faculty development July 23

Flexible Faculty Development Opportunities

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One of the most persistent challenges for instructional designers is finding a convenient time to schedule faculty development training sessions. If scheduled during the summer, the workshop is subject to poor attendance because faculty are preparing for the fall. If it is scheduled in the fall, teaching responsibilities and committee work can impede professional development attendance. The same holds true for the spring semester.


learning objectives May 2

Learning Objectives: Where We Start and Where We End

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On the surface, learning objectives don’t seem all that complicated. You begin with an objective or you can work backwards from the desired outcome. Then you select an activity or assignment that accomplishes the objective or outcome. After completion of the activity or assignment, you assess to discover if students did in fact learn what was proposed. All that’s very appropriate. Teachers should be clear about what students need to know and be able to do when a course ends. But too often that’s where it stops. We don’t go any further in our thinking about our learning objectives. There’s another, more challenging, set of questions that also merit our attention.


creative course design March 12

Creative Course Design (Yes, You Can!)

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A lot of teachers don’t think of themselves as being particularly creative. Creativity in education doesn’t mean coming up with a revolutionary new idea or complete reinvention of something. Creativity means doing something original or unique. A lot of educational creativity involves repackaging or “putting your own spin” on something that somebody else has already used successfully. We believe in adding your own stamp and style to already existing educational approaches—that’s being creative. Sometimes all that’s required to take a course or lesson from sleepy to exciting is a small, but personal, creative adaptation. It is almost always easier to modify than to create ex nihilo.

Every program, course, and lesson can be made more effective, efficient, and exciting. What we’re suggesting is illustrated by IDEO—a California-based design and consulting firm that specializes in product and process improvement. The design principles they use can readily be applied to educational course design.

Sometimes we lack creativity in education because we work in isolation. Collaboration with colleagues fosters creativity. IDEO, for example, uses a team-based design methodology that consistently results in product designs that no single team member could have created (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M66ZU2PCIcM). Here are some of the principles they use when collaborating as a group—repurposed with an emphasis on course design:

  • Encourage wild ideas. Too often we end up doing what we’ve always done. We’re busy and need to get lesson plans, assessments, and assignments completed in a hurry. But take a moment, consider an ideal teaching situation: What would you do for or with your students to help them succeed and master your course? Let your imagination run loosely. Of course, there are constraints, but letting them go (just temporarily) can help unlock new solutions to old problems. “Blue sky” brainstorming can yield imaginative, yet realistic possibilities.

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course design and planning January 4

Creating a Course Calendar that Aligns to the Rhythms of the Semester

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Do you have a system or standard process for prepping a course you’ve taught before? Where do you start? Early in my career, “one chapter per week” described my course outline. It wasn’t an effective system. Poor planning left my students and me burnt out at the end of most terms. For some, planning revolves around syllabus revision, closing loopholes, and adjusting dates. When time’s abundant, some teachers read books like Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, a thoughtful, research-based system. I highly recommend their work.

But as I write this article in mid-December, the reality is there are papers and projects to grade, events to attend, holidays to celebrate, and a short break before spring courses commence. Few of us will be able to work through a comprehensive system at this time of year.

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top teaching and learning articles of 2017 December 15, 2017

Top 17 of 2017: Our Most Popular Teaching and Learning Articles

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As another year draws to a close, the editorial team at Faculty Focus looks back on some of the most popular articles of the year. Throughout 2017, we published more than 200 articles, covering a wide range of teaching and learning topics, including assignment strategies, cell phone policies, course design, flipped classrooms, online discussions, study strategies, and grading policies.

In this, our last post of the year, we reveal the top 17 articles for 2017. Each article’s ranking is based on a combination of factors, including e-newsletter open and click rates, social shares, reader comments, web traffic, reprint requests, and other reader engagement metrics.


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.


copyright defined February 9, 2017

Legal Issues in Course Design and Delivery

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In this article, we look at some practical ways for how to lawfully utilize the common types of materials used in course design and delivery. But first I must begin with the requisite disclaimer. The information contained herein is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice nor is it to be construed as the rendering of a legal opinion.

Who owns your course?
One way to think about course design and delivery is to break it down into its component parts. What is the body of knowledge or course content? What kinds of resources, books, articles, media, et cetera do you want to use? How do you utilize them in a manner that is copyright compliant?

Typically, the compilation of resources utilized in any given course is drawn from a variety of sources. We will look at those most commonly employed. We will do that by examining three common scenarios involving materials you create yourself and what happens to them if you leave your institution.

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teaching large classes January 14, 2017

Creating a Curriculum Map for Survey Courses

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Introductory survey courses offer an overview of a broad topic or field of knowledge. They form the backbone of undergraduate education at most colleges and universities, and they also serve as the foundation courses for their disciplines.

An introductory survey course may be the only college-level course that non-majors take in the field, as well as the courses on which potential majors may base their decision of whether they will choose to major in that field. Despite their critical role in the higher education landscape, introductory survey courses are notorious for low rates of student achievement and satisfaction.

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May 16, 2016

Backward Design, Forward Progress

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Readers of Faculty Focus are probably already familiar with backward design. Most readily connected with such researchers as Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, and Dee Fink, this approach to course construction asks faculty to initially ignore the specific content of a class. Rather, the designer begins the process by identifying desired learning goals, and then devising optimal instruments to measure and assess them. Only thereafter does course-specific content come into play—and even then, it is brought in not for the sake of “covering” it, but as a means to achieve the previously identified learning objectives. Courses designed this way put learning first, often transcend the traditional skillset boundaries of their discipline, and usually aim to achieve more ambitious cognitive development than do classes that begin—and often end —with content mastery as the primary focus. Although the advantages of backward design are manifest, it’s probably still the exception to, rather than the rule of, course planning.


student with pile of books March 16, 2016

It’s Not About Hard or Easy Courses

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Now here’s an argument I haven’t heard before: Improving your instruction makes it easier for students to learn. If it’s easier for them to learn, they won’t work as hard in the course, and that means they could learn less. It’s called offsetting behavior and we can’t ask students about it directly because it would be disingenuous for them to admit to studying less when learning becomes easier.