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  • Four Ways to Spark Engaging Classroom Discussions

    Four Ways to Spark Engaging Classroom Discussions. How can you creatively and engagingly start a classroom discussion and when should one close? When you are in the middle of a discussion, how do you know when to turn it in a different direction? Students are most engaged in learning when they’re verbally interacting with course material, the professor, and their classmates, research shows. Yet pulling off a great classroom discussion that involves all students is such a complex and challenging topic that we’ve broken it down into two course modules: one focused on planning effective classroom discussions and another focused on facilitating them. Fortunately, there are research-based techniques that are known to work. Dr. Brookfield and ACUE Director of Content Development Laurie Pendleton provide four tips to keep students focused and engaged in meaningful classroom discussions.

  • Navigating the Need for Rigor and Engagement: How to Make Fruitful Class Discussions Happen

    Navigating the Need for Rigor and Engagement: How to Make Fruitful Class Discussions Happen. Teaching by discussion can also seem forbidding because it makes instructors uncomfortably aware of their shortcomings. Lecturers can delude themselves that their courses are going well, but discussion leaders know when their teaching is failing to rouse the students’ interest by the indifferent quality of responses and the general torpor of the class. Why do we lecture so much? All teachers experience a tension between the need for engagement and the need for rigor. Without rigor, the students won’t learn what we want them to; without engagement, they won’t learn anything at all. Realizing that students need to discuss is helpful, but actually knowing how to make them discuss is another matter—it’s a skill that has to be learned. The challenge is not getting them to talk, but doing so without sacrificing too much rigor—how to ensure high-quality thinking and talking which engages the whole class.  Here are some rules to consider.

  • Study Strategies for a Test

    Study Strategies for a Test. Many courses have already administered quizzes and/or exams.  Often our students over-estimate or underestimate their knowledge and skills.  Also, are your students maximizing their efforts in studying for an exam?  Here is a checklist to share with your students to help them in their preparation.

  • Time to administer the Informal Early Feedback (IEF): A Valuable Opportunity for Just-in-Time Feedback.

    Time to administer the Informal Early Feedback (IEF): A Valuable Opportunity for Just-in-Time Feedback.  Student evaluations of teaching are an important part of the feedback that instructors receive. This feedback can be especially helpful when it is collected midway in the semester. Our students can tell us if we explain clearly, are well-organized, grade fairly, and more. They may also be able to tell us if the activities we give them are well aligned with the ways we evaluate their learning. Responding to students’ comments by discussing them in class, and making changes as appropriate, can lead to increased motivation, better learning, and possibly improved end-of-semester student ratings. Here is a description of the process and sample forms for you to adapt.  You can always contact CITL for assistance.

  • Helping Students Memorize: Tips from Cognitive Science

    Helping Students Memorize: Tips from Cognitive Science. I was wrapping up a presentation on memory and learning when a colleague asked, “How do we help students learn in courses where there’s a lot of memorization?” He explained that he taught introductory-level human anatomy, and although the course wasn’t all memorization, it did challenge students’ capacity to retain dozens of new terms and concepts. The question itself is tricky because most teaching professionals are heavily invested in the idea that learning isn’t about being able to regurgitate facts on an exam. We also worry, and with good reason, that emphasizing rote learning steals time and effort away from the deeper thinking that we want students to do.  Here are some techniques that target this specific teaching and learning challenge.  

  • Creating Cartoons to Spark Engagement and Learning

    Creating Cartoons to Spark Engagement and Learning. As instructors, we are constantly looking for new ways to capture our students’ attention and increase their participation in our classes, especially in the online modalities. We spend countless hours crafting weekly announcements for classes and then inevitably receive multiple emails from our students asking the very same questions. The question remains, how do we get them to read our posts? It was precisely that problem I was trying to solve when I came across several articles touting the benefits of comics in higher education classrooms. I knew I couldn’t create an entire comic book, but I wondered if I could create a content-related cartoon that would not only capture students’ attention and maybe make them laugh, but also interest them enough that they would read the entire announcement or post. After a positive response, I decided to provide my online and face-to-face students the opportunity to try their hand at cartoon creation. This activity provide more ways for students to develop higher levels of assimilation and creation (Bloom’s Taxonomy, 2001)

  • Rethinking Deadline and Late Penalty Policies…Again

    Rethinking Deadline and Late Penalty Policies…Again. Recurring discussions regarding the syllabus pertain to handling excuses, extension requests, and late work, because teachers regularly deal with those issues. Suggested remedies range from giving one-time grace to assuming deception as the norm. If you have been a teacher for any length of time, you already have some sort of policy and have maybe modified it more than once. With this article, I am providing a peek at how and why I morphed from a rigid to a more flexible deadline/late penalty policy and what I observed as a result.   

