Nine Ways to Improve Class Discussions

I once heard class discussions described as “transient instructional events." They pass through the class, the course, and the educational experiences of students with few lingering effects. Ideas are batted around, often with forced participation; students don’t take notes; and then the discussion ends—it runs out of steam or the class runs out of time. If asked a few days later about the exchange, most students would be hard-pressed to remember anything beyond what they themselves might have said, if that. So this post offers some simple suggestions for increasing the impact of the discussions that occur in our courses.

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How to Give Your Students Better Feedback in Less Time

Online instructors focus most of their teaching on curricular issues—what they will teach, how they will teach it, etc. But studies have found that differences in curriculum have little, if any, effect on student outcomes. John Hattie compared more than 100 factors related to student achievement from more than 180,000 studies and ranked the factors from most significant to least significant. Remarkably, “Programmed Instruction” came out at the bottom. While faculty toil over getting that perfect lecture, the variation in learning outcomes from different lectures is negligible.

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Why Policies Fail to Promote Better Learning Decisions

Policies are necessary. They serve as a warning to students: this is what will happen if you are absent, miss an exam, turn work in late, text or surf the Web during class, and the like. Most institutions recommend teachers spell out consequences in their syllabi. Some schools employ institution-wide policies for certain behaviors like academic dishonesty. If policies are supposed to prevent these unproductive behaviors, why do students still engage in them? Are there reasons why policies don’t work?

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Scenario-Based Learning in the Online Classroom

Scenario-based learning can be an effective way for students to apply what they have learned to realistic situations. There are many different ways to design scenarios for online delivery, from text-based case studies to interactive, immersive simulations. Regardless of the resources that you have available, there are effective ways to put students in scenarios that contribute to their learning.

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Expectations, Underestimations, and Realities

Here’s a strategy you can tuck in your folder of good ideas: a survey tool for assessing student expectations for the course. The survey’s designers believe that knowing what students expect is helpful. They also cite research documenting that discrepancies between teacher and student expectations often exist. So they compiled a short survey that asks students what technology they’re expecting in the course, what learning activities they’re anticipating, what they’re thinking they’ll be graded on, their expectations regarding faculty-student interactions, and how soon they’re expecting faculty to answer emails, post grades, and/or return assignments and be available to meet with them. Here’s a link to the survey: http://bit.ly/1EXVUAi. Surveys like these are great idea generators. What course expectations do you and your students have?

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Choosing the Best Approach for Small Group Work

Enter the term “group work” into a Google search, and you’ll find yourself bombarded with dozens of hits clustered around definitions of group work, benefits of group work, and educational theories underpinning group work. If you dig a little deeper into the search results, however, you’ll find that not all of the pages displayed under the moniker of “group work” describe the same thing. Instead, dozens of varieties of group learning appear. They all share the common feature of having students work together, but they have different philosophies, features, and approaches to the group task.

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The Names We Give to Our Instructional Strategies

Instructional strategies acquire names, labels that describe what the strategy involves—active learning, problem-based learning, cooperative learning. Sometimes the strategies gain popularity. They become widely used, and so do the terms that describe them. After a while teachers stop describing what they are doing in class. They simply refer to it by the label: “Yes, I have students work in groups. I use cooperative learning.”

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The On-Going Life of One Retired Dean and Professor

“How are you enjoying retirement, Tom?” This is the question I get everywhere I meet old friends and colleagues. “I read that nice article about your retirement in the local paper and see that the mayor even declared in a proclamation that this event was to be honored in the city as ‘Dr. Thomas R. McDaniel Day,’ and I see that the governor awarded you the Order of the Silver Crescent for your contributions to the state and region—very cool way to go out.”

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Student Ratings—Reminders and Suggestions

Recent research verifies that when looking at small differences in student ratings, faculty and administrators (in this case, department chairs) draw unwarranted conclusions. That’s a problem when ratings are used in decision-making processes regarding hiring, reappointment, tenure, promotion, merit increases, and teaching awards. It’s another chapter in the long, sad story of how research on student ratings has yet to be implemented in practice at most places, but that’s a book, not a blog post. Here, my goal is to offer some reminders and suggestions for when we look at our own ratings.

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