CURRENT ARTICLE • July 19th instructional risk-taking

Taking Risks in Your Teaching

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Often in workshops when I’m speaking about the process of implementing change—deciding what to change and how to change it or considering whether to add a new instructional strategy—the question of risk lurks in the choices being considered. When attending a workshop or program that offers a range of instructional possibilities, teachers typically respond to some favorably. I see it—they write down the idea, nod, or maybe ask a follow-up question to be sure they understand the details. Not all the ideas presented get this favorable response. Occasionally, the response is overtly negative. But more often there is no response. The idea doesn’t resonate.

OTHER RECENT ARTICLES

instructional advice July 16

Giving and Receiving Instructional Advice

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How much instructional advice have you heard over the years? How often when you talk about an instructional issue are you given advice, whether you ask for it or not? Let’s say you’re a new teacher or you’re teaching a class you haven’t taught before or something unexpected happens in your class; if you’d like some advice, all you need to do is ask. Anybody who’s spent any time in the classroom seemingly has the right to offer advice. And if you’d rather read advice, there’s still plenty offered in the pedagogical literature, to say nothing of blogs and other social media sources.


male professor calling on student July 13

How Teaching Can Inform Scholarship

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While college and university faculty are paid to teach, we are often hired because of our scholarship. We are evaluated in the hiring process by the strength of our publications and conference presentations. Therefore, it makes sense that most of us in academia allow scholarship to drive our teaching. Yet the need to focus on scholarship also results in a common complaint that teaching interferes with our time for research. I believe that if we creatively reconsider the relationship between teaching and scholarship we can improve both. I argue that teaching is an undervalued resource that can directly enhance our scholarship—and not just the scholarship of teaching and learning.


community in online classrooms July 11

Five Ways to Build Community in Online Classrooms

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“I’m sorry to bother you, but…” was the opening line of every email I received in the first week of this semester. This line was usually followed by nothing that would actually bother me: a question about the week’s materials, a link to an interesting resource, a discussion about a potential research topic, and the like. This was all despite my many attempts to ensure that students did not feel like they were imposing whenever they contacted me: a pre-semester introductory email, a video welcoming them to the course, my biography and teaching philosophy, virtual office hours, and multiple reminders about my contact information. Yet, with all of my entreaties to reach out, I was still dealing with the real issues of isolation, fear, and frustration that results in students leaving their online courses. To combat these feelings, professors—myself included—have to deliberately, consistently, and relentlessly work to build student-faculty and student-student relationships in online courses.


Checklist for moving course online July 10

A Checklist for Moving Your Course Online

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A checklist is absolutely essential to moving a face-to-face course online. Not only does it help the instructor conceptualize their course in an online environment, it helps the instructional designer see what needs to be done. Here is a simple guide to preparing to move your courses online.

Topics to consider

Course length/timeframe

Most courses run the length of a semester, but this does not always translate directly to an online format. For instance, you may have 30 minutes of instruction in a course session followed by class activity and homework. Students are then given activities and readings to do outside of class that support the lecture. By contrast, in an online course, the “lecture” need not be the center of instruction, but more of a means to guide students to the concepts they will learn through other material. In my online business courses, I like to first provide students with relevant practical materials to dive in and see the concepts in action. I then use my lecture as a way to wrap-up and highlight what was learned in the module.

Course objectives

In many cases, there are fewer course objectives for online courses, in that material is chunked to keep students from becoming overwhelmed. Review current course objectives and make a note of which topics contain the most and the least number of objectives. Also, make a note of which topics/modules/sessions contain objectives that are often difficult for your students.