  • Advice for the First Day of Class: Today We Will.

    Advice for the First Day of Class: Today We Will. The first day of class is critical. What happens on the first day, even in the first moments, sets the tone for the entire course. The impression you make will last the entire semester, and today’s students are not shy about sharing their opinions. Most students will make up their minds about the course and the instructor during that first class period. That is why you must use the first day, the first moments of class, to inspire confidence in your abilities and create a classroom atmosphere where the rules are clear; expectations are high; and yet students feel welcome, comfortable, and engaged.

  • Strategies for Better Course Evaluations and Analyzing Student Feedback

    Strategies for Better Course Evaluations and Analyzing Student Feedback.  Here are four steps to better course evaluations: make course expectations explicit, establish clear criteria for grading, get formative feedback early, and analyze student feedback. 

  • End of Semester Evaluations

    End of Semester Evaluations. Most universities use final course evaluations to solicit feedback from students. The results of these evaluations can be used to inform the next offering of the course, as well as—ideally in conjunction with many other forms of evidence of teaching effectiveness—the career trajectory of the instructor.  How do you interpret summative feedback and use it to improve your teaching? Here are four main challenges that teachers may face when interpreting end-of-course feedback from students

  • Fizzle or Finale: The Final Day of Class

    Fizzle or Finale: The Final Day of Class. Many courses end with a fizzle.  Frank Heppner (2007) aptly says, “In most classes, The Last Lecture was about as memorable as the rest of the class had been – that is, not very.”  The final class should bring the course to an appropriate conclusion or finale. “For many..., the last day of class comes and goes without ceremony, yet it provides an opportunity to bring the student-teacher experience to a close in a way that students appreciate and enjoy” (Lucas and Bernstein, 2008). How can you make the final day into a finale? 

  • Last Day of Class. Make the last day count

    Last Day of Class. Make the last day count. Too often, the last day of a class can be taken up with housekeeping-information on the final, last minute details, and course evaluations. But as Richard Lyons, author of several books on college teaching says, "the final class is a key student retention milepost." Some suggestions are: “Thank the class” (where one professor says,  "I take some time to thank the students for their part in the course and to tell them what they did to make my job easier (e.g. worked hard, asked questions, were cheerful, etc.) and “Students' concluding remarks” (after providing your own remarks, ask for theirs).

  • Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) as Useful Feedback Tools

    Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs). Classroom Assessment Techniques are generally simple, non-graded, anonymous, in-class activities designed to give you and your students useful feedback on the teaching-learning process as it is happening. CATs can be used to improve the teaching and learning that occurs in a class. Results from CATs can guide teachers in fine-tuning their teaching strategies to better meet student needs. Here are 2 sources that provide examples of CATs techniques that one can easily implement in their teaching.

  • “Everybody with Me?” and Other Not-so-useful Questions.

    “Everybody with Me?” and Other Not-so-useful Questions. “Any questions?” “Is everybody with me?” “Does this make sense?” I have asked my students these vague types of questions many times and the most common response was…silence. But how should I interpret the silence? Perhaps the students understand everything completely and therefore have no questions. Maybe they have questions but are afraid to ask them out of fear of looking stupid. Or it could mean that they are so lost they don’t even know what to ask! Only our boldest students would say; “Um, you lost me 10 minutes ago, can you repeat the whole thing again?” Another problem with vague prompts is that people, especially students, often suffer from “overconfidence bias.” The best alternative to the vague “any questions?” prompt is to use a brief Classroom Assessment Technique or CAT (Angelo and Cross, 1993). CATs do not need to be elaborate or require extensive preparation or class time. 

