chemistry student at blackboard May 20

Let Students Summarize the Previous Lesson

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Students often think of class sessions as isolated events—each containing a discrete chunk of content. Those who take notes during class will put the date along the top and then usually leave a space between each session, which visually reinforces their belief that the concepts and material aren’t connected. But in most of our courses, today’s content links to material from the previous session as well as to what’s coming up next. A lot happens in the lives of students between class sessions, though, and if they don’t anticipate a quiz, how many review their notes before arriving in class? And so the teacher starts class with a review.


ff-tp-blog April 8

How Assignment Design Shapes Student Learning

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The design of assignments, that is, the actions required to complete them, shapes the learning that results. We know this, but do we make the most of what we know when we design and select assignments?

I’ll try to make the point with writing assignments. We have come a long ways since the days when term papers were the gold standard of writing assignments. Paper options now include authentic assignments that approximate professional writing tasks. The Writing-Across-the-Curriculum movement has introduced us to low-stakes writing activities from students jotting down a few ideas before they speak, to free writing that starts the flow of ideas, to journals that encourage personal connections with course materials. Technology adds still more assignment design options. Students can blog and respond to posts; they can write collaboratively on wikis and Google Docs. The options are many, but the features of each writing assignment directly shape the learning that results.



iStock_studentsfilmingXSmall January 29

Finding a Place for Creative Assignments in Your Course

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Can you teach students to be creative? Most of us would say no. It’s more like trying to teach for it—encouraging it, promoting it, acknowledging when it happens, and rewarding it. Despite the difficulties associated with teaching creativity, teachers shouldn’t be excused from trying to cultivate its development. Is there a profession where creative thinking isn’t needed? Is there a problem that wouldn’t benefit from a creative solution? The authors of the article referenced below ask the follow-up question relevant to those of us in higher education: “Where will students get the opportunity to learn and practice creative thinking if it is not embedded throughout the curriculum?” (p. 51)


ff-tp-blog October 15, 2014

Could We Be Doing Better with Our Assignments?

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Assignments are a terribly important part of the teaching and learning equation. They aren’t just random activities that faculty ask students to complete for points and grades; they are the vehicles through which students learn course content. By studying for exams and engaging with content as they write their papers, students deepen their understanding of key concepts and build learning connections. In short, assignments represent learning experiences for students and, as Dee Fink reminds us, we want those learning experiences to be “significant.” Is that how you’d describe your most often-used assignments? Are they the only ways students could encounter and explore course content? Are they still the best ways?


online learning communities March 6, 2014

Show the Learner Visible Signs of Their Learning

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One of the strengths of gamification is that it provides visible milestones of the student’s mastery of content in real time (when it is well designed). Too often in an instructional setting, the learner doesn’t know whether or not he or she really understands or can apply the knowledge they are learning. There is often no visible sign of mastery of the content or application of the content.


studying230 February 21, 2014

Guiding Students to Think Critically Using Case Studies

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One of the best practices in teaching and learning is the use of a three-part case study, or a scenario-based story, to help students deepen their understanding of a concept. The three parts of a case study are a scenario-based story that focuses on a specific, hypothetical problem, supporting literature that aligns with the main themes of the story, and guiding questions that help the learner gain the most from understanding the concepts and objectives of the case study by applying critical and higher order thinking skills.


iStock_studentsatcomputer230l February 20, 2014

Adding Choice to Assignment Options: A Few Course Design Considerations

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No, the objective isn’t to make assignments optional, but two benefits accrue when students are given some choice about assignments. The first is motivational—when students select the method they will use to master the material, they can pick an option they think they’d like to complete. And if an assignment option looks appealing, that increases the chance that students will spend more time working on it and more learning can then result. Second, the practice confronts students with themselves as learners. With teacher guidance, they can be challenged to consider why they find some assignments preferable. They can be encouraged to consider what skills the assignment involves and whether those are skills they have or need to work on developing. A strategy such as this moves students in the direction of autonomy and maturity as learners.


120619.resized230 October 15, 2013

A Different Kind of Final

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Last semester I implemented a different kind of final exam. In the past I have used the standard multiple-choice and short-answer exams. I was thinking about making a change when I discovered Beyond Tests and Quizzes: Creative Assessment in the College Classroom, edited by Richard J. Mezeske and Barbara A. Mezeske. The second chapter, “Concept Mapping: Assessing Pre-Service Teachers’ Understanding and Knowledge,” describes an assessment method that tests higher-level thinking. The author shared his experience using concept maps as a final exam, included an example of the final exam project, offered rubrics for grading, and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the strategy. I decided this was the change I was going to make.


three students.230 October 7, 2013

An Assignment that Helps Students Connect with Course Content

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What do we hope to accomplish when we are teaching? Students will learn the material, become excited about the material, learn to think critically? Ultimately, I think most of us are hoping that our students will connect, or engage, with the material. There is evidence that getting students to engage with the material is an important process in the learning experience (e.g., Umbach & Wawrzynski, 2005). I recently tried something new in an attempt to help my students make that connection. This is my story of an assignment that successfully helped my students connect with the material.