CURRENT ARTICLE • January 12th students studying

How Do You Study? A Questionnaire for Students

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Good instructional decision-making rests on accurate information. And in the case of tests and exams, we should be seeking student input more often than we do. No, we aren’t asking whether they want exams or what kind of exams they like. We need to know more about their learning experiences associated with the exams.

We’re making decisions about exams mostly based on suppositions—how we think they’re studying. We rely on feedback provided by their performance. Those with poor exam scores didn’t study, or they didn’t use good study strategies, or were so stressed by the exam they couldn’t think clearly. Those reasons aren’t all the same—they have different instructional implications. Exam performance feedback is after-the-fact input. Feedback collected at other times can provide details that enable us to better use exams and the events that surround them to promote learning and improve performance.

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students collaborating in class January 11

The First Days of Class: Building Authenticity and Community

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Regardless of whether you’ve been teaching for 15 years or 15 minutes, how to act and what to do on the first day of class seems to be something many faculty are constantly revising. The impact of the lasting nature of the first impression may lead to nervousness on the first day of the semester. Consequently, many of us may feel pressured to adopt a personality or plan that doesn’t necessarily resonate with who we are for the rest of the semester or in our outside lives.

We’ve discovered some ways that not only help you feel prepared for class but also create an authentic community conducive to learning in a non-threatening environment. What follows are a few of our best practices.

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students collaborating on project January 11

Collaboration or Cheating: What Are the Distinctions?

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The line between collaboration and cheating is fuzzy. It’s still clear at the edges, but messy in the middle. When students are working in groups, searching for a solution to a problem, looking through possible answers for the best one, or sorting out material to include in a presentation, that’s collaboration. When one student in the group solves the problem and everyone else copies the answer, that’s cheating. When one student fails to deliver material she or he’s been assigned and the rest of the group covers, that’s cheating.


student participating in class January 10

Learning More about Student Participation

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A lot of good research has been done on participation in college classrooms. Here are some key findings and references that provide excellent background and reasons why working to get more students participating is so important.

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smiling students in large classroom January 10

Classroom Participation Strengths Inventory

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Understanding temperament is very helpful in understanding the learning styles and approaches. So extroverts tend to prefer very high levels of external stimulation, tend to be energized by social activity, may avoid solitude, and are oriented to the outer world. Whereas introverts may easily feel overstimulated in social settings or exhausted by social activity. So they may seek solitude to recharge their batteries, and their orientation may be more likely to the inner world of thoughts and ideas.

Let's make the next connection to learning. In terms of preferences and in terms of the conditions in which students perform best, extroverts tend to prefer to work with others and learn with others, so project work, collaboration, group work, these are all preferences of the more
extroverted students.

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Teacher With College Students chatting in classroom January 10

Communication Strategies to Engage Students and Encourage Learning

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When I first began working with teachers who represented different disciplines, I learned that a lot of college professors are very stuck on their own content. And they believe that it, along with the pedagogy that they use for presenting it to students, is what causes learning to occur. It is absolutely true that credible, effective teachers are—first and foremost—subject-matter experts. Years of education and experience have helped us build this knowledge base that we use as the foundation for our teaching. Then we work hard at developing unique, innovative, in-class pedagogy and assignments for our students.

But why is it that, despite our expertise and all this effort, we still struggle to get our students engaged, motivated, performing well, and understanding what it is we want for them as students? Years of research suggests that the secret sauce, so to speak, is communication. More specifically, the teacher’s communication plays a powerful role as the source of all kinds of messages in and around the college classroom.

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video assessment January 9

Making Learning Visible with Video Assessment

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In winter 2015, I was given the opportunity to design and teach my department’s first fully online course, in calculus. Some design challenges emerged in the process, not least of which was the question of assessing homework. In a face-to-face class, students either turn in handwritten solutions to online problems or present them orally in class. But how can you have students presenting work to each other when they don’t even meet?

My solution—the only solution that could really work—was to have students present work via recorded video and then put those videos in an accessible place for the rest of the class.

The process worked as follows:

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students smiling in class January 9

Towards a ‘Positive U’

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You gaze around the classroom, recognizing that a number of students are on their cell phones. Others are on their laptops, maybe taking notes but most likely using social media. A few are blatantly working on homework or assignments for other classes. Several students in the back of the classroom are avoiding your gaze, anxiously hoping not to be noticed. One student even appears to be asleep. A small group of students at the front of the class is stressed about the upcoming assignment. Welcome to the college classroom.


student writing January 6

Punctuating Error: Strategies to Help Students Become More Disciplined Writers

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When final paper time looms, students become increasingly anxious about the grammatical errors they believe lurk in their writing. That belief is so strong it can undermine their drafts. Even worse, students have come to expect that their professors will point out errors—and make corrections—that seem invisible to student eyes. Such a learned practice dissuades students from the far more productive work of rewriting sentences that would remove many of those errors just as invisibly.

Helping students learn how to revise and rewrite should be our priority so that their writing becomes more effective and they’re able to eyeball what remaining errors need correcting. Nevertheless, even with that process, some errors persist. For years, I struggled with determining how much instruction to devote to error, how to time such instruction, and where to conduct it—classroom, conference, or paper annotations—so that my efforts would prove more helpful than hurtful.

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Students giving group presentation. January 6

From Passive Audience to Active Learning: Engaging the Class in Team Presentations

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We know well the many benefits of team projects, including enhanced learning outcomes, consideration of multiple perspectives, opportunities for risk-taking, development of conflict management techniques, and more. Across disciplines, we commonly require students to present their collaborative projects to their peers. These presentations can be informative for the class audience, and may also serve to reinforce the teams’ content knowledge.