  • Active Learning for the College Classroom

    Active Learning for the College Classroom. The past decade has seen an explosion of interest among college faculty in the teaching methods variously grouped under the terms 'active learning' and 'cooperative learning'. The majority of all college faculty still teach their classes in the traditional lecture mode. Some of the criticism and hesitation seems to originate in the idea that techniques of active and cooperative learning are genuine alternatives to, rather than enhancements of, professors' lectures. We provide below a survey of a wide variety of active learning techniques which can be used to supplement rather than replace lectures. We are not advocating complete abandonment of lecturing; the lecture is a very efficient way to present information but use of the lecture as the only mode of instruction presents problems for both the instructor and the students. There is a large amount of research attesting to the benefits of active learning.

  • Unleashing the Power of Examples

    Unleashing the Power of Examples. College teachers often enter their classrooms with thousands of hours of experience in their chosen field, and they typically face students who have little to no experience with that field of study. In this setting, teachers may take for granted all that they know and are able to do. One of the joys of teaching is finding ways to take complex topics and present them in such a way that students begin their own journey of discovery. Generally speaking, students learn through explanation, example, and experience (Maxwell, 1978). Examples and illustrations are powerful ways to broaden and deepen student learning. One of the challenges facing teachers is selecting the most effective examples and knowing when and how to best use them. Here are some ways to implement powerful examples.

  • Can’t or Won’t: The Culture of Helplessness.

    Can’t or Won’t: The Culture of Helplessness. We might provide the most detailed of instructions, but students will still find a reason to challenge those instructions as inadequate and shift the responsibility of the work to us, writes Lori Isbell. She reports about the increasing “helplessness” of our students and their tendency to send emails and text messages of all sorts with the most basic questions about the most obvious matters. It is a helplessness, I believe, that is part feigned and part real, but nevertheless it is a problem that is eroding academe.  Students and faculty then bat back and forth of who is responsibility for the clarity of a task. Yet that is not necessarily because the students lack academic ability -- although that may be true as well at the community college level -- but because they lack academic agency, it seems. They are unable or unwilling to recognize their own role in developing college skills, in earning a college education.

  • Research Highlights How Easily, Readily Students Fabricate Excuses.

    Research Highlights How Easily, Readily Students Fabricate Excuses. When students are unable to comply with some aspect of an academic task (e.g. due date, assignment length, quality of work), there is potential for them to communicate reasons as to why they were unable to complete the task to their instructor. At this point the students have a choice, in which case they can either provide legitimate reasons for not being able to complete or to submit their coursework, or they can communicate something which is a deliberate attempt to deceive the instructor. This study described found that individuals do engage in reporting claims in an attempt to deceive their instructor even when motivated by academic tasks with low academic consequences and, possibly more alarmingly, that many students possess great confidence in their abilities to “get away with” reporting fraudulent claims. 

  • Reliable Sources: Promoting Critical Thinking in the [Mis]information Age.

     Reliable Sources: Promoting Critical Thinking in the [Mis]information AgeInformation cannot always be trusted. Despite popular opinion regarding the devastating impact of the Internet on the modern age, the inherent untrustworthiness of information is not new. Satire, misinformation, and disinformation have been circulating for centuries, even long before the printed word. However, thanks to the relative ease of creating and sharing content online, our students are confronted with publications created solely to entertain, persuade, and incite via incorrect or incomplete statistics. The traditional steps of the research process--such as resource evaluation--have seemingly fallen to the wayside in deference to instant gratification and confirmation bias.  Making critical thinkers of burgeoning researchers in an age of information overload and “fake news” requires three steps to help students and faculty alike reevaluate the nature of research as it is viewed in and outside of the classroom.

  • Fostering Student Learning through the Use of Debates

    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.

  • Hitting Pause – 65 Lecture Breaks to Refresh and Reinforce Learning

    Hitting Pause – 65 Lecture Breaks to Refresh and Reinforce Learning. If we slip into a colleague’s classroom, we see a lot of what Jensen (2008) calls “nonstop learning” (p. 220), which is when teachers talk and there are no pauses for students to interact with what they are hearing. This is what we observe: The teacher is in the front of the room at the podium, PowerPoint slides are up on the screen, and the only break occurs when the instructor momentarily stops explaining and asks a question. If anyone responds, usually a student near the front of the room answers before anyone else has a chance to think of an answer. If instructors who think that their students are actively engaged because one person has come up with an answer to a question could observe their classrooms from the back of the room, they might notice that many of their students are looking at e-mail, texting on their mobile phones, and not paying attention. Students might wish that there was a pause button connected to their college professors. How helpful it would be if their instructors recognized the need to stop talking occasionally so that learners could rewind, take a moment to check for understanding, and prepare to continue.

