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Oct 15, 2014

Teaching with Technology

The pace of change in education software and hardware makes figuring out how to best incorporate technology into a course a daunting task for both technophobes and the technosavvy. It seems that as soon as you are comfortable using a particular tool, a new version is released or you find out about another tool that is supposedly better. Since there are only so many hours most instructors have to devote to this task, it is wise to be strategic when making technology choices.

Technology should help students achieve the learning goals of your course. Even if you are happy with your course goals or if you have learning objectives determined by your department or accrediting body, you should periodically assess whether they are the best they can be. There are many course design approaches that begin with goals and objectives, but the Cutting Edge Course Design Tutorial is online and free. Designed for geoscience faculty by Barbara Tewkesbury (Hamilton College) and R. Heather McDonald (College of William and Mary), the tutorial is applicable to all disciplines. Even if you do not need to design or redesign an entire course, their goal setting exercise is a good place to reflect on what you want your students to learn.

Once you are comfortable with your course goals, you can begin to think about technology as a tool to help you manage your course and help students achieve these goals. At this point, you may be tempted to jump head first into an investigation of the many software and hardware options available. Before going down that path, consider reading some thoughtful writing about technology. One particularly good blog on this topic is Casting Out Nines written by Robert Talbert for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Talbert’s engaging, well-written, and much discussed posts are not restricted to technology – he often addresses why and when technology makes the most sense in a college classroom. If you would rather read a book about how to use technology more effectively, Howard Gardner’s Netsmart: How to Thrive Online (MIT Press) offers more general advice that can help you be more mindful about how you incorporate digital media in your life.

The most logical technology tool to look at first is Blackboard, NYIT’s learning management system (LMS). A LMS is the Swiss army knife of instructional technology – its strength does not lie in one thing, but rather the fact that it does a lot of things in one integrated place. The other advantage of a LMS is that it is secure (only faculty and students can access it) and integrated with our student information database (with uploaded student rosters and the ability to record grades). The disadvantage of a LMS is that it does not help students learn how to use technology in the “real world” outside of your institution’s servers. You also may find better (and free) software options outside the LMS environment.

After you have considered how you might use the LMS, think about other ways you might use technology. If you are a novice, start small and think about how you might use technology to improve your lectures or classroom activities. The SUNY Tools of Engagement website (with self-paced tutorials designed to help instructors learn about technology) might help you make these decisions. After you have tried out a few tools, you might be ready to integrate technology into a significant assignment or an entire course. Once you start down this path, consider whether your course is appropriate for an online or blended instructional format. Staff at the Center for Teaching and Learning are eager to help you think through how to move all or part of your course online.

Always keep in mind the idea that educational technology is a tool that should help your students learn and make your teaching life more efficient. If you find that technology is more of an obstacle than an opportunity, change your approach or consult with someone at the CTL or with an Ed Tech Ambassador, who can help you think differently about how to use it. If you are willing to spend a little time reflecting on and practicing how to use technology, you might become the person your colleagues turn to for help.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Christopher Price, Director,
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching,
The College at Brockport,
State University of New York,

Author: francine_glazer

Oct 08, 2014

To Text or Not to Text (with a book, not a phone!): That is the question.

When I was a college student (a significant number of years ago), every course I took came with a list of textbooks that was to be purchased prior to the first day of class. I didn’t pay attention to the content of the book or its cost. I didn’t even look to see if the instructor had marked it “required” or just “recommended.” It was officially part of the course material and I anticipated needing all of those resources to be successful. I was an eager and academically-minded (i.e., nerdy) 18-year old freshman, who was fully funded by Mom and Dad, and whose only responsibility was to get good grades.

Now from my vantage point as a full-time professor at the Community College of Rhode Island, I can see that my college situation represents a fairy tale of circumstances that very few of my current students will ever enjoy. Their tuition comes from their salary, not Mom and Dad’s, and is just one of their innumerable expenses. They have jobs to go to, bills to pay, and children to support, sometimes parents too. Many of today’s students have to make tough decisions about whether or not it is truly beneficial to invest in a textbook, not just their money but also their time.

In addition to the high price of textbooks, there seems to be a variety of reasons that students do not use, and therefore frequently decide not to buy, textbooks. First, in many courses, particularly lecture classes, the instructor covers all of the test material during lecture thereby making the textbook redundant. Why should a student “waste” time reading material in the book, when they can listen to it in lecture?

