January 29, 2015

Finding a Place for Creative Assignments in Your Course

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Can you teach students to be creative? Most of us would say no. It’s more like trying to teach for it—encouraging it, promoting it, acknowledging when it happens, and rewarding it. Despite the difficulties associated with teaching creativity, teachers shouldn’t be excused from trying to cultivate its development. Is there a profession where creative thinking isn’t needed? Is there a problem that wouldn’t benefit from a creative solution? The authors of the article referenced below ask the follow-up question relevant to those of us in higher education: “Where will students get the opportunity to learn and practice creative thinking if it is not embedded throughout the curriculum?” (p. 51)


March 6, 2014

Show the Learner Visible Signs of Their Learning

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One of the strengths of gamification is that it provides visible milestones of the student’s mastery of content in real time (when it is well designed). Too often in an instructional setting, the learner doesn’t know whether or not he or she really understands or can apply the knowledge they are learning. There is often no visible sign of mastery of the content or application of the content.


February 21, 2014

Guiding Students to Think Critically Using Case Studies

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One of the best practices in teaching and learning is the use of a three-part case study, or a scenario-based story, to help students deepen their understanding of a concept. The three parts of a case study are a scenario-based story that focuses on a specific, hypothetical problem, supporting literature that aligns with the main themes of the story, and guiding questions that help the learner gain the most from understanding the concepts and objectives of the case study by applying critical and higher order thinking skills.


February 20, 2014

Adding Choice to Assignment Options: A Few Course Design Considerations

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No, the objective isn’t to make assignments optional, but two benefits accrue when students are given some choice about assignments. The first is motivational—when students select the method they will use to master the material, they can pick an option they think they’d like to complete. And if an assignment option looks appealing, that increases the chance that students will spend more time working on it and more learning can then result. Second, the practice confronts students with themselves as learners. With teacher guidance, they can be challenged to consider why they find some assignments preferable. They can be encouraged to consider what skills the assignment involves and whether those are skills they have or need to work on developing. A strategy such as this moves students in the direction of autonomy and maturity as learners.


October 15, 2013

A Different Kind of Final

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Last semester I implemented a different kind of final exam. In the past I have used the standard multiple-choice and short-answer exams. I was thinking about making a change when I discovered Beyond Tests and Quizzes: Creative Assessment in the College Classroom, edited by Richard J. Mezeske and Barbara A. Mezeske. The second chapter, “Concept Mapping: Assessing Pre-Service Teachers’ Understanding and Knowledge,” describes an assessment method that tests higher-level thinking. The author shared his experience using concept maps as a final exam, included an example of the final exam project, offered rubrics for grading, and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the strategy. I decided this was the change I was going to make.


October 7, 2013

An Assignment that Helps Students Connect with Course Content

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What do we hope to accomplish when we are teaching? Students will learn the material, become excited about the material, learn to think critically? Ultimately, I think most of us are hoping that our students will connect, or engage, with the material. There is evidence that getting students to engage with the material is an important process in the learning experience (e.g., Umbach & Wawrzynski, 2005). I recently tried something new in an attempt to help my students make that connection. This is my story of an assignment that successfully helped my students connect with the material.


assignment choice September 19, 2013

Giving Students a Choice in Assignments Can Boost Creativity and Motivation

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Teaching to students’ strengths and interests can promote creative and critical thinking. But requesting creative responses often engenders the exact opposite of creativity. “Just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it.” “How many words does it need to be?” “What should I write about to get a good grade?” “I’m not creative.” Often these comments are accompanied with sighs, groans, or no responses at all (in the case of online students), indicating just how much students resist when asked to be creative. And these responses are even more prevalent in required and prerequisite courses. So how do we overcome the resistance and encourage creative ideas and thinking from our students?


January 22, 2013

Online Homework Systems Can Boost Student Achievement

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Online homework has great appeal for instructors, especially those teaching large courses. By using online assignments, instructors don’t have to collect, grade, and promptly return large quantities of homework assignments. Online programs provide instructors with feedback on student performance that can be used to modify the presentation of material in class. Online homework is also beneficial to students. They get feedback promptly, even more promptly than that provided by very conscientious instructors. Online homework can also be designed so that it allows students to work on areas that frequently cause trouble and/or on areas where the individual student is having difficulty.


October 15, 2012

Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started

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Many of us who teach in higher education do not have a teaching background, nor do we have experience in curriculum development. We know our content areas and are experts in our fields, but structuring learning experiences for students may or may not be our strong suit. We’ve written a syllabus (or were handed one to use) and have developed some pretty impressive assessments, projects, and papers in order to evaluate our students’ progress through the content. Sometimes we discover that students either don’t perform well on the learning experiences we’ve designed or they experience a great deal of frustration with what they consider high stakes assignments. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) proposes that it’s important to determine the area (zone) between what a student can accomplish unaided and what that same student can accomplish with assistance.


September 17, 2012

Using “Frameworks” to Enhance Teaching and Learning

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I want to explain the use of what I call “frameworks” in my college teaching. I have used them during nine years of teaching graduate and undergraduate classes, and my students tell me that they are particularly helpful. Although I teach in Utica College’s Education program, this tool has application across a broad number of disciplines and courses at a variety of levels.