  • How Good Are Your Discussion Facilitation Skills?

    How Good Are Your Discussion Facilitation Skills? Successfully leading and guiding student discussions requires a range of fairly sophisticated communication skills. At the same time teachers are monitoring what’s being said about the content, they must keep track of the discussion itself. Is it on topic? How many students want to speak? Who’s already spoken and wants to speak again? How many aren’t listening? Is it time to move to a different topic? What’s the thinking behind that student question? How might the discussion be wrapped up?  Most of us are not trained discussion facilitators.  Here is an empirically developed instrument that can be used to more clearly identify the various skills involved in effective discussion facilitation and to gather student feedback that can help you assess yours

  • What We Can Learn from a Bad Day of Teaching

    What We Can Learn from a Bad Day of Teaching. We’ve all been in the classroom when our lessons flop, our students get restless, and we feel like captains of a sinking ship. Jena Lynch claims that all teachers have bad days, but the best teachers are the ones who can learn from their mistakes. She will reflect on a bad teaching day and what she learned from it. You are encouraged to take a reflective approach to your own teaching for your students’ benefit and for your professional development.

  • Informal Early Feedback (IEF): A Valuable Opportunity for Just-in-Time Feedback (Now is the time)

    Informal Early Feedback (IEF): A Valuable Opportunity for Just-in-Time Feedback.  Student evaluations of teaching are an important part of the feedback that instructors receive. This feedback can be especially helpful when it is collected midway in the semester. Our students can tell us if we explain clearly, are well-organized, grade fairly, and more. They may also be able to tell us if the activities we give them are well aligned with the ways we evaluate their learning. Responding to students’ comments by discussing them in class, and making changes as appropriate, can lead to increased motivation, better learning, and possibly improved end-of-semester student ratings. Here is a description of the process and sample forms for you to adapt. Also, CITL is offering two workshops next week (Feb. 4th and 6th) to help you design your own IEF form.

  • Ideas to Create a Welcoming, Engaging and Inclusive Classroom

    Ideas to Create a Welcoming, Engaging and Inclusive Classroom. The teaching-learning process is an inherently social act. Throughout the learning process students interact with the instructor, their peers and the course content, often simultaneously in a classroom setting. All of these interactions help shape their success in the course. Instructors can support student success by being mindful of the social and emotional dynamics in their course and ensuring the learning environment is one that is welcoming, engaging, and inclusive. In preparing to teach a course, consider specific actions you might take to create a positive learning experience. It can be small simple things, or more involved and mindful actions you take throughout the semester.

  • Strategies for Starting the Semester Well

    Strategies for Starting the Semester Well. Whether you have been teaching for several years or are beginning to teach your very first semester, being prepared for the start of the semester will help make the transition successful for you and your students. The following is a list of strategies you can use the first day and into the first weeks of the semester that will help you create an engaging, motivating, and organized classroom environment.

  • End-of-the-Semester Reflection from the Teachers Point of View

    End-of-the-Semester Reflection from the Teachers Point of View. Make self-reflection a part of the end of the term teaching process. Self-reflection helps you retain the insights you’ve gained along the way as you have been teaching the current course, and it will inspire you to seek out new approaches; you’ll feel more comfortable, confident, and engaged next semester. Some areas to consider are general reflections and what to do with the information you gathered.

  • Managing the End of the Semester: How to Avoid Hitting the Panic Button

    Managing the End of the Semester: How to Avoid Hitting the Panic Button. Do you ever feel like your back is up against the wall at the end of the semester? You haven’t got all the material you intended to cover covered. Your course syllabus spells out X amount but you’re not quite there yet. It’s a race against time. There are only a few class periods left. You start jamming like there’s no tomorrow. Your main objective: cover the remaining content. Rather than trying to cover that last bit of content, refocus those last few days on providing review sessions. Get with your students and go over that which you have covered, where you’ve taken them, and how far they’ve come.

