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Nov 30, 2010

Encouraging Student Attendance

As the semester progresses, faculty members often see a noticeable decline in attendance. In fact, estimates in large classes suggest that over 60% of students deliberately cut them. Empty seats (and sadly, empty minds) are an issue, but there are some things you can do.

Some Things to Try:

  • Make the class informative, interesting, and relevant. Add variety and entertainment to lectures, such as animations, slide shows, demos, video clips, music, and guest speakers.
  • Post outlines—not the complete notes—on your course web page or in Blackboard, so that students know what to expect. They can use them as a guide for taking notes and not as a substitute for attending class.
  • Use supplemental illustrations and examples that students can’t get any other place other than in class.
  • Give exam-directed problems in class.
  • Count class participation toward the final grade.
  • Give students a topic to think about for the next class discussion or a puzzle to solve either for fun or credit.
  • Give regular pop or announced quizzes. Give quizzes at the beginning of class to encourage timely arrival and to get feedback on assigned reading. Alternatively, give quizzes at the end of class to test comprehension. 
  • Give more scheduled exams covering less material.
  • Give weekly in-class assignments that can be done in 20-30 minutes that give students the chance to apply what they have learned. Students can work individually or in pairs. Give students credit for completing assignments, but don't grade them.
  • Collect homework and give students credit for handing it in. You don’t have to do this every day to encourage attendance.
  • Establish a policy that grades will be lowered according to the number of sessions missed.

Some additional ideas for larger classes:

  • Use personal response systems (“clickers”) to encourage attendance and pair-related problem-solving. Some systems, such as Poll Everywhere, lets students use their cell phones to respond, instead of a clicker.
  • Put students in large classes into groups of four using playing cards. You can have up to 13 groups, Aces through Kings, and the suits can designate the individual identities within the team. Team folders can be used for classroom management and accountability purposes. All teams are responsible for turning in the group activities in the team folder, and any team member could be called on for group reports based on their playing card suit within the team folder.

Resources

 

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Contributor:

Barbara Millis, Ph.D.
Director, Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio
http://www.utsa.edu/tlc/

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 16, 2010

Do No Harm: A Dose of SoTL

 

Primum non nocere (“First, do no harm.”)


The medical and medical ethics dictum of “do no harm” is based on the concern that sometimes an action or intervention may be more likely to cause harm than good, in which case it would be better to do nothing at all. This caution is not usually connected with teaching, but could it be? 

Teaching students has been called a great act of optimism and is a pivot and catalyst for the continuation of human culture and society. College professors are part of that great chain of learning that begins in the womb and can continue to the tomb. But are we sure we are primarily doing good, even if (as I believe) most faculty want their students to learn and benefit in their courses and programs? Are there some approaches to teaching that, in the long run of curiosity and learning, may cause more harm to the students than good? If children are naturally inquisitive, does formal education (including higher education) help or hinder their motivation to learn?

How could teaching cause harm? If learning, understanding, critical and creating thinking, imaginative reflection, problem solving, insightful and effective communication, etc. are some of the goals that college faculty seek for their students, not guiding students to higher order thinking skills and capabilities could be seen as “harm,” especially when students, professors, administrators, parents, employers, and society expect that such learning outcomes will occur over the course of a college education.

And what if some approaches to teaching actually diminish, rather than stimulate, students’ curiosity to learn and their imaginative, intellectual development? Wouldn’t that be a great harm done?   

These are complex issues, but teaching has often been assumed to be something fairly simple to do. You learn a lot about something and then you tell others (students) about what you learned. But whereas you may have had a passion for learning in general, or for learning a particular discipline, simply telling students about it may actually (with exceptions) demotivate students to learn the subject, and to learn in general. 

To learn more about how to not only do no harm, but to do good for students’ learning is a generative sign of life. As John Newman said, “The only real sign of life is growth.” One way to take the pulse of life in one’s work with students today is called the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, or SoTL.SoTL calls for faculty to realize that good teaching is serious intellectual work that deserves the same kind of investigative inquiry and seeking of evidence as does traditional disciplinary research. Whether one learns from the SoTL work of others, or engages in SoTL research oneself, SoTL can serve as an antidote to habitual, unfounded assumptions that learning has taken place. 

SoTL is not an antidote to all pedagogical shortcomings in higher education, but rather a dose of inquiry into what students are actually learning (and not learning), how that is happening, and why. Since the main purpose of SoTL is improving student learning, a dose of it can stoke one’s passion for teaching and refresh the learning experiences of one’s students. SoTL doesn’t take the art and mystery out of teaching, simply promotes the goal of real learning.

