female professor talking with students. June 24

The Power of Language to Influence Thought and Action

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Language influences thought and action. The words we use to describe things—to ourselves and others—affects how we and they think and act. It’s good to remind ourselves that this powerful influence happens in all kinds of situations and most certainly with language related to teaching and learning.

Here are some big ones that come to mind.



students paying attention June 10

Can We Teach Students How to Pay Attention?

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I need to start out by saying that the article I’m writing about here isn’t for everyone. It’s not like any pedagogical piece I have ever read, and I’ve read quite a few. My colleague Linda Shadiow put me onto it, and although the article may not have universal appeal, the topic it addresses concerns faculty pretty much everywhere. How do we get students to pay attention? Their attention spans are short and move quickly between unrelated topics. Can we teach them how to pay attention? Is there value in trying to do so?


Student in lecture hall June 3

More Evidence That Active Learning Trumps Lecturing

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The June-July issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter highlights a study you don’t want to miss. It’s a meta-analysis of 225 studies that compare STEM classes taught using various active learning approaches with classes taught via lecture. “The results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sessions, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” (p. 8410) Carl Wieman, a Nobel-winning physicist who now does research on teaching and learning, describes the work as a “massive effort” that provides “a much more extensive quantitative analysis of the research on active learning in college and university STEM courses than previously existed.” (p. 8319) And what does he make of these results? “The implications of these meta-analysis results for instruction are profound, assuming they are indicative of what could be obtained if active learning methods replaced the lecture instruction that dominates U.S. postsecondary STEM instruction.” (pp. 8319-8320) That’s a long way from the guarded language usually found in commentaries on scientific results.


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.



yellow highlighted text May 6

Lost in a Sea of Yellow: Teaching Students a Better Way to Highlight

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A lot of students are in love with their highlighters, especially those bright, fluorescent-colored ones. They use them to highlight course materials, sometimes underlining whole pages of text. When I first saw a text so fluorescent that it all but glowed, I wondered why in the world somebody would spend that much time underlining. Later I understood it was really a cry for help. “I can’t tell what’s important, so I’ll just highlight the entire section so I don’t miss something.” Highlighting can be a useful way of interacting with text, but it needs to be done in a thoughtful way.


Faculty mentoring April 29

Faculty Mentoring Faculty: Relationships that Work

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At this point in my career, I am expected to mentor others. It’s something I enjoy and it has never felt like an obligation. However, I haven’t given much thought to exactly what mentoring is, how best to do it, and why it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Mentoring is one of those higher education topics that was trendy for a while, but I no longer see it addressed much in current literature. That omission doesn’t diminish its potential to greatly enhance both teaching and learning, and a revisit of the topic might remind us of its many values.


ff-tp-blog April 22

Promoting Academic Integrity: Are We Doing Enough?

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Cheating continues to be a pervasive problem in college courses. Institutions have policies designed to prevent it and faculty employ a range of strategies that aim to catch those who do. And still the problem persists. A study at a university in Australia, where it is the students’ responsibility to read and follow the academic integrity policy, found that only 50% of the students said they read the policy. Nonetheless, 80% rated their understanding of plagiarism 7 or above on an 11-point scale. However, when asked to identify a set of behaviors associated with academic dishonesty, their answers indicated confusion and misunderstanding of cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of collusion that occur in courses and on campus.


ff-tp-blog April 15

Pedagogical Knowledge: Three Worlds Apart

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We know a lot about teaching and learning, but our knowledge is scattered across three separate domains.

Educational research
The first knowledge domain is centered on the world of educational research that’s been advancing what we know about teaching and learning for more than a hundred years. There’s hardly an educational issue that hasn’t been studied in education or its associated subfields, like educational psychology, adult learning, and higher education. On this large empirical foundation we could rest a more evidence-based instructional practice.