Students don’t seem to understand that the purpose of textbooks is to provide an alternate presentation or explanation of the material, as well as a synthesis of concepts that may have been discussed separately in class. They can also serve as a reference for finding clarification of concepts that the student may not have fully grasped the first time through in class. Ultimately, students don’t realize that repetition is a vital tool for learning.

Next, students have limited amounts of time to devote to their classes, so they tend to study their notes instead of reading the textbook. It’s hard to deny that it’s a more efficient use of time to review concise notes than to read through chunky paragraphs in long chapters. Students rarely consider that by neglecting their text, they are missing out on other content like graphs, tables and pictures. These are extremely valuable sources of information offered in a convenient and condensed presentation (just the way they like it).

Finally, some students quickly become frustrated trying to tackle the text because their reading level and comprehension skills are not compatible with the assigned textbook. When the mechanics of reading are painful to students, most will surely avoid the source of this pain. This problem hints at leniency in enforcing English placement test scores and course prerequisites and is often a larger college-wide issue.

The reasons student don’t buy and/or use their textbooks seem clear. So what can instructors do to address this problem beyond marking their text “required” in the bookstore? First, spend a few minutes on the first day of class explaining the reasons you chose the textbook, identify its strengths and weaknesses (nothing is perfect) and discuss the many ways it can benefit the student during the semester, including information about the importance of repetition and alternate explanations, as well as the value of the charts and graphs. This may give the student an appreciation for the book’s value and help them feel less resentful of its cost. Students seem to be naturally repelled by textbooks, so a colleague of mine assigns an activity “scavenger hunt” to help students orient themselves with the book’s content and organization. The hope is that by establishing familiarity with the textbook at the semester’s start, the student will feel more comfortable using the book for assignments and as a resource as the semester progresses.

A more direct approach is to create assignments that are specific to the book’s content. The internet has made this a challenge. Most information is currently what I like to call “Google-able.” As a result, many of my reading assignment questions are based on the pictures, diagrams and tables in the book, so the answers are text-specific. In some disciplines, the interpretation or commentary in the book may be specific enough to prevent Googling of the assignment’s answers and missing out on all that the textbook has to offer.

A final approach is to include questions on exams that come only from the textbook and are never covered in lecture. I used to threaten to do this, but I quickly realized that it caused unnecessary anxiety among my students. The reality is that my lectures cover everything that I think is important enough to be on the exam. That doesn’t mean that I don’t expect my students to read their textbook and use it as a resource and study tool. They have text-based “reading assignments” for every chapter of the book we cover that collectively are worth 5% of their final grade. I can’t resist telling them it is the most important “texting” they’ll do all semester!

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Eylana Goldman Goffe, Ph.D.
Professor, Biology Department
Community College of Rhode Island

Author: francine_glazer

Oct 01, 2014

Discouraging Disruptive Student Behaviors

Often, disruptions are the result of different expectations on the parts of faculty and students. What we as faculty members view as inappropriate behavior for the classroom, students may view as quite normal. For example, we might view texting during class as disrespectful. Students, by contrast, likely view this as a routine activity and quite normal.

In the spirit of “the best offense is a good defense,” I offer these ideas on ways to prevent disruption before it occurs.

Keep the lines of communication open

A comprehensive syllabus that details all of your policies and expectations makes it easier for students to understand what you want. For example, include policies about attendance, late arrivals, and early departures from class; your turnaround time on grading; your expectations for participation in class discussions; and whether you allow assignments to be turned in late for partial credit. Make sure that your office hours are clearly indicated. Use Blackboard to post announcements so students can find them easily, and set up a discussion forum where they can ask questions.

Make your students your partners in creating an environment conducive to learning

At the beginning of the semester, tell your students that their participation is critical in creating a good environment for learning. Be clear about your expectations, and how they can help create that environment. Collaboration is a powerful tool: students become accountable to one another for coming to class on time and prepared to work. If you don’t want to use teams in your class, punctuate your lectures with discussions and activities. Help students engage with and apply the content they are learning to real-life situations they will encounter in a professional setting.