It could even be said that a dose of SoTL can change the perception of and attitudes toward teaching by changing the focus from the work of the teacher to the work of the students. Across all disciplines, many methods of teaching, and sizes and classifications of institutions, SoTL can model and epitomize the integration of teaching, learning, and scholarship. By drawing students into the learning process, it is not only content that is transmitted, but also understanding and a desire to learn that are fostered.


Resources:


 
To follow up on these ideas, please contact me at  fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Contributor:

Alan Altany, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Excellence in Teaching
Georgia Southern University
academics.georgiasouthern.edu/cet/

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 10, 2010

Tips for Group Work

When you assign several students to produce a major assignment together you will have to consider not only the quality of the task they complete but also the effectiveness of their interaction. If one of your course objectives is that students will learn to work together with colleagues, then teach them how. The steps are the same as for teaching and grading discussion:

  • Provide criteria and instructions.
  • Provide opportunities for practice and feedback. 

Here are some suggestions for guiding group processes:

  • Begin with instructions and guidelines for group work. Address the ways in which groups could go astray.
  • Construct a rubric by which the groups will be evaluated.
  • Have groups compose and sign a written agreement, at the beginning of their work together, that details what behaviors they will all be responsible for (for example, being on time for meetings, completing their share of the work by certain deadlines, communicating regularly with other group members) and what they each will do (Mary will research this part; John will research this part; Ling-Chi will produce the first full draft; Jamal will edit the draft).
  • Ask the group to appoint people to certain roles: record keeper, convener, and others.
  • Ask the group to give frequent feedback to you and to each other. At the end of each meeting, whether online or face-to-face, group members can write to one another what they thought was successful about the group meeting and what they thought needed improvement. Responses can be shared with you, and you can step in quickly if the group is struggling.
  • Ask a recorder to post or submit to you a record of the group's activities. When did they get together? Who was present? What did each person do? What progress was made? What problems arose, and how did the group address them? What, if anything, do they need from you?
  • Schedule a face-to-face or synchronous online meeting with each group at intervals to check the group's progress and interaction. At these meeting, anyone who feels another group member is not doing his or her share should say so right there in the group so the issue can be discussed while you can facilitate.

Resources:

  • Linking teaching, learning, and grading. Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College, by Barbara E. Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson.   Copyright 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

If you would like samples of rubrics, progress report templates, or peer evaluation forms, or to borrow a copy of the book Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Contributor:

Barbara Millis, Ph.D.
Director, Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio
http://www.utsa.edu/tlc/

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 02, 2010

Balancing Flexibility and Fairness Through Course Design

 

  • “Prof. Smith, I won’t be able to make it to class tonight because unfortunately my flight back from vacation has been delayed by an hour and now I won't make it back to New York in time for class.  Is there supposed to be a quiz today and if so is there any way I can make it up?”
  • “Hey Professor, I am terribly sorry, but I am unable to attend class this evening due to familial issues. I am writing in an attempt to ascertain what precisely we went over tonight, and what I need to review in order to not fall behind my peers.”
  • “I will not be able to make it to class today due to a conflict with work but I have attached my re-write of the last paper and will get the notes from someone who was in class. Please let me know if there are any important announcements I will miss.”
We have probably all seen emails from students like the ones above, and in fact these are probably fairly mild examples; I have received far more outrageous--and inappropriate--student emails than these.  It is understandable if we react viscerally to them.  We may want to yell at the computer, reply with a snarky email, or, more to the point, penalize the student for missing class and/or assignment deadlines.  Students should just follow the rules and then, “problem solved,” right?

Well, sort of.

Perhaps there is a place for empathy and compassion toward the student whose work schedule changes abruptly, who has (even an unspecified) family emergency, or whose family travel plans become derailed in the middle of the semester.  Like it or not, student demographics are changing as are students’ priorities and work habits (Higher Education Research Institute, 2010).  More students work to cover costs while in college, more students attend college with specific job-skills development in mind, and the range of aptitudes, study skills, and college preparedness continues to widen.  Maryellen Weimer (2006) encourages instructors to put themselves in their students’ shoes by taking a college course outside their field of expertise every few years in order to experience all the aspects of learning, including balancing course deadlines with work deadlines, figuring out what the professor “wants,” and adhering to the rules and expectations that are particular to that course alone--all of which are juggling acts that our students must do constantly.  Still, while compassion and empathy may be warranted, we want to avoid granting special treatment to individual students, and it is important for the sake of our own workload and our own time management to hold students to reasonable standards, or “lines in the sand” (Robertson, 2003).

