CURRENT ARTICLE • January 22nd Creating a positive classroom environment

Six Ways to Promote a Positive Learning Environment

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During the past 10 years, my colleagues and I have observed a steady increase in specific behaviors that create conflict in our classrooms. These disruptive behaviors do not arise every day and certainly are not exhibited by all students, but collectively, my colleagues and I could fill a sizeable bucket every year with examples of student behaviors that are rude, hostile, or confrontational. A belief that students have the right to do whatever they want because they are paying for their educational experience, and that faculty have no right to impose limitations on this freedom, is rooted in students’ assumption that as consumers of higher education, their individual needs and desires are the only relevant factor faculty should consider when developing course policies, assignments, and curriculum (Fullerton, 2013)

OTHER RECENT ARTICLES

cheating on a test January 17

A Memo to Students on Cheating

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Cheating among college students remains rampant. Our institutional and/or course policies aren’t stopping much of it. There are lots of reasons why, which we could debate, but the more profitable conversation is how we get students to realize that cheating hurts them. I don’t think they consider the personal consequences, so that’s the goal of this memo, framed like others that have appeared in the blog. You are welcome to revise it, make the language your own, and share it as you see fit with students. Will it stop cheating? Not likely, but it might make some students realize the consequences go well beyond getting caught.


developing teaching expertise January 15

Developing a Learning Culture: A Framework for the Growth of Teaching Expertise

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Many postsecondary institutions have started to explore what it means to develop and demonstrate teaching expertise, recognizing not only the complexities of teaching and of documenting the experiences of teaching, but also that teaching expertise is developed through a learning process that continues over time (Hendry & Dean, 2002; Kreber, 2002). Our framework (see below graphic) for this growth of teaching expertise draws from the scholarly literature related to postsecondary teaching and learning to demonstrate that teaching expertise involves multiple facets, habits of mind (or ways of knowing and being), and possible developmental activities.


What students consider unfair grading practices January 15

‘That’s So Unfair!’

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Students have strong opinions about fair and unfair practices in college courses. Previous research shows that, according to students, fair practices include clarity about grading procedures and course policies, flexibility in scheduling make-up exams and meetings, generosity with feedback, and a reasonable approach to workload in the course. If those policies and practices aren’t followed, students often raise the issue of fairness, usually with some emotional intensity. “That grade is so unfair! I worked for hours on that assignment.”

Perceptions of fairness, or classroom justice, as it’s described in this recent research, relate to three aspects of the education experiences provided in courses. Distributive justice is defined as “perceptions of the fairness of an instructional outcome” (p. 323). Grades are the best example. Procedural justice involves the “fairness of the processes used to distribute resources or outcomes in the instructional context” (p. 323). Here, an example might be the way group work is graded, be it with individual grades, group grades, or some combination of the two. Interactional justice relates to the “fairness and quality of interpersonal treatment of students by instructors when procedures are implemented or outcomes allocated” (p. 323). Does the instructor show respect for students? Is the instructor open to student opinions? Does the instructor answer student questions?

Building on earlier research completed by some of this research team, this study investigated “the cognitive, affective and behavioral processes at play in students’ perceptions of and responses to classroom injustice” (p. 324). Their almost 400 undergraduate student cohort at three different institutions responded to open-ended queries as well as survey questions.

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online video formats for teaching January 12

The Best Video Formats for Online Teaching

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When online faculty or course developers are approached about adding videos to their content, they tend to think of either webcam shots of themselves at their computer or screencasts of themselves reading bullet points to students. But there are a variety of highly effective and easy-to-produce video formats for online education. Here are the different options, along with their best uses and the best technology for creating them.

Webcam
Yes, the webcam shot does have a place in teaching. For one, it is the fastest way to make a video. Just start the webcam, speak to the camera, save the file, and upload it to the course. But the time savings is usually lost by the need to reshoot multiple times due to errors. It is unlikely that you will get through a video much longer than a few minutes without some verbal errors, and it can easily take five to ten shoots before you get a clean version.

For this reason, webcam shots are best used for content that does not need to be flawless. A good example is discussion posts. Instructors can use them to summarize important points in a discussion at the end. The “ums” and other verbal pauses or corrections do not matter. We do not worry about them in live conversation; our audience just listens right through them. So an instructor does not need to worry about them for video discussion. Leaving them in might even better demonstrate that the instructor is speaking from the heart, rather than a script. A good idea is for instructors to include thoughts that have occurred to them as a result of the discussion, demonstrating to students that the instructor is paying attention to their posts and thinking about them. An instructor can also assess discussion, saying that “I thought it went well because . . .” Online instructors rarely provide students with an assessment of a discussion as a whole, instead focusing on individual comments, but talking about it as a whole will help students understand what the instructor is looking for from students. Take a look at this example: https://youtu.be/h7vj8j_gZuQ.

Webcam shots are also good for videos that welcome students to a course. While they do require multiple shoots to get a clean version, the time investment is worth it due to the way that they humanize the instructor to the students and make students feel comfortable expressing themselves. Students should be encouraged to make their own as well. See this example: https://youtu.be/6KfM_JaVJ6E.

