THE Teaching Professor Blog
The Teaching Professor Blog is written by Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks and one of the nation’s most highly regarded authorities on effective college teaching. Many of you know Maryellen as the editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter and from her book Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, which is considered the go-to guide for educators looking to adopt a learner-centered approach in their classrooms.
The Teaching Professor Blog features a new weekly post from Maryellen on such topics as: the scholarship of teaching and learning, student engagement, classroom policies, active learning, assignment strategies, grading and feedback, and student performance.
CURRENT ARTICLE • December 4th, 2013
My second cousin will soon graduate with a degree in graphic design. Yet his heart isn’t in his major—it’s in stand-up comedy. He first majored in communications, found that “boring,” contemplated a theatre major, and finally settled on graphic design. His parents supported the graphic design choice. It seems like an employable option.
OTHER RECENT ARTICLES
November 20 - Tips for Developing Students’ Note-taking Skills
Should students take notes? What about giving students access to your PowerPoint slides and lecture notes? Students have been known to ask for them pretty aggressively and lots of teachers do make them available. Is it a good idea?
November 13 - Two Activities that Influence the Climate for Learning
My colleague Chuck Walker, a psychology professor at St. Bonaventure University (NY), shared a collection of instructional strategies that illustrate how the principles of positive psychology might be applied in the classroom. (For examples see: http://wellbeingincollege.org/faculty-resources) I especially like this one.
November 6 - Better Questions are the Answer
Good answers depend on good questions. That’s why we work so hard on the content of our questions and why we should work with students on how they ask their questions. What also helps to make questions good is asking the right type of question. It goes to intent—what we want in the way of an answer. The type of question we ask conveys this intent to the listener.
“Get students talking about their experiences!” I heard this recommendation in a couple of sessions at the recent Teaching Professor Technology Conference, and the admonition does rest on sound premises. Students learn new material by connecting it to what they already know. If a teacher gets a sense of that knowledge base (which often grows out of and rests on experience) it’s a lot easier to make good connections between what students know and what they need to learn.
Is there a way to motivate and improve student participation without grading it? I raise the question because I think grading contributions gets students talking for points, not talking to make points. Verbal students make sure they say something, but often without listening to or connecting with the comments of others.
How much can we learn from each other’s experiences? A lot, but there are reasons to be cautious. Sometimes what’s been learned from an experience, or set of experiences, is wrong. That’s true whether the learning is about teaching or life.
How we teach begins and ends with behaviors. It’s good to remind ourselves of that every so often. Most of the ingredients identified as the components of effective instruction—things like clarity, organization, and enthusiasm—are abstractions. They’re intangible, without physical form. Their presence or absence is conveyed by the behaviors that have come to be associated with them.
October 2 - An Intriguing Participation Policy
I was looking at participation policies in a collection of syllabi this week. I wouldn’t give most of them high marks—lots of vague descriptions that don’t functionally define participation and then prescribe instructor assessment at the end of course with little or no mention of criteria. But I’ve voiced my concerns about participation policies previously, so I won’t do again here. Instead, what I would like to share with you is a policy that’s impressive in its specificity and in the intriguing idea it contains.
September 25 - Structuring Discussions: Online and Face-to-Face
I found a nice set of online discussion activities that strike me as good in-class discussion activities as well. One of the reasons discussion so often fails or doesn’t realize much of its potential is the absence of structure. The discussion is too open-ended. It wanders around and is easily sidetracked. I’m not discounting the value of an occasional unstructured exchange, but when students are still learning what academic discourse entails, a structure can keep the discussion focused and on track.