CURRENT ARTICLE • March 10th laptop with book.

Reduce Online Course Anxiety with a Check-in Quiz

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“Online classes are often intimidating for first-time students,” writes David St Clair. “They wrestle with the gnawing fear that their class has no anchor in the physical world and that there will be no one there to address their fears and concerns.” (p. 129) His solution? A simple, online check-in quiz.

Here’s how the activity unfolds. The first assignment in the online course, to be completed on the first day, is this required check-in quiz. In St Clair’s case, it meets the university’s first-day attendance requirement. Students can be dropped from the course if they don’t meet that university requirement. They read the syllabus and take the quiz, which comes to them as an attachment in the course welcome email. The quiz is also posted on the course Blackboard site. Beyond fulfilling the check-in requirement, this quiz is actually a tour of course features. “To find the quiz, learn about the quiz, take the quiz, and to receive their grade on the quiz, students need to navigate through virtually every part of the online class site.” (p. 130) As St Clair points out, you could “tell” students how to navigate the features of the online course, but the more powerful way is having them discover those features for themselves.

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Group of University students in lecture hall March 9

Five Types of Student Questions and Sample Responses

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Students ask all different kinds of questions. Some are on the money—good, honest queries about content that they don’t understand or want to know more about. Other student questions are more difficult to handle. It’s good to have some strategies lined up for when these sorts of questions are raised.

Questions you can’t understand – Sometimes when the understanding is muddled, so is the question. It doesn’t make sense, even though what’s in the midst of the muddle may be a legitimate question.

  • Apologize: “I’m not sure I’m understanding the question. Please ask again. Maybe you can rephrase the question or talk to me a bit about what’s behind the question.” When the student tries again, listen intently.
  • Take a stab: “Let me see if I’ve got the question. Here’s what I think you’re asking.”
  • Enlist help: “I need help. Would someone else take a crack at asking the question?”

Questions that are irrelevant – These aren’t bad questions, they’re just not appropriate given the content under consideration or at this time in the course.

  • Recognize the question’s value but decline to answer it for now: “That’s a good question, but I’m not going to answer it now because the answer will make more sense when we’re talking about. . . .”
  • Say when you’ll answer it: “We’ll be taking about that [in a couple of sessions, later this on today, etc.] and I’d like to ask you to repeat the question then.”
  • Don’t forget: If you said you’d answer the question later, be sure to do it.
  • Say where the answer can be found: “Answering that question is going to take us away from what we’re discussing. If you’re interested in the answer, here’s where you can find it.”
  • Answer briefly, as in very briefly, and explain why. “That’s a good question. It’s not really relevant to what we’re discussing now. However, I’ll give you a one sentence answer.”

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male professor reviews course evaluations March 8

What Can We Learn from End-of-Course Evaluations?

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No matter how much we debate the issue, end-of-course evaluations count. How much they count is a matter of perspective. They matter if you care about teaching. They frustrate you when you try to figure out what they mean. They haven’t changed; they are regularly administered at odds with research-recommended practices. And faculty aren’t happy with the feedback they provide. A survey (Brickman et al., 2016) of biology faculty members found that 41% of them (from a wide range of institutions) were not satisfied with the current official end-of-course student evaluations at their institutions, and another 46% were only satisfied “in some ways.”


old-style lecture hall March 7

A Different Take on “Did I Miss Anything Important?”

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When students ask us, as they occasionally do, “I wasn’t in class yesterday. Did I miss anything important?” most of us feel at least a bit of disrespect and some aggravation. If we take the question at face value, it implies that the student thinks at least some of what we do in class might not actually be important. Judging from a search of online forums, instructors’ responses range from genuine interest in helping students understand what they missed and how to make up for it, to contempt exemplified by sarcastic comments such as, “No, since you weren’t present we just filled time until the class was over.” The former response was illustrated in a 2014 article in The Teaching Professor,by Rocky Dailey, who also noted that some absences may be considered more legitimate than others (e.g., due to a student’s participating in an institution-sanctioned activity rather than just deciding not to show up). In those cases, I may feel more inclined to give the student some of my time and effort to help make up for the absence.

My focus here is neither on deciding how to respond to the student nor on the plethora of reasons that students give for missing a class. Instead, I want to turn the question around. Why do students ask this question and, more important, what does it say about my course when they do? I’m particularly concerned about students who still ask the question even after they’ve attended several class for sessions. By that time students have experienced what goes on in my classes, and I take asking whether anything important happened in class as a sign of one or all of the following:

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Teaching Professor newsletter turns 30 March 6

The Teaching Professor Newsletter Celebrates 30 Years

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Where were you 30 years ago? Maryellen Weimer, PhD, was writing the very first issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter, and she hasn’t stopped since.