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Wikipedia July 9

Leveraging Wikipedia to Develop Students’ Writing Skills

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In most courses with some sort of research writing assignment, there’s a strongly worded prohibition against using Wikipedia. IT’S NOT A RELIABLE SOURCE! And measured by academic standards, it’s not. But faculty members Frances Di Lauro and Rebecca Johinke at the University of Sydney see these prohibitions as a wasted learning opportunity. “In bringing Wikipedia into the classroom, discussing its strengths and weaknesses, and subsequently what constitutes research and peer review, we engage students in a dialogue about academic writing as a process and a product, while at the same time involving them in collaborative and participatory writing groups.” (p. 478)

Their well-referenced article describes various Wikipedia assignments used in an undergraduate writing course and a graduate course in magazines studies. It also contains a variety of information documenting that the Wikipedia of today is “a far more accurate storehouse of information than it was in its formative years. It now meets, if not surpasses, the accuracy of traditional specialist-built counterparts like Encyclopedia Britannica.” (p. 481) And that assertion is documented with research cited from Nature and other credible academic sources.

Wikipedia is a truly unique source. It’s gargantuan. By 2013, if assembled as a set of physical books, it would have totaled 15,930 volumes. According to Wikipedia Report Card, during the month of June 2015, 374,819,00 discrete visitors consulted articles in Wikipedia and that didn’t include articles accessed by via mobile apps. “The ‘epitome of crowdsourcing,’ Wikipedia is a unique encyclopedia that is peer-produced by a variety of users including ‘frequent and occasional contributors. . .specialists and generalists’ and a range of interdisciplinary scholars.” (p. 479-480)

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college teachers July 9

Six Things That Make College Teachers Successful

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1. Study the knowledge base of teaching and learning.

You have chosen to teach in higher education because you are a subject-matter specialist with a tremendous knowledge of your discipline. As you enter or continue your career, there is another field of knowledge you need to know: teaching and learning. What we know about teaching and learning continues to grow dramatically. It includes developing effective instructional strategies, reaching today’s students, and teaching with technology. Where is this knowledge base? Books, articles in pedagogical periodicals, newsletters, conferences, and online resources provide ample help. Take advantage of your institution’s center for teaching and learning or other professional development resources.


July 8

“What Were You Thinking of When You Decided on That Rating?”

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Most student rating instruments include a question related to the feedback provided by the instructor. It may ask whether it was constructive, actionable, delivered in a timely manner, or some combination of these characteristics. Most teachers are conscientious about giving students feedback. Because they devote so much time and effort to providing it, they are often disappointed and frustrated when students don’t rate the quality of the feedback very positively.

That’s what was happening in the faculties of arts and social sciences and of law at the University of New South Wales. The question on their student rating form asked students whether they were given helpful feedback on how they were doing in the course. “Members of the staff [faculty] whose courses have been rated lower on feedback than on other factors have been puzzled as to just what it was that they would have to do in order to score really well on the feedback question.” (p. 50)

Article author Shirley V.  Scott conducted a series of focus group conversations with students in these two programs. Her approach was direct. She gave students a copy of the question from the student rating form, asked them to think of a course they were enrolled in now and a course they had already completed, and rate both on the feedback question. Then she asked them to reflect and write about what aspects of those courses shaped their answer to the feedback question. “What were you thinking of when you decided how to rate that course?” (p. 51)

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female student at computer July 6

Ways to Improve Relationships in Online Classes

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Establishing a healthy learning environment is key to teaching. But opportunities for making personal connections and relationships with students are greatly reduced in online classes. Thus, online instructors need to make a special effort to foster relationships in their online courses.

Start class with a live meeting

I always begin my classes with a live Adobe Connect meeting. I use my webcam, which allows students see my face, hear my voice, and have an opportunity to get to know me as person. I share a little about my life, including the seven-year-old child I have who will occasionally (supposedly accidentally) pop his head in during the middle of class.

Prior to that meeting, I have students post a little about themselves (including a picture) in a discussion board in our LMS. This lets me use that information to make connections with students in the meeting. For example, I mentioned that a student’s superintendent had been my principal in one of my first administrative positions.

In addition to providing my background, I review the course assignments and explain them in greater detail. I often set up polls in Adobe Connect to determine what time students prefer to meet, if a specific activity was beneficial, if they are interested in learning more about a topic, etc. Students appreciate the opportunity to get to know the professor, ask questions about the course structure, and learn from the questions of others. These live meetings are recorded, and those unable to attend are able to watch the recording when it is convenient for them.

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