humor in the classroom - fake glasses November 13

You’re Funnier Than You Think: Using Humor in the Classroom

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First, we want everyone reading this to go ahead and lower their expectations. While the two of us are big fans of comedy and using humor in many walks of life, we aren’t terribly funny ourselves. But here’s the thing: that’s sort of the point. While we’re not comedians, we use humor as a teaching tool. And so can you!


creating a climate for learning November 11

Reflections on Teacher Power in the Contemporary Classroom

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Teacher power has to do with the ability to influence student behaviors and, ultimately, what they learn and how much. My colleagues and I often lament that it is more difficult to influence student behaviors than it used to be. Much of what we know about power in the classroom is grounded in some rather outdated, but at the time useful, assumptions. In traditional classrooms, students used to submit to teacher authority with little resistance. Back then teachers influenced students to do things they would not have otherwise done by:

  • Promising rewards or punishments
  • Suggesting “I’m an expert, and this is what works for me, so you should try it too”
  • Asserting the authority inherent in their title, “teacher”
  • Developing good relationships with students as a way of encouraging them to comply
  • Managing their classrooms with policies and structures that force students to be on-task (like banning the use of laptops or tablets, side talking, absenteeism, or tardiness)

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TA working with small group of students. May 19

Using a Flipped Classroom Approach and Just-in-Time Teaching to Engage Students

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Silvia Martins, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, faced a challenge in her introductory epidemiology course, Principles of Epidemiology. She found that students needed more time to process the weekly lecture material before attending the follow-up seminar sessions with teaching assistants (TAs).

As a recipient of the Provost’s Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery grant, Martins worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to develop a plan that would give students the opportunity to spend more time with lecture content as well as provide TAs with feedback on how students were absorbing the material. Over the course of several semesters Martins redesigned the course using the flipped classroom model and incorporated recorded video lectures and Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) techniques that promote the use of class time for more active learning.


Male professor talking with students April 19

Building Rapport: Moving Beyond Teacher Characteristics to Actions that Promote Learning

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When it comes to connecting with students, good relationships and good rapport go hand in hand. The desired rapport develops when faculty are friendly, approachable, respectful, and caring toward students. And how do students respond to professors who’ve established good rapport? They “like” those professors, and that’s the point at which some of us experience a bit of nervous twitching. If students like us, does that mean they learn more? Does education hinge on the popularity of the professor? The ethical ground feels stronger if what students learn and take from their educational experiences results from actions that support learning. And that circles us right back to rapport and the powerful role it plays in determining how students respond to the content in our courses, their daily attendance, and the study time they devote to what we’re teaching. Student commitment to a course increases if rapport with the instructor is good. So, be nice, chat with students, and show that you love teaching.


group work activity in college classroom. March 20

Three Ways to Engage Students In and Outside the Classroom

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When students become directly engaged in the learning process, they take ownership of their education. The following learning activities have helped me to engage students in and outside the classroom. The strategies also help keep my teaching relevant, fresh, and creative.

Get real
Silence filled the classroom when the grimacing woman wearing layers of torn sweatshirts and mismatched work boots kicked an empty desk by the door. She fished out a wrinkled paper from her jean’s front pocket and waved it high in the air. “The court sent me,” she said, looking directly into the eyes of a startled young freshman. “And I want to know, who’s gonna make me stay?” Rolling the document into a ball, she quickly darted to the back of the room and dropped it onto the desk of the biggest guy in the room. She asked him, “Is it you?”


students collaborating in class January 11

The First Days of Class: Building Authenticity and Community

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Regardless of whether you’ve been teaching for 15 years or 15 minutes, how to act and what to do on the first day of class seems to be something many faculty are constantly revising. The impact of the lasting nature of the first impression may lead to nervousness on the first day of the semester. Consequently, many of us may feel pressured to adopt a personality or plan that doesn’t necessarily resonate with who we are for the rest of the semester or in our outside lives.

We’ve discovered some ways that not only help you feel prepared for class but also create an authentic community conducive to learning in a non-threatening environment. What follows are a few of our best practices.

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Teacher With College Students chatting in classroom January 10

Communication Strategies to Engage Students and Encourage Learning

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When I first began working with teachers who represented different disciplines, I learned that a lot of college professors are very stuck on their own content. And they believe that it, along with the pedagogy that they use for presenting it to students, is what causes learning to occur. It is absolutely true that credible, effective teachers are—first and foremost—subject-matter experts. Years of education and experience have helped us build this knowledge base that we use as the foundation for our teaching. Then we work hard at developing unique, innovative, in-class pedagogy and assignments for our students.

But why is it that, despite our expertise and all this effort, we still struggle to get our students engaged, motivated, performing well, and understanding what it is we want for them as students? Years of research suggests that the secret sauce, so to speak, is communication. More specifically, the teacher’s communication plays a powerful role as the source of all kinds of messages in and around the college classroom.

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Professor smiling, students hands raised November 2, 2016

Humor in the Classroom

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Humor is one of my favorite teaching tools. I rely on it—when the room feels tense, when I sense learner drift, if I aspire to make a point more memorable. Humor doesn’t cause learning, but it does help create conditions conducive to it. It doesn’t make hard content easy, but it can make learning it feel easier.



Teaching large classes August 22, 2016

Flipping Large Classes: Three Strategies to Engage Students

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As we continue our ongoing series focused on the flipped classroom in higher education, it’s time to tackle another frequently asked question: “How can I flip a large class?”

I like this question because it’s not asking whether you can flip a large class, but rather what’s the best way to do it. Faculty who teach large classes are challenged not only by the sheer number of students but also by the physical space in the classroom. Having 100, 200, or 400+ students in class means teaching in large lecture halls with stadium seating and seats that are bolted to the floor. It’s not exactly the ideal space for collaboration and group discussions, so the types of flipped and active learning strategies you can use are more limited.