CURRENT ARTICLE • April 20th tips for online faculty

Using Your Instructor Bio to Humanize Course, Reduce Student Anxiety

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By now we’ve all heard about the importance of faculty engagement in online courses. A faculty member who properly engages in an online classroom can boost student success, improve satisfaction, and raise retention rates. Discussions about faculty engagement tend to focus on activities like interaction in discussion boards and frequency of posting announcements. Although these actions are important, what’s overlooked in these conversations is the need to ensure students are first comfortable and prepared to participate in their classes. Let’s face it, starting a new semester can be anxiety inducing for students and the situation can be exasperated in an online environment where students can’t ease their anxiety by walking to class with a friend or seeing a welcoming smile from their instructor as they enter a classroom.

OTHER RECENT ARTICLES

why do students plagiarize April 16

Three Keys to Stopping Plagiarism

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Although there are software-based services that can help instructors check the originality of student writing and discourage students from deliberately copying the work of others, many instances of plagiarism stem not from a willful disregard of the rules but from simple ignorance of them.

Elizabeth Kleinfeld, an English instructor and director of the writing center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, has studied plagiarism and students’ use of sources for the last seven years, mostly among students in first-year writing courses. She has found that many students don’t understand the differences between paraphrasing, summarizing, and plagiarism.


a syllabus format that promotes learning April 12

Syllabus Format May Enhance Understanding of Course Requirements

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Over the years, course syllabi have evolved from a simple document that outlines course objectives and requirements to an intimidating, multi-paged contract of terms and conditions for successful course completion. A number of writers have proposed syllabus makeovers, including some who’ve suggested the syllabus be offered in newsletter style. Others have proposed quizzing students on the syllabus as a way to encourage them to read it carefully.

We decided to try these two ideas and investigate if they helped students understand four essential course requirements: course objectives, course policies, procedures for late work, and the number of exams. Each of us created one traditional course syllabus and one graphically enhanced syllabus in newsletter format, randomly distributing each type on the first day of class. We quizzed students on the course requirements on the second day of class. Both syllabi contained identical content.

The newsletter syllabi were designed using a newsletter template readily available in word processing programs. The essential elements of the syllabus were placed in boxes, enhanced with graphic elements, and written in different fonts. We tried for designs that highlighted important parts and were graphically pleasing to read.

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cheating in college classroom April 11

Activities that Promote Awareness of What Is and Isn’t Cheating

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Although some behaviors are pretty much universally identified as cheating (copying exam answers, for example), we’re not in agreement on everything. Particularly significant are disagreements between faculty and students (for example, students don’t think cheating occurs if they look something up on their phone and can’t find it; faculty consider cheating in terms of intent). In many cases, there is the question of degree (when, for example, collaboration crosses the line and becomes cheating). The effectiveness of cheating prevention mechanisms can be increased by clarifying upfront what is and isn’t cheating. Here’s a collection of activities faculty can use to ensure that students understand the behaviors that constitute cheating.


building trust with students April 10

Earning Students’ Trust in Your Teaching

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A month into last fall’s first-year writing course, one of my students emailed me and politely explained that he found one of the reading assignments offensive.

We met in person to discuss his concerns. On some level, our conversation was productive. I explained my reasons for assigning the reading, and he shared his concerns in more detail with me. Still, the encounter troubled me.

It underscored for me the dangers of students losing trust in their instructors’ ability and willingness to teach them well. Low student confidence in teachers and their choices for class assignments and activities means low engagement, and students who are not engaged in class do not learn. To support learning, then, it is crucial that we earn our students’ trust. We need to teach in such a way that students are willing to follow our lead in the readings, projects, and activities we assign, believing that the work we’re asking them to do will help guide their development, both academically and personally.

We lose student confidence on two levels. Some students mistrust our pedagogy. They find an assignment unhelpful or frustrating; I have had students tell me, in class, that an assignment is confusingly written. Sometimes these concerns are warranted; and we all have had to revise or scrap assignments that didn’t work properly. But even if the concerns aren’t warranted, even if we’re using tried-and-true methods and assignments, the fact remains that some students will feel that our teaching is not helping them learn. Yet other students will mistrust our ideology, fearing that the readings and projects assigned threaten their own beliefs. They see our teaching as designed not to support their growth but to advance our own agenda.

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virtual reality April 9

Easy Methods for Using Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality in Your Teaching

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The terms “virtual,” “augmented,” and “mixed” reality have been thrown around a lot lately in education, leaving many instructors understandably perplexed over their different meanings. Worse yet, discussions of these concepts often fail to adequately disconnect them from their gaming origin, making one wonder whether they have useful applications to education. The good news is that there are many educational uses of these applications, and a world of free educational content available to instructors. Better yet, most of these applications do not require expensive goggles or other equipment for making or viewing content.

Virtual reality
The term “virtual reality” has gone through three iterations. The first referred to an animated world that the user entered through their computer by taking the form of an avatar representation of themselves. Second Life was the most famous of these systems. Users could build homes and other structures, as well as interact with one another within the world.

A number of educational institutions started using into Second Life, most using it for recruiting purposes by designing a mockup of one of their halls that prospective students could explore. Champlain College went a step further by connecting its site to its gaming program. Students would learn to create game elements by adding to the school’s Second Life site, designing new buildings and even a concert venue that hosted live concerts put on by local musicians. Jean Haefner at the University of Wisconsin–Stout built a gallery for students in her art and design class to allow students to have the experience of a virtual art exhibition, including interaction with the public who asked questions of the students. Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson created a space to broadcast lectures and hold discussions for his class Cyber One: Law in the Court of Public Opinion.

These early efforts eventually fizzled out due to the need for specialized programming skills to build the virtual worlds and falling pubic interest in Second Life itself. Virtual reality then reinvented itself by allowing participants to become their avatar’s virtual reality goggles. The user completely immersed themselves in a virtual world where the system would detect the user’s body movements to translate them into sword swings and the like. This added an exciting kinetic experience to virtual reality, so much so that because the user could not see their immediate surroundings the systems needed to project virtual walls around the user to avoid having them put a foot through a television set or the like.

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interactive teaching strategies April 9

Interactive Strategies for Engaging Large and Small Classes Alike

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As the associate director at Tulane’s Center for Engaged Learning and Teaching (CELT), I work with faculty to help them transform their classrooms into more engaged spaces. One way to do that is by creating opportunities for interaction between the professor and the students and between the students themselves. I always start the conversation on this topic with three questions:

  1. What is the purpose of making a class interactive?
  2. What does an interactive class look like?
  3. What gets in the way of you creating a more interactive space in your classroom?


online learning success April 6

Strategies for Creating a Successful Online Classroom

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Online learning presents new challenges beyond those of a traditional classroom because students must become more responsible for their learning. Many learners are unfamiliar with the online learning environment, which may include unfamiliar technology, isolation from instructors and university staff, and a lack of face-to-face interaction other learners. As online instructors, we must give additional attention to strategies that will keep our learners engaged, create a successful learning environment, and provide a rewarding learning experience where learners feel supported, valued, and connected.