student struggling with test June 2

Too Much Jargon: A Barrier to Learning?


The language of our disciplines is complex—it has to be. What we study is specific and detailed, and it needs to be described with language that precisely captures essence and nuance. However, for students being introduced to our disciplines for the first time, it’s all new language, and it’s mostly new language for students now learning about our fields more in depth at the postsecondary level. Moreover, many students now come to college with limited vocabularies. They might be learning in a second language, or simply not had educational backgrounds that promoted vocabulary development.

Most introductory courses contain literally hundreds of terms that are unfamiliar to students. When learning a foreign language, students are helped by knowing what the new word refers to. When they learn that the French word chat means cat, they know what a cat is. But when it’s a term like sidereal time or pyrimidine, not only is it a new phrase or word, it refers to something also unknown to students.

September 28, 2012

An Approach that Decreases Failure Rates in Introductory Courses


This study begins with some pretty bleak facts. It lists other research documenting the failure rates for introductory courses in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics. Some are as high as 85 percent; only two are less than 30 percent. “Failure has grave consequences. In addition to the emotional and financial toll that failing students bear, they may take longer to graduate, leave the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] disciplines or drop out of school entirely.” (p. 175) The question is whether there might be approaches to teaching these courses (and others at the introductory level) that reduce failure rates without decreasing course rigor.

June 6, 2012

Winning Article of the Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning Award Takes on “Content Coverage”


Each year Magna Publications sponsors an award recognizing an outstanding piece of scholarly work on teaching and learning. Authors received the award and its $1,000 stipend at the 9th annual Teaching Professor Conference this past weekend in Washington, D.C.

April 21, 2011

Teaching Large Introductory Survey Courses


In general, would you agree that these introductory courses are some of the most poorly taught in the curriculum? And that really shouldn’t be a big surprise. First, there is no academic glory associated with this teaching assignment. In fact, it is often the newest (and least experienced) member in a department who gets “stuck” with the big introductory course, even though these courses happen to be among the most difficult in the curriculum to teach.

March 10, 2011

The Facts on Higher Order Thinking


I just read a study that pretty much blew my socks off. An article highlighting the details will appear in the March issue of The Teaching Professor. I’ll give you the nutshell version here. The researchers were interested in finding out if there was empirical evidence to support the frequent criticism that introductory courses are fact filled with little content that challenges higher order thinking. Beyond anecdotal evidence, this research team didn’t find much empirical documentation so, being biologists, they decided to look at introductory-level biology courses.