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.


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.


ff-tp-blog April 1

What We Have and Haven’t Learned

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I’ve been asked to give a talk that explores some of the top teaching-learning lessons learned in the past 15 years. It’s a good reflection exercise that also brings up those lessons we haven’t learned or aren’t yet finished learning.

I’m figuring the best place to start is with technology. During the past 15 years, technology has become a dominating force in every aspect of our lives and that includes education. As it descended upon higher education, we didn’t start out asking the right question. We got focused on the mechanics of “how does it work” (or, in the case of those us not all that adept at mastering technology, “why doesn’t it work?”) and “what can we do with it?” The better question is whether a new technology promotes learning. We are asking that question now, but still struggle with the balance between what’s possible and what promotes learning.



ff-tp-blog March 18

Using Cumulative Exams to Help Students Revisit, Review, and Retain Course Content

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The evidence that students retain content longer and can apply it better when exams and finals are cumulative is compelling. When I pointed to the evidence in a recent workshop, a faculty member responded, “But I can’t use cumulative exams. My students would revolt.” Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason we should be using them: they force regular, repeated encounters with the content. And it’s those multiple interactions with the material that move learning from memorization to understanding.


ff-tp-blog March 11

Three Questions to Reframe the Online Learning Conversation

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Is it time to change the online learning conversation? The debate about whether online courses are a good idea continues with most people still on one side or the other. Who’s right or wrong is overshadowed by what the flexibility and convenience of online education has offered institutions and students. Those features opened the door, and online learning has come inside and is making itself at home in most of our institutions. No doubt the debate over the value of online learning will continue, but perhaps it’s being judged by the wrong criteria.