examining textbooks

So, What is the Real Problem?

In “Let’s Solve the Right Damn Problem: Intentional Teaching with Technology” we talked about using backward course design to align technology with the course materials and learning activities.

How does this design approach play out in today’s college classroom? Let’s look at “Mary.”

Mary is an advertising instructor who is frustrated with the way her large-enrollment introductory class is going. She has several problems that she doesn’t know how to solve—problems that we all face in our teaching.

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Let’s Solve the Right Damn Problem: Intentional Teaching with Technology

We’ve all experienced failed learning activities, such as painful class sessions, online disasters, or group projects gone wrong.

When we analyze what went wrong, we usually wring our hands and lament the state of college students today, but is it possible that we ourselves are the inadvertent cause of many of these problems? Could our lack of intentional planning be the issue?

Misalignment in our classes can cause many problems. Consider what happens when the wheels of your vehicle are out of alignment. The tires aren’t all pointing in the same direction, making it difficult to steer, causing undue strain and wear, and possibly endangering the safety of those in the car.

The same things can happen when we teach a class that is out of alignment. It’s hard to direct the flow of learning; learning activities and assessments become more burdensome than they need to be; and the safety and well-being of those in the car, so to speak, are unnecessarily put at risk.

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Attacking Problems as a Novice Learner

My wiper blades needed to be replaced. I hate these kinds of tasks; they make me feel completely inadequate. But I was doing a lot of reading about learning, and I was looking for concrete examples in my own life to help me better understand the theory and practice of learning. Knowledge transfer, constructivism, scaffolding, and making thinking visible were all pretty new ideas to me.

So, I approached the task as a learning opportunity. I gave myself every advantage—no rain, moderate temps, a Saturday morning with no commitments. I prepared deliberately—a full stomach, empty bladder, and the entire toolbox next to the car. But my resolve was shaken with the very first task. Packaging these days requires the jaws of life. After struggling with the pliers and breaking a fingernail, I went inside for the heavy-duty scissors and was once again ready to get started.

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The First Days of Class: Building Authenticity and Community

Regardless of whether you’ve been teaching for 15 years or 15 minutes, how to act and what to do on the first day of class seems to be something many faculty are constantly revising. The impact of the lasting nature of the first impression may lead to nervousness on the first day of the semester. Consequently, many of us may feel pressured to adopt a personality or plan that doesn’t necessarily resonate with who we are for the rest of the semester or in our outside lives.

We’ve discovered some ways that not only help you feel prepared for class but also create an authentic community conducive to learning in a non-threatening environment. What follows are a few of our best practices.

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Refresh Your Course: Step-by-Step

You’ve decided you need to update, redesign, refresh your course. Maybe for your own reasons, such poor student performance. Or perhaps you want to try a new technique or a tool. Or maybe your reasons are external, such as a change in the curriculum or new material or a new text.

Most instructors simply don't have enough time to do everything we'd like to do in our teaching, including redesigning our courses. I’d like to share my process, which will allow you to be systematic about how you go about changing your course, keeping it fresh for you and for your students—and letting learning happen the way we intend it to.

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Compulsory Attendance Policies: An Interesting Finding

Previous research and firsthand experience for most of us verify that attendance in class improves performance. Many of our students would still like to believe otherwise, but the positive relationship between attendance and performance reported in the research is robust and long-standing.

In a good example of research that goes beyond replicating what is well established, a group of business faculty members explored the attendance-performance connection in a more nuanced way. They studied the effects of a compulsory attendance policy on absenteeism and grades, as others have, but they looked specifically at the relationship for high- and low-achieving students.

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Using Brief Interventions to Maximize Student Learning [Transcript]

The shift toward student-centered learning has transformed our classrooms, and it’s no longer enough to be a subject-matter expert. Instructors have to not only know the material their students need to learn, but they also have to have a reasonably good grasp of how students learn it.

The task is to master both, because that’s when the real learning magic happens. That’s the idea behind cognitive theory and its application in higher education. And while it took you years of study to earn credentials in your discipline, you can learn how to apply relevant aspects of cognitive theory to your courses in far less time.

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Preparing a Learner-Centered Syllabus

The Oxford Dictionary defines “syllabus” as “an outline of the subjects in a course of study or teaching.”

“Students who read a good syllabus are more likely to feel that course strategies have been designed to help them reach their goals, rather than merely as busywork or, worse, to torture them” ~ Slattery & Carlson, 2013, p. 159.
The syllabus literature tends to focus on “Here’s what makes a good syllabus,” but hasn’t addressed the following questions nearly as well: “What are the purposes of the syllabus?” and “What are the syllabus’ implications for learning?”

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What Are the Characteristics of a Learner-Centered Syllabus?

A learner-centered syllabus shifts the syllabus emphasis from “What will be covered?” to “How can the course promote learning and intellectual development in students?”

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Getting International (and American) Students to Submit Work on Time

It is the beginning of the semester and faculty and students are excited about their classes. There is something about meeting your new students, a feeling you are transforming the lives of citizens. So, if the students are excited, why then, soon after the semester starts, do they start missing deadlines, asking for extensions, and, telling you that they are confused, which is why they did not follow the instructions provided on the syllabus? Although this problem applies to many students, this article focuses on international students, because they are becoming more prevalent in American university classrooms and pedagogical advice rarely takes into account their particular circumstances.

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