Show the value of civil behavior

Relate students’ behavior in class to their professional behavior at work. Some departments at NYIT include professionalism as an explicit student learning outcome at the program level. Make it clear to your students that in addition to teaching them valuable content, you are teaching them valuable collaboration and ‘soft’ skills that they will need to succeed in today’s job market.

Create and enforce a code of conduct

If your students work in teams, have them create the code of conduct as a negotiated document. This serves a dual function of team-building and gaining student buy-in. Consider including in your syllabus a list of academic and behavioral expectations — both for you and for them. Some faculty have students sign the last page of the syllabus and return it to affirm that they have read and will abide by the policies stated in the syllabus, including the code of conduct.

Practice reflective teaching

Make sure your students realize that you are interested in their learning. Collect midterm feedback from your students on your teaching. Use classroom assessment techniques as quick ways for students to find out if they have grasped the important content and know how to apply it. Ask the Center for Teaching and Learning to come into your class and conduct a Quick Course Diagnosis with your students. Ask your colleagues to come into your classroom and observe you teach, and give you feedback. Exchange your course syllabi with your colleagues and compare policies.

Respond, don’t react

When confronted by a disruptive student in a classroom, model professional behavior. Whenever possible, do not have a confrontation in the middle of class, but instead ask the student to speak with you afterward. Think before responding to an angry email. Invite the student to come in to speak with you so there is less chance of misunderstanding each other.

Seek help when you need it

Talk to your department chair and more experienced colleagues about how they handle similar situations. Contact the campus dean, who can talk with the student if that’s appropriate. Ask the staff at the Center for Teaching and Learning to review your course syllabus, looking at how you design assignments as well as at your policies. And always keep thorough documentation of difficult encounters, and keep your department chair apprised of what’s happening.

Expert advice

We are fortunate to be hosting Dr. Thomas Grace at NYIT tomorrow, October 2, who will discuss “Disruptive Students: Legal, Educational, and Therapeutic Considerations for Faculty.” Students whose behavior disrupts the campus or classroom represent significant challenges in managing student conduct. Faculty and staff will learn what to do when the students actions compromise the college experience for others. Please join us on Thursday, October 2, during free hour (12:45–2:10 p.m.) at the NYIT Auditorium on Broadway and at Rockefeller auditorium in Old Westbury. RSVP to reserve a seat.

I hope to see you at the session! To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 24, 2014

Building Global Competencies

This fall at Assessment Day, NYIT faculty members discussed techniques for building global competency by taking advantage of the diverse students we have in our classrooms. The Discovery Core includes the following description of global competency:

Students can identify interdependencies among cultures and are able to collaborate effectively, participating in social and business settings globally.
Upon graduation, students will be able to: 
  • Recognize the impact of the global interconnectedness of issues, processes, trends, and systems on their academic specializations and worldviews.
  • Practice well-researched oral, written, visual, and digital communication in its diverse cross-cultural forms.
  • Describe a complex global issue from multiple cultural perspectives and explain how those perspectives affect the treatment of the issue.
  • Employ effective and appropriate interaction and teamwork with people of different nationalities and cultures, demonstrating respect for social, cultural, and linguistic diversity.

NYIT faculty members described three challenges they frequently encounter and discussed strategies they have developed in response:

  1. Language issues: comprehension, communication (oral and written), cultural misunderstandings and values differences.
  2. Differences in learning styles and unfamiliarity with Western learning methods and norms.
  3. Students do not have a uniform set of prior learning experiences.

It can be challenging to learn everyone’s name, and some faculty members have developed strategies to do this. One faculty member asks students to write their names and seat locations on the white board in the classroom. Students then sit in the same seats for two or three weeks until everyone in class learns each others’ names.

In addition to learning each others’ names, students at NYIT learn about each others’ cultures. In some English classes, students are assigned stories or poems to read, for example, a story about Dublin in 1900. The students are then asked to rewrite the literature to reflect current times, issues and their culture in their respective countries. In media classes in Communication Arts, students bring in samples of media from their respective countries, such as newspaper articles, magazine stories, video, or social media. They introduce themselves and talk about their cultures and how the media operates in their country.

Our students have different levels of proficiency in English. A number of faculty make use of Zoom, VoiceThread, and the asynchronous discussion boards on Blackboard, so students have time to think and prepare what they want to say in advance - always helpful when communicating in a second language.