Learner-centered course design can help us to balance the competing demands of compassion and fairness.  Learner-centeredness shifts responsibility for learning to students while granting them more opportunities, control, and options over how they demonstrate their learning (Weimer, 2002).  We can use course design both to hold students responsible and to provide allowances for when life “interrupts” their studies, all while preserving our sanity and our lines in the sand.

Some course design ideas that accomplish this goal include:
  • Carrots that reward on-time submission of assignments.  I accept late papers (up to three days late) from my students, but only those students who submit their work on time have the option to rewrite their papers and to incorporate my feedback for an improved grade. 
  • Bounded flexibility.  Alternatively, a colleague at Metropolitan State College gives his students a “syllabus quiz” in the first week of the semester.  Every student who passes earns 5 credits toward turning in work late (1 credit = 1 day).  Students can cash in all of their credits at once with one assignment, or they can split them across assignments at different times in the semester.
  • Cooperative/collaborative learning.  If students have to miss a class session in a course that incorporates group learning, they have a resource—their fellow students—on whom to rely to try to catch up, rather than coming right away to the instructor to find out what they “missed.”
  • Technology.  Web-based tools, including Learning Management Systems (for example Moodle or Blackboard), Wikis (for example PBWiki), and Google Docs can reinforce cooperative learning and the sense of community within a course.  If students find that they need to miss a class meeting unexpectedly, they can turn to these online resources where they might find threaded discussions designed to supplement in-class learning, or examples of student work/reflections completed in class and posted to a Wiki.  Students may also be able to use the online tool to contact their “group” for help. 
Of course, students need to know that the interactions and engagement that occur in class are not replicable and that missing class means missing out on an opportunity to learn.  Still, life sometimes interferes with the best intentions, and providing some opportunity for students to learn—an opportunity that does not rely on the instructor delivering instruction twice over—is preferable to penalizing the student by doing nothing.

Resources:

  • Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. “A Snapshot of the First Year Experience.  Accessed on July 15, 2010 at www.heri.ucla.edu/PDFs/pubs/briefs/HERI_ResearchBrief_OL_2009_YFCY_02_04.pdf
  • Robertson, D. (2003). Making Time, Making Change: Avoiding Overload in College Teaching. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.  
  • Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.  
  • Weimer, M. (2006). Enhancing Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning: Professional Literature That Makes a Difference. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 


To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Contributor:

Mark Potter
Center for Faculty Development
Metropolitan State College of Denver

Author: francine_glazer

Oct 26, 2010

Team Teach with a Student

Consider team teaching with a student. Team teaching is sometimes touted as something that “every instructor should try” (Harte 1995:3). Research suggests that professor-student teaching teams offer several benefits to students, student teachers, and professors. For a review of both the benefits and the challenges, as well as ways to avoid the challenges, see Gray and Harrison (2003). 

For greatest effectiveness, team teaching pairs should plan to work together in the professor’s office during the class period before and after each class you teach together. Before each class period, make sure you are both clear about the order of class activities, who will lead each activity, and how. After class, help each other decompress and assess the previous class period, take notes on what should be done differently, and discuss any outstanding issues or long-term planning.

Students report enhanced learning because the method gives the students a new perspective and improves the availability of teachers; student teachers learn a lot about teaching and the subject matter; and professors report it gives them excellent substitute teachers and a valuable source of feedback for teaching improvement. As a result of the many benefits of team teaching, the professors and student teachers involved in this study all indicated they would like to team teach again (Gray and Harrison 2003).


Resources:

  • Gray, Tara and Paige Harrison. 2003. "Team Teach with a Student: A Pilot Program in Criminal Justice,” Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 14(1): 163-180.
  • Gray, T. and S. Halbert. 1998. “Team Teach with a Student: New Approach to Collaborative Teaching.” College Teaching 46: 150-153.
  • Harte, T. B. 1995. “Two Heads Really Are Better than One.” Journal on Excellence in College Teaching 6: 3-7.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.
 

Contributors:

Tara Gray, Paige Harrison, and Sami Halbert Geurts
Submitted by Tara Gray, Ph.D.
Director, The Teaching Academy
New Mexico State University

Author: francine_glazer

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Profiles
Paul Kutasovic Paul Kutasovic
Professor
Department: Economics
Campus: Old Westbury
Kathie Golden Kathie Golden
Administrative Assistant
Office: Global Academic Programs
Campus: Old Westbury
Larissa Jean Larissa Jean
Campus: Old Westbury
Major: Life Sciences, B.S.
Class Of: 2014