student studying late at night November 9

Courses That Are Hard, but Not Too Hard: Finding the Sweet Spot

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I have been doing some reading and thinking about hard courses. Courses need to be challenging, but when they become too hard, students stop trying and little learning results. So how do we find that sweet spot between hard and not too hard? More importantly, how do we create that sweet spot in our own courses through the decisions we make about content, assignments, and exams?



iStock_000059103460_Medium.160516 May 16

Backward Design, Forward Progress

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Readers of Faculty Focus are probably already familiar with backward design. Most readily connected with such researchers as Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, and Dee Fink, this approach to course construction asks faculty to initially ignore the specific content of a class. Rather, the designer begins the process by identifying desired learning goals, and then devising optimal instruments to measure and assess them. Only thereafter does course-specific content come into play—and even then, it is brought in not for the sake of “covering” it, but as a means to achieve the previously identified learning objectives. Courses designed this way put learning first, often transcend the traditional skillset boundaries of their discipline, and usually aim to achieve more ambitious cognitive development than do classes that begin—and often end —with content mastery as the primary focus. Although the advantages of backward design are manifest, it’s probably still the exception to, rather than the rule of, course planning.


pile of books December 8, 2015

Have You Tamed the Content Monster in Your Courses?

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In our role as instructors, most of us deal with the problem of too much content. We often embrace a “content coverage” model in designing our courses, in which we attempt to cover all of the material that we deem important or interesting in the area of our course. The result is a course that increasingly balloons out of control each year as more and more content is added, resulting in a harried instructor and frustrated students.


too many books October 12, 2015

More Content Doesn’t Equal More Learning

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With access to a world of information as close as our phones, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all there is to teach. New material continues to emerge in every academic discipline, and teachers feel a tremendous responsibility not only to stay current themselves, but to ensure that their learners are up to date on the most recent findings. Add to this information explosion the passionate desire by faculty members to share their particular areas of expertise and it’s easy to see why content continues to grow like the mythical Hydra of Greek legend. And like Hercules, who with each effort to cut off one of Hydra’s nine heads only to have two more grow in its place, faculty struggle to tame their content monsters.


students working in groups July 6, 2015

How a Course Map Puts You on Track for Better Learning Outcomes

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For both new and veteran faculty, inheriting a syllabus to teach from is like being blindfolded on a long journey and being told, “Don’t worry, you’ll know it when we get there.” There’s a lot of trust required in order to follow someone else’s map. There are road hazards the mapmaker may not be aware of; there may be alternate routes that might get you there more directly; and it may even be prudent to choose another mode of transportation to get there.


tech.used150210 February 10, 2015

Promoting Digital Citizenship and Academic Integrity in Technology Classrooms

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New technology continues to emerge and influence the classroom learning environment. Students now have immediate and unlimited access to digital content, resources, and databases. To capitalize on the wealth of available Internet resources, many educators are joining the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative, which encourages students to use their own personal electronic devices (smartphones, tablets) during class time to augment and support learning. For example, students search for definitions and websites that enhance the course topic being discussed. Or students (as a class or in small groups) use online resources to solve a posted scenario.


staring at laptop141205 December 5, 2014

How to Deal with Incivility in the Online Classroom

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Incivility in the online classroom can take many forms. Angela Stone Schmidt, director of graduate programs in the School of Nursing and associate dean College of Nursing & Health Professions at Arkansas State University—Jonesboro, uses Morrisette’s definition: “interfering with a cooperative learning atmosphere.” So in addition to inappropriate, rude, offensive, or bullying behaviors, Schmidt considers behaviors such as academic dishonesty, over-participation or domination and under-participation to be forms of incivility. In an interview with Online Classroom, she offered the following advice on how to reduce incivility with a proactive stance and how to address it when it does occur:


October 29, 2014

A Few Concerns about the Rush to Flip

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I have some concerns about flipping courses. Maybe I’m just hung up on the name—flipping is what we do with pancakes. It’s a quick, fluid motion and looks easy to those of us waiting at the breakfast table. I’m not sure those connotations are good when associated with courses and that leads to what centers my concerns. I keep hearing what sounds to me like “flippant” attitudes about what’s involved.


wp-flipped-approach-2013 January 31, 2014

Expanding the Definition of a Flipped Learning Environment

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The term flipped classroom has become a hot topic in higher education. Ideas about and opinions about flipped learning environments vary. Some consider it simply another way of talking about student-centered learning. Others view flipped classrooms as the most cutting-edge approach to learning. Still others see flipping as just another fad that will eventually run its course.