CURRENT ARTICLE • April 3rd creating climate for learning. Male professor

Creating a Climate for Learning: A Survey for Students and Teachers

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How well a class functions is the result of both what the teacher does and what the students do. The way we solicit course evaluation feedback reinforces students’ tendency to see the teacher as the one who’s responsible for whether it was a good class. Teachers do play a significant role, but they don’t make or break a class without a lot of student input. We need to be using evaluation activities that make clear that what happens in class is a shared responsibility.

Here’s a feedback activity that highlights the roles played by teachers and students. It can be configured in a variety of different ways—three options are recommended here.

  • Students can provide input on the conditions for learning created by the instructor.
  • The instructor can provide input on how well students are functioning as a community of learners.
  • The students can evaluate the course in terms of how it functions as a learning community.

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OTHER RECENT ARTICLES

student at internship April 3

Assessing Social Science Internships Using the Business Model

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Regardless of the academic program, internships can be a key piece of any student’s academic experience. In my involvement as an internship coordinator for political science, the only assessment model I had was what I knew from my experience as an undergraduate and graduate student. This included working with faculty to identify an internship opportunity, being placed, accomplishing a minimum number of hours, writing a journal of daily activities, and writing a reflection paper on the overall experience and its relation to my academic coursework. Once these minimum requirements were satisfied, a passing grade was bestowed, given that internships are a pass/fail class. Now, as a faculty member, I had become concerned that a more rigorous assessment was needed.


University students study in classroom with female lecturer April 1

Facilitation Skills: The Way to Better Student Discussions

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Most faculty aspire to engage and involve students in interesting and insightful discussions. But these in-class and online exchanges frequently disappoint faculty. Students come to them unprepared. They engage reluctantly. Their individual and unrelated comments take the discussion in different directions. There can be awkward silences that force faculty to rephrase questions or make statements in an effort to restart the discussion. Unprepared students tend to deal with discussion topics superficially, and they don’t delve deeply into the issues. Teachers soon feel compelled to add content depth and detail, and the more teachers talk, the less students contribute. Unfortunately, in many cases, discussions morph into lectures and students seem just fine with that.

Are faculty aspirations for discussion unjustified? Are they unrealistic, given today’s college students? No. Discussion remains a powerful instructional tool. It affords students the opportunity to learn from and with each other. Students phrase ideas in ways that help other students understand. One student’s question often asks something many students would like to know. Different perspectives are shared, and students come to realize that not everyone understands or experiences things in the same way. Discussions can be stimulating, provocative even. They can cultivate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Students learn to craft arguments and to refute them. Discussions can model civil discourse. For all these reasons and more, good discussions promote significant learning experiences.

At the crossroads between what discussion can be, and often is, stands the teacher whose challenge is easy to understand yet complicated to execute: lead and guide the exchange, but without controlling and directing it. What makes discussions engaging is the free flow of ideas, but these ideas stop flowing freely when teacher talk dominates. As teachers, there are several factors that make it easy for us to assume a commanding position in discussions. We have content expertise. We are in charge of the course and who gets to talk. We wield grading power. It’s not surprising that students direct their comments to the teacher during discussion and not to each other.

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group study session April 1

Study Guides and Study Groups

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Most college faculty are terribly well-intentioned. We care about student success. The material in our courses is important; we want students to learn it. And so, we go out of our way, bend over backwards, and give students everything they need to do well in the course. If it looks like our students don’t know what or how to study for the exam, we respond with carefully prepared, detailed study guides and long lists of study questions for every chapter.

But here’s the question: Who stands to benefit the most from the preparation of study guide material? The teacher who knows the material and knows how to make a good study guide? Or students who must interact with the material in order to make a useful guide and who need to learn how to organize content in ways that expedite learning?

We’d serve our students better by contributing to the process, rather than doing the work they should be doing. We can prepare a set of guidelines that delineate the features of useful study guides and let them pull it all together. We can facilitate an in-class or online discussion during which students identify the features they’d find most helpful. We can share some good and not-so-good examples of study guide material.

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creating instructional video March 31

10 Tips for Creating Effective Instructional Videos

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Instructor presence is an important component of effective online teaching, and video can help make it happen. Instructional videos have become increasingly easy to create and can turn a good online class into an engaging learning experience. Video humanizes the online experience by letting students know their instructor as a real person, not an abstraction. Good quality webcams are available for less than $100, and there are numerous free and easy-to-use resources for creating and publishing video content so it can be streamed back into our courses.


Professor in front of class March 29

What Happens in a Course is a Shared Responsibility

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One thing about student evaluations that troubles me is how they give students the impression that it’s the teacher who makes or breaks the course. A few instruments query students about their own efforts, but I’m not sure those kinds of questions make it clear that what happens in any course is the combined result of teacher and student actions. Early in my teaching career, I heard a wise colleague tell students, “It’s not my class. It’s not your class. It’s our class, and together we will make it a good or not-so-good learning experience.”


student raising hand in class March 27

How Do Students Learn from Participation in Class Discussion?

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Despite numerous arguments favoring active learning, especially class discussion, instructors sometimes worry that discussion is an inefficient or ineffective way for students to learn. What happens when students make non-value added, irrelevant, or inaccurate contributions? What about comments from non-experts that may obfuscate rather than clarify understanding? What about students who speak only to earn participation credit rather than contribute substantively to the discussion?


Faculty mentoring March 24

Why Won’t They Ask Us for Help?

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After teaching statistics classes for more than 25 years and seeing so many students struggling to be successful, I became increasingly frustrated by the fact that no matter how much I believed myself to be approachable, available, and willing to help students outside of class, very few took advantage of the opportunity. I began to wonder not only what barriers existed between me and my students but also how to investigate those barriers and seek solutions.


March 23

New Report Examines What’s Next for Academic and Research Libraries

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NMC Horizon Report reveals the top trends, challenges, and technology developments disrupting academic and research libraries worldwide.

The New Media Consortium (NMC), University of Applied Sciences (HTW) Chur, Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB), ETH Library, and the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) are jointly releasing the NMC Horizon Report > 2017 Library Edition at the ACRL 2017 Conference. This is the third edition of the NMC Horizon Report that explores the realm of academic and research libraries in a global context.

This report describes annual findings from the NMC Horizon Project, a 15-year-old ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies poised to influence learning, teaching, and creative inquiry. Six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in educational technology are placed directly in the context of their likely impact on the core missions of academic and research libraries.


stepping outside comfort zone March 22

Learning Outside Your Comfort Zone

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When we learn something outside the comfort zone, we attempt to acquire knowledge or skills in an area where we’re lacking. Part of the discomfort derives from learning something we anticipate will be difficult. We have no idea how to do it, or we think it requires abilities we don’t have or have in meager amounts. Moreover, poor performance or outright failure lurk as likely possibilities. In other words, it’s going to be hard and require concentration, and what we’re struggling to do, others can accomplish beautifully, seemingly without effort. Their skills, and our obvious lack of them, raise questions about our merits as a learner and maybe even our worth as a person.