February 7th, 2018

Save Time and Promote Learning? Yes, You Can!


time-saving strategies for college faculty.

Teaching well takes time—time to prepare content and course materials, to interact with students in class, during office hours and electronically, to keep up with developments in the field, to grade and provide constructive feedback, and that just starts the list. To allow for scholarly work, campus responsibilities, and a personal life, teaching tasks need to be handled with as much efficiency as possible. Fortunately, some efficiencies not only expedite teaching tasks, they promote learning! Here are some examples. Most entail an upfront time investment, but it’s recouped with time saved subsequently. Teaching Professor Blog

Rubrics – They add focus to the grading process and eliminate the need to write the same comments on assignment after assignment. They also clarify for teachers and students the grading criteria and its quality levels.
Time investment – Rubrics have to be developed and that takes time. However, they can start simple and grow in complexity. Moreover, all sorts of models exist that can be used or modified.
Recommended resource – For a good overview: Dawson, P. (2017). Assessment rubrics: Towards clear and more replicable design, research and practice. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 42 (3), 347-360. [Note: highlights from this article appear in the February 2018 issue of the Teaching Professor newsletter.]
Peer feedback – Students can provide each other with useful feedback on papers, performances, and projects as well as group work experiences. Doing so helps them learn the principles of constructive feedback. If it occurs during assignment completion, it helps prevent procrastination and relieves the teacher of the need to provide all the feedback.
Time investment – Students do not automatically provide good peer feedback. It’s a new role for them. They need guidance; a list of questions to answer (with more than one word), a rubric, a discussion of the characteristics of useful feedback, and an opportunity to provide feedback on the feedback.
Recommended resources – First, a classic: Nilson, L. B. (2003). Improving student peer feedback. College Teaching, 51 (1), 34-38. Second, a creative approach: Jhangiani, R. (2016). The impact of participating in a peer assessment activity on subsequent academic performance. Teaching of Psychology, 43 (3), 180-186.
Topical office hours – If students routinely have trouble with specific parts of the content, schedule a session (during office hours or online) to answer questions and discuss that material with whoever shows up (signs on). Fear of asking for help individually prevents some students from the benefits of further interaction with the instructor. Getting help with a group is less threatening, and the strategy saves the teacher from having to explain the same thing multiple times.
Time investment – Almost none, other than identifying the topics for these sessions.
Recommended Resources – For background: Griffin, W. et. al., (2014). Starting the conversation: An exploratory study of factors that influence student office hour use. College Teaching, 62 (3), 94-99. For an iteration of topical sessions: Chung, C. and Hsu, L. (2006). Encouraging students to seek help: Supplementing office hours with a course center. College Teaching, 54(3), 253–258.
Student-prepared course materials – The materials could be study guides or potential exam questions, sample problem collections, chapter highlights, a test preparation checklist, or class notes with textbook references. There’s lots of possibilities and all sorts of benefits to students. They can’t put together any sort of study materials without spending time with content.
Time investment – Will students prepare course materials as good as what the teacher can provide? Probably not. But with guidance (a handout or samples), feedback, and the chance to practice throughout the semester, they will improve and may pick up some new study skills in the process.
Recommended resources –
A study that demonstrates the value: Offerdahl, E. and Montplaisir, L. (2014). Student-generated reading questions: Diagnosing student thinking with diverse formative assessments. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 42 (1), 29-38.
Self and peer grading – Yes, this is about letting students grade their homework or quiz and/or that of their peers. They benefit from immediate feedback and when assessing the work of a peer, they can benchmark that work against what they did. And what teacher wouldn’t love a bit less to grade?
Time investment – The activity needs to be designed so that it encourages students to give themselves and each other the grade they’ve earned. Hint: Randomly check the grades given on a designated number of assignments or quizzes. Unearned grades get zeroes and those students no longer participate in the activity.
resources For those convinced there’s no way to make it work, two examples of where it did: Simkin, M. and Stiver, D. (2016). Self-graded homework: Some empirical tests of efficacy. Journal of Education for Business, 91 (1), 52-58. Strong, B., Davis, M., and Hawks, V. (2004). Self-grading in large general education classes: A case study. College Teaching, 52 (2), 52-57.