  • The Rhythms of the Semester: Implications for Practice, Persona

    The Rhythms of the Semester: Implications for Practice, Persona. We recognize that in the march of the semester we begin on a different note than we end on. The early weeks hold promise and high hopes, both often curtailed when the first assignments are graded. The final weeks find us somewhere between being reluctant or relieved to see a class move on. There is an inexplicable but evident interaction between our teaching persona and the persona a class develops throughout a semester. Some structural factors influence both: among them—the type and level of a course, the discipline, the time of day, and whether the students are a cohort or a unique collection of individuals. Here are some ways in which the semester changes over the weeks

  • Creating Cartoons to Spark Engagement and Learning

    Creating Cartoons to Spark Engagement and Learning. As instructors, we are constantly looking for new ways to capture our students’ attention and increase their participation in our classes, especially in the online modalities. We spend countless hours crafting weekly announcements for classes and then inevitably receive multiple emails from our students asking the very same questions that we so carefully and completely answered in those very same announcements! The question remains, how do we get them to read our posts?

    It was precisely that problem I was trying to solve when I came across several articles touting the benefits of comics in higher education classrooms. I wondered if I could create a content-related cartoon that would not only capture students’ attention and maybe make them laugh, but also interest them enough that they would read the entire announcement or post. After a positive response, I decided to provide my online and face-to-face students the opportunity to try their hand at cartoon creation. This activity provide more ways for students to develop higher levels of assimilation and creation (Bloom’s Taxonomy, 2001).

  • Using Grace and Accountability to Uphold Course Expectations

    Using Grace and Accountability to Uphold Course Expectations. Hello. My car caught on fire last night after leaving homecoming game. I carry my laptop everywhere I go. I’m in the process of strapping to get another one. I’m just glad I got out cause the driver door was messed up.  Carmichael and Krueger (as cited in Weimer, 2017) report the challenges of verifying student claims for why an assignment can’t be completed on time. But how is an instructor expected to respond when she receives emails like the one above and how can you minimize student excuses in the future?

  • Are You Telling Stories in the Classroom?

    Are You Telling Stories in the Classroom? I’m not speaking of lying or delivering fake news; I’m talking about an actual story. I like to avoid phrases like “meaning-making,” but that’s what a story can do for students—it allows them to listen, learn, and remember. Consider this: A story communicates something, by definition, and can entertain, amuse, delight, divert, provoke, offend, disturb, disappoint, but in all, a story can instruct.There are five parts to a story: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. This is all fine and good, but a story delivered in the classroom, whether one of these single parts or the sum thereof, can be the spark to help students remember and recall information in a new way, and enable them to grasp the material.  We get to consume, hear a tale unravel. We get to learn something. 

  • Three Ways to Ask Better Questions in the Classroom

    Three Ways to Ask Better Questions in the Classroom. I’ve been doing some presentations on classroom interaction and thinking yet again about how we could do better with our questions — the ones we ask in class or online. Good questions make students think, they encourage participation and I think they improve the caliber of the answers students give and the questions they ask. To achieve those worthwhile outcomes more regularly, I’d like to recommend three actions that have the potential to improve our questioning: prepare questions, play with questions, and preserve good questions.

  • The Sound of Silence Can Be Deafening and the Questions You Ask Your Students Can Provoke It

    The Sound of Silence Can Be Deafening and the Questions You Ask Your Students Can Provoke It. A colleague recently told me that the students in his undergraduate class “didn’t want to talk.” I probed, “What kinds of questions have you asked your students?” He replied, “Well, the first question I asked this morning was ‘What is the main point of the article I assigned for the day?’” Nobody said anything. I pointed out that even I might be afraid to answer such a question. Such questions pose a severe challenge to the confidence of undergraduate students, because the instructor knows the answer and they don’t. When it comes to answering questions about “facts,” there are many ways to be wrong, but only one way to be right. When faced with this dilemma, students are understandably silent. I suggested that he come up with nonthreatening questions: questions that didn’t put a student’s self-confidence and reputation at risk.

