped classroom” model—filming some of his lectures and making them available to students prior to class meetings—making way for more elaborate group review, discussions, and other collaborative assignments during class.

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Developing a Teaching Persona

An email query about teaching personas reminded me how much I haven’t figured out about our teaching identities. I’m still struggling with very basic questions and wondered if a conversation here might not get us all thinking more about how we present ourselves as teachers.

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Getting the Most out of Guest Experts Who Speak to Your Class

Inviting guest speakers into your classroom is a classic teaching strategy. Welcoming other voices into the classroom provides students with access to other perspectives, adds variety to the classroom routine, and demonstrates that learning is a collaborative enterprise. At the same time, however, presentations by guest experts are often plagued by a variety of design flaws that hinder their educational effectiveness. Guest experts, being unfamiliar with the mastery level of the students in the class, may speak over the heads of the students, or they may present their material at a level that is inappropriately introductory. Because they are generally unfamiliar with the class curriculum, they may repeat information that the students have already learned, or their comments may not connect in any clear way with what the students already know and what they are currently learning.

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An Exercise to Reduce Public Speaking Anxiety and Create Community in the Classroom

In public speaking classes or classes where there are oral presentations, students often enter these environments with a bit of anxiety and trepidation about speaking in front of others. Providing in-class activities as early as possible in the semester, that allow students to share things about themselves in an informal and positive environment, can not only help contribute to their public speaking comfort level, it can also lead to community-building throughout the course. As the class progresses, students exhibit a greater likeliness to support each other, relax around each other, and even feel like they’re getting to know each other better.

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Lost in a Sea of Yellow: Teaching Students a Better Way to Highlight

A lot of students are in love with their highlighters, especially those bright, fluorescent-colored ones. They use them to highlight course materials, sometimes underlining whole pages of text. When I first saw a text so fluorescent that it all but glowed, I wondered why in the world somebody would spend that much time underlining. Later I understood it was really a cry for help. “I can’t tell what’s important, so I’ll just highlight the entire section so I don’t miss something.” Highlighting can be a useful way of interacting with text, but it needs to be done in a thoughtful way.

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Why Can’t Students Just Pay Attention?

We have all had the experience of having students sitting in our classes, looking directly at us, and knowing, just knowing, that they are not paying the least bit of attention to what we are talking about or what the topic of the day is. In fact, if we don’t see this in our classes (and I believe we all do…it’s just that some of us don’t wish to admit it), all an instructor has to do is review assignments, quizzes, or exams to find evidence that students don’t understand key concepts that were highlighted as “really important” or “critical” to understanding the material.

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I Took a MOOC, and I Think I Liked It

For the first time since leaving graduate school almost 15 years ago, I enrolled in a class, “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution,” and the first day wasn’t like that of any other class I’ve taken. In lieu of finding a seat, I placed a virtual pin (labeled “participant”) on a digital world map, along with 47,000 of my classmates scattered around the world. I was enrolled in a MOOC.

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Faculty Mentoring Faculty: Relationships that Work

At this point in my career, I am expected to mentor others. It’s something I enjoy and it has never felt like an obligation. However, I haven’t given much thought to exactly what mentoring is, how best to do it, and why it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Mentoring is one of those higher education topics that was trendy for a while, but I no longer see it addressed much in current literature. That omission doesn't diminish its potential to greatly enhance both teaching and learning, and a revisit of the topic might remind us of its many values.

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Strategies for Addressing Student Fear in the Classroom

Upon setting foot in the classroom at the beginning of the semester, many students experience varying degrees of anxiety or fearfulness. As educators, we often sense nervousness among our pupils as we introduce ourselves and hand out copies of the course syllabus to review. Most students settle in shortly, but some may remain consistently fearful. Is it possible that their high levels of fear negatively affect their ability to learn in the classroom from week to week? In this article, we discuss the role of debilitating fear in some students’ lives and identify ways that educators can help them attain success despite their anxiety.

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Helping Students Who Are Performing Poorly

Unfortunately, all too often performance on the first exam predicts performance throughout the course, especially for those students who do poorly on the first test. Faculty and institutions provide an array of supports for these students, including review sessions, time with tutors, more practice problems, and extra office hours, but it always seems it’s the students who are doing well who take advantage of these extra learning opportunities. How to help the students who need the help is a challenging proposition.

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Promoting Academic Integrity: Are We Doing Enough?

Cheating continues to be a pervasive problem in college courses. Institutions have policies designed to prevent it and faculty employ a range of strategies that aim to catch those who do. And still the problem persists. A study at a university in Australia, where it is the students’ responsibility to read and follow the academic integrity policy, found that only 50% of the students said they read the policy. Nonetheless, 80% rated their understanding of plagiarism 7 or above on an 11-point scale. However, when asked to identify a set of behaviors associated with academic dishonesty, their answers indicated confusion and misunderstanding of cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of collusion that occur in courses and on campus.

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Five Steps to Improving Online Group Work Assignments

Online Group Projects – Yikes! You can hear the moans and groans of students echoing through your computer monitors as you start the first week of your online course. The reasons for requiring a group project vary from one discipline to another, but there are educational and career motives for requiring group projects. Students will have an opportunity to develop team skills, improve communication skills, and leverage their own personal interests and experiences to contribute to a group project.

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Teaching College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

An increasing number of individuals are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), particularly the higher functioning form of autism previously known as Asperger’s disorder. Many of these individuals choose to attend college and it is no longer unusual to encounter them in your classes. Although they can be excellent students, those with ASD may come across as odd or eccentric with idiosyncratic behaviors and interests. This can make their presence in the classroom somewhat vexing for instructors who do not understand the challenges and strengths of these students.

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Pedagogical Knowledge: Three Worlds Apart

We know a lot about teaching and learning, but our knowledge is scattered across three separate domains.

Educational research
The first knowledge domain is centered on the world of educational research that’s been advancing what we know about teaching and learning for more than a hundred years. There’s hardly an educational issue that hasn’t been studied in education or its associated subfields, like educational psychology, adult learning, and higher education. On this large empirical foundation we could rest a more evidence-based instructional practice.

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