students collaborating on project January 11

Collaboration or Cheating: What Are the Distinctions?


The line between collaboration and cheating is fuzzy. It’s still clear at the edges, but messy in the middle. When students are working in groups, searching for a solution to a problem, looking through possible answers for the best one, or sorting out material to include in a presentation, that’s collaboration. When one student in the group solves the problem and everyone else copies the answer, that’s cheating. When one student fails to deliver material she or he’s been assigned and the rest of the group covers, that’s cheating.

college campus in winter December 14, 2016

A Season for Silence


Another year, another collection of posts and comments. Another time to say thank you for your faithful readership and express grateful appreciation to Faculty Focus’ extraordinary editor, Mary Bart.

Our lives are busy, full, and boisterous. We get a sense of that when the semester ends. Oh, there’s plenty going on at home, especially this time of year, but at work it’s quiet. Classes are done, and there are only a few students left scurrying around campus. Yes, there’s grading, but that now gets done without many interruptions. For a while we relish the quiet. The sidewalks aren’t crowded. Coffee can be had in the student center without a wait. We have the library to ourselves. But then the silence turns to emptiness. What is a campus without students?

students studying in the library December 7, 2016

A Memo to Students about Studying for Finals


To: My Students
From: Your Professor
Re: Studying for Finals

The end of the semester is rarely pretty. You’re tired; I’m tired. You’ve got a zillion things to get done—ditto for me. You’ve also got grades hanging in the balance to be decided by how you perform on the final exam. The pressure is on, and it’s not just this course. It’s all of them.

Pensive college student using laptop November 30, 2016

What Are We Communicating to Students When We Write?


Do we communicate more with students in writing than we used to? I think so. In addition to the course syllabus, the usual handouts, and written feedback on papers, projects, and performances, we now share all kinds of electronic messages with students. We exchange emails, post announcements on course management systems, and participate in online discussions. Those who use PowerPoint tend to make rather text-heavy slides. And if you happen to teach online, then virtually all your communication with students occurs via some written format.

student studying late at night November 9, 2016

Courses That Are Hard, but Not Too Hard: Finding the Sweet Spot


I have been doing some reading and thinking about hard courses. Courses need to be challenging, but when they become too hard, students stop trying and little learning results. So how do we find that sweet spot between hard and not too hard? More importantly, how do we create that sweet spot in our own courses through the decisions we make about content, assignments, and exams?

Professor smiling, students hands raised November 2, 2016

Humor in the Classroom


Humor is one of my favorite teaching tools. I rely on it—when the room feels tense, when I sense learner drift, if I aspire to make a point more memorable. Humor doesn’t cause learning, but it does help create conditions conducive to it. It doesn’t make hard content easy, but it can make learning it feel easier.

Professor helping student in lecture hall October 26, 2016

Finding Signs of Progress When Learning is Slow


Slow learning—not to be confused with slow learners—is learning that happens gradually, where understanding deepens slowly and skills advance but without immediate noticeable change. Some learning occurs all at once; suddenly, there’s a performance breakthrough. Typically, fast learning feels easy, even if it was proceeded by a frustrating period of confusion. What is finally understood is so clear, so obvious—what is finally mastered no longer seems hard.

Professor in front of class. October 19, 2016

Getting More out of Exam Debriefs


Brief—that pretty much describes exam debriefs in many courses. The teacher goes over the most commonly missed questions, and the students can ask about answers but generally don’t. These kinds of debriefs don’t take up a lot of class time, but that’s about all that can be said for them. For some time now, I’ve been suggesting that students, not the teacher, should be correcting the wrong answers. The students are the ones who missed the questions.