professor with students in library May 25

The Syllabus: Indicator of Instructional Intentions

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The literature on teaching and learning has improved so much over the years. Researchers are now covering important aspects of both in depth, analyzing with creative designs and exploring for practical and theoretical implications. One case in point is a 2015 syllabus review published in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (a cross-disciplinary teaching and learning journal that ought to be on everybody’s radar).


teaching professor conference attendees May 23

How to Get the Most out of a Professional Conference

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An initial look at a conference program can lead attendees to become (in the words of a former colleague) “paralyzed by the possibilities.” There are just so many sessions we’d like to attend that it’s hard to choose. At a recent conference, a new faculty member asked me for advice about negotiating the labyrinth. Here is a collection of strategies that I have developed over the years to help me make the most of the conference experience—before, during, and after the event.


smiling students May 20

Playing Games Can Yield Serious Learning

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How often do you hear college students say, “that was fun!” on their way out of your classroom? Probably not often enough. Of course, who has time for fun when you have a syllabus packed with serious learning outcomes and one semester to accomplish your goals. Not to diminish the hard work involved in prepping for lectures, but when was the last time you asked yourself: Is my class fun?


end-of-course evaluations May 18

Course Evaluations: How Can Should We Improve Response Rates?

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Shortly after 2000, higher education institutions started transitioning from paper and pencil student-rating forms to online systems. The online option has administrative efficiency and economics going for it. At this point, most course evaluations are being conducted online. Online rating systems have not only institutional advantages but also advantages for students: students can take as much (or little) time as they wish to complete the form, their anonymity is better preserved, and several studies have reported an increase in the number of qualitative comments when evaluations are offered online. Other studies document that overall course ratings remain the same or are slightly improved in the online format.


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.



professor with small group of students May 11

How Teaching is Like Composting

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I started composting at our summer place in 2009, and now I’m a convert. In the summer, we live on an island that’s mostly rock covered with something the locals call “organic matter.” Growing anything this far north on this soil base is challenging, but compost has made a big difference. My bleeding hearts, campanulas, delphinium, phlox, and coral bells are far more impressive than they used to be.


professor in front of class May 9

Untangling the Web of Student-Teacher Communication

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When I tell people that I study the role of communication in teaching and learning, the most common response is: “Isn’t communication just common sense? I’m an expert in what I teach; why do I need to worry about how I communicate?” In reality, communication is a learned verbal and nonverbal skill that all of us must continually refine. When we interact with our students purposefully, we maximize the chances that our content expertise will make a positive difference in terms of their learning.


online student May 6

Ensuring Student Success in Online Courses

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Students like online classes due to their flexibility and convenience. But not all students do well in these courses; the statistics indicate that online classes have a much higher dropout rate compared to traditional face-to-face classes. The attrition rates in online courses tend to be 10 to 20 percent higher than in face-to-face classes. While there are some personal factors that could influence a student’s decision to drop out, many of the factors are related to institutional and course level support—and these barriers can be addressed with thoughtful planning and implementation. Institutional level factors like technical support, academic support, advising, and availability of resources can support student success in online courses. At the course level, there are many simple strategies and techniques that instructors can use to support students’ success in their online classes.