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do students take course evaluations seriously January 12

Student Views of the Student Evaluation Processes

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Are students taking their end-of-course evaluation responsibilities seriously? Many institutions ask them to evaluate every course and to do so at a time when they’re busy with final assignments and stressed about upcoming exams. Response rates have also fallen at many places that now have students provide their feedback online. And who hasn’t gotten one or two undeserved low ratings—say, on a question about instructor availability when the instructor regularly came early to class, never missed a class, and faithfully kept office hours? Are students even reading the questions?


Student persistence January 11

Mindset and Stereotype Threat: Small Interventions That Make a Big Difference

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What if there were a simple classroom exercise that could create positive and lasting effects on the academic performance and persistence of students—in particular, students who are under-represented in your field?

It turns out there is. More accurately, there are a number of such exercises—let’s call them interventions—that research shows are effective.

The interventions grow out of two intersecting bodies of literature in social psychology and are described in drastically over-simplified terms below.

Mindset research, widely known as the brainchild of Stanford’s Carol Dweck (2006), holds that students’ beliefs about learning and intelligence profoundly influence their ability to persist in the face of challenges and setbacks. Students with a “growth mindset” believe that intelligence is malleable, learning is often effortful, and failure is a natural (and perhaps necessary) part of personal and academic growth. When students with a growth mindset fail, it does not threaten their sense of identity, so they are able to move on and persist. As a result, they have a capacity for resilience that ultimately serves them well in academics and in life. Students with a “fixed mindset,” on the other hand, view intelligence as innate and failure as a threat to their core identity (“But I’m an A student! How could I fail?!”). They are fine as long as they succeed, but tend to panic, give up, or even cheat when they encounter setbacks or find that learning is harder than they anticipated. In other words, they are brittle rather than resilient.

Stereotype threat research, championed by scholars like Claude Steele (2010), has a different but overlapping focus on issues related to identity. It shows that students from groups stigmatized or stereotyped on the basis of social identity (race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc.) experience stress when asked to perform challenging tasks that converge with known stereotypes. Think, for example, of women in STEM fields or the elderly performing memory tasks. The internalized pressure not to confirm stereotypes interferes with cognition, creating a kind of mental “noise” that negatively affects performance. Sophisticated experiments have shown that when a task-relevant negative stereotype is triggered in the minds of students from the stereotyped group, their performance measurably declines. However, when the stereotype is not triggered—or when steps are taken to actively reduce its salience—the performance of these students is significantly higher.

As powerfully detrimental as the effects of fixed mindsets and stereotype threat can be, there is good news coming out of both fields. Students with fixed mindsets can develop growth mindsets. In doing so, they can raise not only their short-term academic performance but also their long-term ability to bounce back from setbacks and persist in challenging fields. Stereotype threat, moreover, can be mitigated, and when it is, it can significantly decrease and sometimes outright erase the performance differential between stereotyped and non-stereotyped groups. In addition, reducing stereotype threat can help members of underrepresented groups overcome imposter syndrome and develop a stronger and more resilient sense of belonging and self-efficacy within a given field.

Still better news: simple interventions can address both issues simultaneously. And – this part is perhaps the most encouraging of all—they create positive effects that snowball rather than diminish over time, as positive outcomes generate confidence that lead to still more positive outcomes (Yeager and Walton, 2011). While these interventions seem almost magical, Yeager and Walton point out in their excellent review of the research (2011) that they’re not magical at all: they simply leverage what we know about the human mind, in particular how emotion and cognition interact.

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Writing an effective syllabus January 10

As You’re Preparing the Syllabus . . .

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The “find and replace” feature in Word quickly makes an old syllabus ready for a new course. Use it too many times and thinking about the course settles into a comfortable rut. Yes, we may change more than just the dates, but when was the last time we considered something beyond what needs to go on the syllabus? The literature answers that question with a few definitive conclusions and a host of possibilities. Here are some thoughts, offered with just a bit of provocation, in the hopes they might reenergize our thinking about the syllabus and what it can accomplish in the course, for students and for the teacher.


Tools for adding animation to your course. January 9

Simple Animation for Your Courses

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Animation is an engaging format for delivering online content. We see it used in TED-Ed presentations, educational documentaries, and elsewhere. It is also much easier to make than many people think. Simple and free, or inexpensive, online systems allow anyone to make animated videos in a variety of formats. The creator chooses from a menu of characters, actions, and backgrounds; adds a narration audio track; and then chooses how the elements will move around a scene. These systems only take a few minutes to learn, and while they will not win you an Oscar, they are perfectly fine for online teaching.

One use of animation is to publicize a course on the faculty member’s webpage. I made one announcing a faculty development course that used two characters talking in a bar about challenges they face in teaching, with one announcing my course as a solution. Yes, it sounds hokey, but it’s an attention grabber that sets the tone of my training as interesting and innovative. We do little to inform students about courses or try to interest them before they sign up. Normally, they just get a brief description in a course catalog or perhaps a syllabus. An animated video will capture students’ attention and get them motivated to take the course. Animated videos can also be used in an online course to introduce a week’s content, what students should do, and what students will get out of each activity. They can also be used to deliver content itself if the instructor prefers not to use other video formats. Take a look at this example of an animation used to deliver a lesson on animal ethics: https://youtu.be/3HAMk_ZYO7g.

Another option is to have students make animations as assessments. I have had students make animations that teach a topic. This is far more engaging to the student than a traditional paper, and students will respond with surprising amounts of creativity. Plus, the videos can be added to the course content itself to educate future students.

Here are some easy to use animation systems for making your own videos.

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