  • The Need for Balanced Feedback

    The Need for Balanced Feedback. In the online class environment, students enjoy many advantages, such as increased scheduling flexibility, ability to balance work and school, classroom portability, and convenience. But there are potential shortcomings as well, including the lack of student-instructor interaction and a student not understanding the instructor’s expectations. A key mechanism to convey expectations while increasing student-instructor communication is relevant, timely, constructive, and balanced instructor feedback.

  • Informal Early Feedback (IEF)

    Informal Early Feedback (IEF): A Valuable Opportunity for Just-in-Time Feedback.  Student evaluations of teaching are an important part of the feedback that instructors receive. This feedback can be especially helpful when it is collected midway in the semester. Our students can tell us if we explain clearly, are well-organized, grade fairly, and more. They may also be able to tell us if the activities we give them are well aligned with the ways we evaluate their learning. Responding to students’ comments by discussing them in class, and making changes as appropriate, can lead to increased motivation, better learning, and possibly improved end-of-semester student ratings. Here is a description of the process and sample forms for you to adapt.  Also, CITL is offering two workshops this week and next to help you design your own IEF forms. Here is the information about the workshops.

  • Could Your Assignments Use a Tune-Up?

    Could Your Assignments Use a Tune-Up?  How do students think about assignments? A lot never get past the idea that they’re basically unpleasant things faculty make them do. What does interest a lot of students is finding out what the teacher wants in the assignment, not so much what the assignments asks but more seeking insight as to what the teacher “likes.” Discover that and there’s a better chance of a good grade, or so the thinking goes. Unfortunately, very few students look at an assignment and think, now there’s an interesting learning opportunity. And how do faculty think about assignments? With multiple courses and lots of other work besides, with each new assignment developed there’s a tendency to first consider the amount of grading that will come with it. Assignments are what students ride on their way to learning. Our responsibility is to provide good vehicle maintenance and recognition when it’s time for a trade-in. 

  • Three Ways to Engage Students In and Outside the Classroom

    Three Ways to Engage Students In and Outside the Classroom. When students become directly engaged in the learning process, they take ownership of their education. The following learning activities have helped me to engage students in and outside the classroom. The strategies also help keep my teaching relevant, fresh, and creative. They are: a) get real, b) see a show, and c) breathe fire.

  • Make the Most of the First Day of Class

    Make the Most of the First Day of Class. The first day of class always creates some nervousness, even for seasoned instructors. It helps to have a mental checklist of objectives to accomplish so that you and your students come away with the impression that the course is off to a good start. The first class meeting should serve at least two basic purposes: 1) To clarify all reasonable questions students might have relative to the course objectives, as well as your expectations for their performance in class. As students leave the first meeting, they should believe in your competence to teach the course, be able to predict the nature of your instruction, and know what you will require of them and 2) To give you an understanding of who is taking your course and what their expectations are. These two basic purposes expand into a set of eight concrete objectives

  • First Impressions: Activities for the First Day of Class

    First Impressions: Activities for the First Day of Class. The old expression that you never have a second chance to make a first impression is certainly true in the classroom. Early in my career, I tried several first-day-of-class strategies, ranging from briefly introducing the course and dismissing students early to spending the entire time reviewing policies and procedures, but I began to feel that I was missing an important opportunity. Students are never more attentive than they are on the first day of class, when they’re eager to determine what kind of professor they’re dealing with, and although it is tempting to delay the real work of teaching and learning until the class list has stabilized, it can be difficult to change even the subtle norms that are established during this initial class. Here are some easy to implement strategies.

  • Identifying Pearls of Wisdom from End-of-Semester Course Evaluations

    At the end of the semester it can be valuable to take a few moments and reflect on what went well in your courses, and what you might want to change the next time you teach them. One source of information is the student evaluations of teaching, available to you after you submit your final grades.

  • Checklist for the End of the Semester.

    As the semester is coming to a close, when all is still fresh in your mind, it’s the perfect time to review, reevaluate, renew, and recycle. Here is a short checklist of things you can do now to make things easier, more efficient, and more productive next semester; e.g., review your syllabus, update your lesson plans and review your assignments and exams.

  • Conquering ‘Forty Percent of the Grade’: Interactive Strategies for Helping Students Prepare for Comprehensive Final Exams.

