By: Meriah L. Crawford
Your students have questions, but they rarely ask them—especially at the beginning of the semester. They feel awkward or embarrassed, or maybe it’s just inertia. Whatever the cause, the vast majority of student questions go unasked. For teachers, this is wildly frustrating because we can’t answer the questions they don’t ask (though some questions can be anticipated). In many cases, the unasked questions represent anxieties and uncertainties that negatively affect students’ performance in class and inhibits their learning. This is a particular problem in the sophomore composition class I teach. It has a reputation as a difficult class, so many students arrive intimidated and nervous.
By: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
With the increased use of group work in college courses, exploration of the role of peer assessment has broadened, as has its use. In one survey, 57 percent of students reported that their faculty had incorporated peer evaluations into group assignments. We’ve done articles on this topic before, but mostly we’ve highlighted resources, specifically good instruments that direct peers to provide feedback in those areas known to influence group outcomes. Recent literature includes a variety of peer assessment systems (find three examples referenced at the end of this article), many of them online programs that expedite the collection, tabulation, and distribution of the results. Here’s a list of the benefits of making peer assessment part of group learning experiences.
Peer assessment can prevent group process problems. Several studies show that it helps, and sometimes virtually solves, one of the most egregious group problems: free riding, as in students not doing their fair share of the work. One study found that the very possibility of having peer evaluations improved the performance of group members. Of course, that benefit is enhanced when peers receive feedback from each other as they are working together as opposed to when the project is finished.
Formative peer assessment also improves individual and group performance. Even if the group is not experiencing major problems, formative feedback from peers can help individual members fine-tune their contributions and help the group increase its overall effectiveness. Some of the processes faculty are using to achieve this benefit include individual and group responses to the feedback. Individual students comment on feedback from the group via an email to the teacher, and groups use the feedback to develop an improvement plan. They also make note of what the group is doing well. Online peer assessment systems make multiple exchanges of formative feedback possible, which is helpful when the groups are working on complex, course-long projects. The Brutus and Donia system resulted in measurable individual improvement during a second semester when the system was used. In other words, students took what they’d learned about their performance in the group and acted on it the following semester.
By: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
I continue to be concerned that we don’t design learning experiences as developmentally as we should. What happens to students across a course (and the collection of courses that make up a degree program) ought to advance their knowledge and skills. Generally, we do a good job on the knowledge part, but we mostly take skill development for granted. We assume it just happens, and it does, sort of, just not as efficiently and extensively as it could if we purposefully intervened.
By: Andrew J. Cano
Most institutions provide instructional design teams to support faculty in creating online courses. At my institution, each department has an assigned instructional designer, and most faculty members consider designers to be an indispensable part of the course development process. The same cannot be said for librarians, however, as my experience has been that most instructors view librarians as valuable sources of resources but not as actual resources themselves. While not intentional, of course, this means that instructors are missing an opportunity to enhance their courses. Similarly, instructional designers, who often work independently of librarians, may not be aware of all the resources available to them when supporting instructors during the process of course design.
All institutions have librarians dedicated to instruction and assigned to departments. In many cases, especially at larger institutions, these librarians hold graduate degrees in the fields to which they are assigned. They also usually possess many years of experience working with faculty from those fields. Combined with their training in developing collections, these librarians bring considerable expertise when selecting resources to be used in class and should always be consulted when choosing textbooks, articles, and other materials being used in class. They often know of material that faculty members are not aware of. They are also up-to-date on what databases and other electronic resources are currently offered through the library. This is no small detail because licensing agreements and available titles shift regularly as libraries and vendors renegotiate their existing contracts. Consequently, it is best to always include a course’s assigned librarian in all stages of course design, as the librarian may have more current knowledge regarding available resources than an instructor or instructional designer.
By: Cassandra O'Sullivan Sachar, EdD
Oh, how the tables do turn! Each semester, after quizzing, testing, and otherwise grading our students, they get to return the favor and rate their professors, and some of them can be harsher than we are on our most critical days. Because administrators incorporate these ratings in their evaluations of us, they can’t be ignored. Rather than wallowing in the sorrows of negative reviews, we must accept it for what it is: feedback. And although we should not in any way compromise our principles or the course content to get better ratings, there are actions that don’t undermine our integrity and do positively influence the end-of-course ratings. I’d like to suggest several that have improved my ratings.
Be transparent about your grading methods. It’s my opinion that students should never be surprised by their grades in a course. Whenever I give an assignment, no matter how small, I provide instructions in writing, a point value, and a due date. I’m a huge fan of rubrics and always take time to help students understand and interpret them. Examples posted on the course website can demonstrate what you’re looking for in assignments.
I work hard to return papers in a timely manner and share my deadlines with students so that they know when to expect the feedback. Most online grading systems make it easy for students to monitor their progress throughout the semester. By removing the mystery from my grading system, I have consistently received high scores from students on the applicable questions on the evaluation form.
By: Scott Gabriel, PhD
“Do more with less.” Wherever this phrase is expressed—at a private liberal arts school facing declining enrollments, a large research institute facing decreased support from state budget appropriations, a large corporation facing decreasing fourth quarter profits, or a government entity facing budgetary cutbacks—in each case, the underlying force is tightening fiscal resources. What invariably follows is that employees are asked to be more creative or productive in the face of those declining resources, causing an increase in demand on one’s time and, often, feelings of burnout. While increasing workload is one factor that exacerbates the prevalence of burnout, there are several others.
By: John Orlando, PhD
Group work is a valuable learning device that teaches teamwork skills which students will use no matter what profession they enter. It is perhaps even more valuable in online classes, as more and more organizations are using distributed employees who need to coordinate their work from a distance.
But group work also brings with it the danger of social loafing, those one or two students who do not contribute their fair share to the project. Not only does it undermine the quality of the project, but it creates frustration among other group members who see it as unfair to have team members not pull their own weight. This can have a dampening effect on the motivation and thus performance of other members of the group.
By: Deidre Price, PhD
Do your writing assignment focus on the product or the process? How about your students? Where do you think their focus is?
At the end of the day, our students aren’t going to take from our courses the products they developed and use them in the future. But they certainly will use and refine the skills they needed to develop that product—as they move on to other courses and well into their respective fields.
When working with online instructors, I found that many will de-emphasize the writing process. They tend to assign a major project or a final paper and all eyes are on the end goal of where students need to ultimately get. But they don’t oftentimes spend a whole lot of time breaking that process down in the same way that they might in a face-to-face class.
Below you’ll find a self-assessment to help you step back and reflect on how you approach writing assignments. It can serve as a helpful reminder of the various steps along the writing journey and how you can help guide students along that path.
By: Deidre Price, PhD
I teach online at an open enrollment institution, which means I get students at all levels of writing ability. Many of them are solid writers with a good understanding of the different steps of the writing process. But I also have students who are just learning to write at the college level. Either they’ve have been out of school for a while or they’re newly minted high school graduates with little experience writing anything other than some kind of standardized writing test.
Rather than make assumptions about what my students might know, I try to demystify the writing process and break it down into individual steps. By forcing them to slow down the process and focus on each step, we can improve the process and, ultimately, the end product.
Below is a self-evaluation that I use with my students. You are welcome to adapt the questions to fit the needs of your courses and students.