In the Senior Design course in the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences, students work in teams that are comprised of local and international students. The teams must stay together for one year; students do not have the option of picking team members. Students must speak English as a team although they may speak their first language when necessary to clarify concepts. Required weekly presentations aid students in practicing their oral presentation skills, and significant improvement is evident over the course of the year.

The ability to work as part of a team is essential in today’s world. Our faculty members build heterogeneous teams, so that students with different strengths can learn to work together effectively.

There’s an art to forming teams so that they work effectively. First, learn about the backgrounds of the individual students and assess their interest levels in different topics. Try to keep students with similar research interests together. At the same time, try to mix students with different skills so that they complement each other. Alternatively, if you want truly randomized groups, pick the teams by numbers.

Encourage groups to self-manage by establishing group rules. For example, allow students to determine what happens if someone doesn’t contribute, and to agree on an appropriate penalty if needed.

One way to add a global dimension is to assign projects that are set in context abroad. This strategy is especially effective when the setting is a region or culture in which no students belong, because all the students will then have to do research. You can also change the audience for presentations to one that is outside the students’ peer group. This encourages the students to think about what they know and how to present the material in a different market setting. At the end of a group project, some faculty require each student to make a self-assessments of his or her contributions.

Future Weekly Teaching Notes will share specific strategies for teamwork. If you have a strategy you’d like to share, or if you want to follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 17, 2014

Assignment Planning Guide and Questions

Here are some things to consider and questions to ask yourself when planning an assignment.

Assignment description: A brief overview (one or two sentences) about the assignment.

  • Why are you giving the students this assignment?
  • Which learning outcome(s) is it designed to measure?
  • Who is the (perhaps hypothetical) audience for the assignment: academicians, people working in a particular setting, or the general public?
  • What assistance can you provide to students while they are working on the assignment? For example, are you willing to critique drafts?
  • How will you score or grade the assignment? The best way to communicate this is to give students a copy of the rubric that you will use to evaluate completed assignments.

Learning outcome(s): (that the assignment is designed to measure):

Before continuing to plan the assignment, carefully consider what the students need to do to show that they have achieved the learning outcomes, and whether the time that it will take for the students to complete the assignment successfully is reasonable considering the workload of the course (and of the other courses in the current semester).

Assignment title:

What is the title of the Assignment? Instead of using a title of ‘Research Essay’ or ‘Final Project,’ the title of the assignment should convey, in some way, the expectations of the assignment. Is this an argumentative essay, a research project on Social Media Trends, a feasibility analysis, or a Business Plan?)

Assignment audience:

Who is the audience for the assignment? Are the students preparing it for you and/or for a class presentation? Alternatively, consider having the students present their work to an external audience. Often, you will see a dramatic improvement in the quality of the work. One example: studio courses in the School of Architecture and Design have a final review at the end of each semester in which students present their work to the course instructors, the Dean, and members of the school’s Advisory Board.

Assignment goals:

What do you expect the students to learn by completing the assignment? Double check: do these goals relate clearly to one or more of the learning outcomes of the course?

Design decisions:

  • What should be included in the completed assignment?
  • What readings, reference materials, and technologies are they expected to use?
  • How much time do you expect students to spend on this assignment?
  • Can they collaborate with others? If so, to what extent?
  • How should they format the completed assignment?
  • How much will it count toward their final grade?

Skills required to successfully complete the assignment:

This is especially important if you are requiring that the student use a technology tool or media for the assignment. If you are planning an assignment that requires the students to use technologies that they may not be familiar with, how will you prepare for the extra work that entails both from the students’ perspectives and yours? How will you guide students through the process? What supports will you put in place to ensure that the students have the skills so that they are able to successfully complete the tasks?

Resources for the assignment:

  • Will you give the students a list of resources that they can use to complete the assignment?
  • If research is involved, what level of credibility or professional standards will you require?
  • Will you accept reference materials from the open web or only the library databases?
  • How many sources do they need?
  • How are you supporting student learning about ways to avoid plagiarism?

Grading criteria:

  • What are your grading criteria?
  • Have you created a checklist or rubric that indicates the expectations of the grading levels? Have you decided what an A, B, C, D, and F “looks like”?
  • Is there an exemplar that you can show the students?


To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Valerie Lopes, PhD
Professor/Coordinator, Teaching and Learning
Seneca College, Toronto, Ontario

Author: francine_glazer

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