    “But it’s 40% of the grade!” First-year Political Science students commonly raise this concern about the comprehensive final exam often given at the end of introductory survey courses. Many are simply unsure about how to study for cumulative exams. Further, commonly recommended approaches (such as reading carefully and taking notes) tend to preference visual learners. Students who learn best by talking through their ideas and actively participating are often at a disadvantage and struggle with identifying strategies that work for them. Preparation often becomes an anxiety-provoking, last-minute cram session filled with more stress and caffeine than actual learning. Here are four strategies to help students of all learning styles identify key concepts, relate them to one another, and develop critical essay arguments during the course of the final exam.

  • Final Exams.

    A common complaint from students is that final exams do not always test the kinds of knowledge that is asked for in homework or quizzes or presented in lectures. Whether this perception is accurate or not, it's still an excellent starting point for talking about what you are testing when you give a final exam. The worst final exams can seem unfocused, determined to test everything, or random things. The best final exams are learning moments. If you presented a set of learning goals and objectives to your students on your syllabus, you're way ahead of the game, because that means you've thought through what is important to you for a particular class. The very simplest procedure then is to develop an exam that will demonstrate whether students have achieved these objectives.  

  • Class Discussion: From Blank Stares to True Engagement

    The idea of attempting to engage students in discussion is rather frightening. There’s always the possibility that we will be met with silence. Sociologists have long contended that our behavior is guided by norms. The college classroom is no exception. You have likely noticed whichever seat a student sits in on the first day of class is where the student will sit for the entire semester. It is a normative expectation that students have about the classroom. Why can students get away with only paying civil attention; i.e., creating the appearance of paying attention? The answer is that we as faculty let them. Here are some ways to create new classroom norms.

  • They Haven’t Done the Reading. Again.

    If you believe the research, on any given day, something like 70 percent of our students come to class having not done the assigned reading. That phenomenon is immensely annoying to most faculty members. Who among us has not faced a classroom full of blank stares, with seemingly no one prepared to answer the well-thought-out question we've asked about the reading? How can we ensure that students are meeting what should be a very basic responsibility? You need to demonstrate that the students need to do the reading to take full advantage of class time.

  • Students as Forgotten Allies in Preventing Cheating

    Faculty are pretty much focused on preventative measures, which are essential, but there are a couple of other issues rarely mentioned in the literature or in our discussions. Students who don’t cheat usually aren’t on our side when it comes to enforcing cheating policies. In one study, almost 93% of the students said they had witnessed another student cheat, but only 4.4% said they had ever reported a cheating incident (Bernardi, et. al., 2016) Students are in a bind—they don’t want to rat out fellow classmates, some of whom may be friends. If they do and word gets out, they are labeled as “snitches” and “tattletales” — told to mind their own business and otherwise berated. With serious social consequences like these, it takes real courage to do the right thing.

  • Cheating and Plagiarism on the Rise?

    Cheating and plagiarism have received considerable press nationally, with many colleges and universities reporting that breaches of academic integrity are increasing every year. Unfortunately, we do not have accurate numbers as many faculty members may choose not report incidents to their departments, but what is known is there is an increase in sophisticated and premediated methods of cheating and plagiarism.  To discourage cheating, there are a number of strategies that you can implement.

  • Learning Fundamental Principles, Generalizations, or Theories

    How can we improve our students comprehension of basic principle? How can students show they "comprehend" a principle, generalization or theory? Bloom talks about three ways: 1) Translation: restate the principles, generalization or theory in their own words, b) Interpretation: involve the student's recognition that the communication is describing the operation of a principle, c) Extrapolation: making of predictions based on understanding of the trends, tendencies or conditions described in the communication. This article describes the teaching strategies to promote these levels of understanding, along with ways to assess their understanding.  

  • Teaching Students Specific Skills

    Sometime it is important to teach students how to do something, not something abstract like thinking, but how to execute some observable skill, such as starting an IV, writing code, or wiring a circuit. Teaching skills, much like teaching in general, shares certain similarities that are relevant across a variety of degree programs. It’s good to review these and use them to take stock of how we can better help students learn specific skills. This article describes some of those assumptions about how learners can master skills