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.



ff-tp-blog February 25

Cohort Groups Can Present Special Challenges

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Many of us have encountered cohort groups in our teaching, and by that I mean those groups of students that proceed together through a program, typically a professional one. They take all or most of their courses together, often in lock step. Cohort teaching happens to some degree in most courses. Students in a major at smaller institutions often end up taking many of their courses together. Sometimes there are cohort groups within a class, say a group of commuter students who went to the same high school, or students who live on campus in the same residence hall, or a group of adults taking a work-related course.


ff-tp-blog February 18

Office Hours Redux

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In the final post of 2014, I shared some comments about blog “conversations,” wondering what else we might do to take our exchanges to the next level. The comments made in response to a post are typically shared across a period of time. If you’re one of the first to comment, do you return later to read what other folks had to say? I’m doubtful that many us of have that sort of time.


ff-tp-blog February 11

Our Ongoing Quest to Improve Student Learning: High Standards and Realistic Expectations

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“Teaching is such a challenge! Just when one thinks improvements are happening, the goal post of perfection moves further away. A bit like getting better headlights on one’s car: now you can see as far as the next corner, but the final destination remains out of sight!” Thanks to Nigel Armstrong, whom I met during a professional development day at Niagara University, for this insight.


ff-tp-blog February 4

Group Work: What Do Students Want from Their Teammates?

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Providing students with useful information about how to function effectively when they work in groups stands a good chance of improving what the group produces. It also helps students develop important skills they can use in group activities in college and beyond. Providing the information doesn’t guarantee that students will make use of it, but it’s a better option than not providing it.