Using Assignment Choice to Promote Course Relevancy February 23

Using Assignment Choice to Promote Course Relevancy

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As a teacher of a subject that I adore and cherish, I often find myself scrambling for enough time to cover everything that needs to be covered and still find a clever way to introduce yet another “cool story” that will further convince my students that my field (microbiology) is relevant to everyday life.

No doubt I am not alone in this challenge of finding ways to demonstrate relevancy of what we teach, but not at the complete expense of the time and effort we desperately need to guide our students through challenging, key concepts and ideas.


why do students procrastinate November 15, 2017

Examining the Unexamined: Why Do Students Procrastinate?

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“Even with years of teaching experience since then [grad school TA experience], there were still areas of my pedagogy that remained as they always had been—unexamined and essentially running on autopilot.” So writes Kevin Gannon in an excellent piece on redesigning his exams (Chronicle of Higher Education, March 6, 2017). I appreciate the honesty of his admission and suspect it resonates with many of us.

Some of what’s unexamined in the practice of many faculty are what seem like intractable problems—say cramming and procrastination. Students have procrastinated for decades—some of us did when we were students and a few (?) of us still do. It’s a perennial problem for anyone who teaches, there can’t possibly be a solution or someone would have come up with it by now. In fact, that was basically the conclusion of a colleague who wrote to me recently. “My students procrastinate. It compromises the quality of their work and diminishes what they learn, but I’ve come to accept it as a given.”


Student working on assignment at library. November 1, 2017

Could Your Assignments Use a Tune-Up?

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How do students think about assignments? A lot never get past the idea that they’re basically unpleasant things faculty make them do. What does interest a lot of students is finding out what the teacher wants in the assignment, not so much what the assignments asks but more seeking insight as to what the teacher “likes.” Discover that and there’s a better chance of a good grade, or so the thinking goes. Unfortunately, very few students look at an assignment and think, now there’s an interesting learning opportunity.


Frustrated student in library September 13, 2017

Reflections on Learning: Giving Students Assignments They Hate

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Questions for teaching-learning discussion groups or individual reflection

In this week’s Teaching Professor Blog, I offered strategies to help move our conversations about teaching beyond the “tips and tricks” to the kind of thought-provoking discussions that help promote, motivate, and sustain our growth as teachers.

Here I have outlined potential questions that can be used in a discussion group or for individual reflection. The exercise centers on those unpopular assignments that we sometimes give our students and is based on an article in this Journal on Excellence in College Teaching:

DeWall, N., (2016). Millennials by heart: Memorization as an active learning strategy for the SparkNotes Generation. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 27 (4), 77-91.

A synopsis: Nichole DeWall gives students an assignment they hate. Students must scan, paraphrase, and memorize a self-selected passage or poem from one of the assigned texts. Then they recite the memorized material in private to her, and teach the passage to classmates in a short, interactive presentation. Finally, they write a low-stakes reflective essay about the experience.

The article explores the rationale behind the assignment, why it’s appropriate, especially for Millennial students, and what they learn by doing it.

Even though it’s an article about an assignment few faculty will ever use, it’s well-worth reading and even more worth discussing because it raises issues much larger than the details of her assignment.

POTENTIAL DISCUSSION TOPICS AND QUESTIONS

Should we give students an assignment they hate?

“The assignment’s ability to make students uncomfortable increases its value.” (p. 80)

“Piercing Millennial students’ egos allows them to be open to truly transformational learning. Therefore it is neither necessary nor desirable for the classroom to feel like a seamless extension of our Millennial student’s native worlds.” (p. 80)

“Students sharpen their metacognitive skills when they memorize, teach, and reflect upon their poems; they also leave my classes with constant companions that may just help them make sense out of their lives. For these reasons, I continue to ask my students to commit verse to memory every semester, despite their objections (and, often, my colleagues, bewilderment).” (p. 87)

How do students see classrooms? Do they act the same way in the classroom as they do everywhere else because we have failed to make classroom spaces look and feel different from everywhere else?

Does an assignment that causes discomfort produce a different kind of learning? If so, how is it different and is it a better kind of learning?

How much discomfort is enough, too much, and how does a teacher make that determination?

Most faculty work to make classroom environments feel safe and comfortable. Does giving an assignment that makes students uncomfortable compromise that objective?

How many of our assignments cause discomfort? Enough? Not enough?

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learning assessment techniques September 12, 2017

Three Learning Assessment Techniques to Gauge Student Learning

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A learning assessment technique (LAT) is a three-part integrated structure that helps teachers to first identify significant learning goals, then to implement effectively the kinds of learning activities that help achieve those goals, and finally—and perhaps most importantly—to analyze and report on the learning outcomes that have been achieved from those learning activities.

LATs are correlated to Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning, such that there are about 6–10 techniques for each of the learning dimensions, including techniques to help students learn the foundational knowledge of the subject and help students apply that foundational knowledge to real situations so that it becomes useful and much more meaningful to them.

There are techniques that help students integrate ideas—different realms of knowledge—so that the learning is more powerful. There are techniques to help students recognize the personal and social implications of what they are learning, which is what Dee Fink calls the human dimension. There are techniques to help students care about what they are learning so that they’re willing to put the effort into what they need to learn. And finally, there are techniques to help students become better and more self-directing learners (learning how to learn).

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Professor helping his students February 6, 2017

Assignment Helps Students Assess Their Progress

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Midterm evaluations bring a host of institutional measures to reach out to underachieving students. However, what might make the most difference to students’ success in their courses is to enable them to assess their own performance and set goals as well as to ask questions of and provide feedback to the instructor. Instructors can give students this reflective opportunity through an online journal assignment in which students do the following:


professor with students in library December 1, 2016

The BIG Questions Assignment

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This assignment gets students thinking about and revealing questions and issues of importance to them.

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student blogging April 1, 2016

A Blog Assignment with Results

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Blogging can be a tool that aids learning. “Blogs provide students with an opportunity to ‘learn by doing’ to make meaning through interaction with the online environment.” (p. 398) They provide learning experiences described as “discursive,” meaning students learn by discussing, which makes blogs a vehicle for knowledge construction. They exemplify active learning and can promote higher-order thinking. Potential outcomes like these give teachers strong incentives to explore their use.


student studying in library March 11, 2016

Hands-On Assignment Awakens Student Creativity

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If you read the syllabus of an Introduction to Sociology course, you’ll notice we have ambitious goals for our students. We not only want our students to understand sociological theories, we want them to use these theories to meaningfully analyze their everyday experiences, interactions, and observations and draw greater meaning from them. How can we encourage this type of engagement in an introductory sociology class? I have realized that the key is by guiding students to think innovatively through a self-directed research project where the students are the drivers of their learning process.


student with laptop September 24, 2015

Scenario-Based Learning in the Online Classroom

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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.