In March 1987, Magna Publications published volume 1, number 1 of The Teaching Professor. The opening article read, in part:
“With all the enthusiasm of a new beginning, Magna begins publication of a newsletter for college professors about college teaching. … Can instruction be improved by reading material about teaching and learning? Yes. Reading about teaching forces reflection. It creates instructional awareness by causing faculty to wonder: Do I do that? Should I do that? Infusing teaching with a steady supply of new ideas keeps it fresh and invigorated.”

That philosophy of reflection and instructional awareness has remained a constant theme throughout the decades. As has the importance of keeping teaching fresh, regardless of teaching experience or discipline.


students in lecture hall March 5

Blending MOOCs into Your Courses

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Massively open online courses (MOOCs) have become a major part of online learning, with numerous universities offering courses that draw upwards of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of participants. These courses help fulfill higher education’s mandate of serving the…...

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Students at university lecture raise hands to ask questions March 5

Conducting In-Class Reviews Effectively

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Good study skills are the key to successful performance on exams in college, and good study skills are what many of today’s college students don’t have. We can spend time pontificating about who bears the responsibility for these absent skills. We can philosophize about who should be going to college. Or our time can be spent helping students become better learners thereby upping their chances of success in our courses, in college and in life.

Exams do manage to motivate most students. They take them seriously. They study for them. That still doesn’t always improve their performance on them. However, there are activities that do improve exam performance and those activities can be modeled and demonstrated by teachers within the course.

I can hear the objections. But I already have so much content to cover. I don’t have time to teach study skills. And shouldn’t students know how to study by the time they get to college?

Fortunately, a lot of these activities don’t require huge time investments. They can be embedded in ongoing course activities, which is the most effective place anyway. One of the tough lessons learned from the efforts to remediate learning deficiencies has been that learning skills are best taught in the context of a discipline-based course. They make sense there and course work provides authentic practice opportunities.

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two students laughing March 4

Teaching Unprepared Students: Strategies that Work [Transcript]

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You see it in reading assignments that go unread … homework that’s poorly done, or not done at all … course assignments that are sloppy and incomplete. And, sadly, what you see next is students dropping out. You don’t have to sit by and watch that happen, though. You can intervene with corrective guidance that will help get unprepared students better aligned with the demands and expectations of college.

This transcript from our online seminar will help you discover a host of valuable practices and techniques to help you:

  • Engage students
  • Gain student commitment to performing at a college level
  • Guide students to the right choices and habits in their coursework
  • Encourage students to embrace ideas of accountability and personal responsibility

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active learning project March 4

Flipping Your Classroom without Flipping Out Your Introverted Students

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One of the central features of a flipped classroom is the active learning that takes place within it. When students come to class having viewed a short lecture or read materials in advance, then classroom time can be devoted to engaging with that material, focusing on challenging elements, and applying what has been learned. This requires careful planning as the role of the faculty member shifts from being a transmitter of information to a designer of learning activities.

When designing learning activities for your flipped classroom, it is vital to keep the needs of all of your students in mind. Many extroverted students will be delighted to see the lecture hall transformed into a place where group brainstorming, problem-solving, and collaborative learning become the norm. For students who sit further along the introversion end of the temperament spectrum, the lecture hall perfectly suits their preferred style of learning. They may be less delighted at the prospect of change.

So, before you begin flipping, it might be helpful to consider the implications of temperament on teaching and learning. The concepts of introversion and extroversion, originally conceived by Carl Jung, have been helpful ways of understanding basic differences in human temperament (Jung 1970). Jung proposed that this critical element of our personality affects how we engage in social activity and influences our preferred levels of external stimulation. Extroverts prefer higher levels of stimulation and are typically are energized by social interaction, whereas introverts are comfortable with quiet and can find connecting with large groups of unfamiliar people exhausting. They may have excellent social skills and enjoy meaningful friendships, but are quite happy in their own company.

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puzzle pieces of the brain March 3

Remembering vs. Understanding

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I don’t teach history, but I’ve always been a bit of a history and trivia buff. So, just for fun, I recently decided I wanted to memorize all the U.S. presidents in order. For the early presidents, I use a mnemonic that I learned in elementary school: Washington And Jefferson Made Many A Joke” which refers to Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson.