studying in the library August 28

Questioning the Two-Hour Rule for Studying

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Faculty often tell students to study two hours for every credit hour. Where and when did this rule of thumb originate? I’ve been unable to track down its genesis. I suspect it started around 1909, when the Carnegie Unit (CU) was accepted as the standard measure of class time. [See Heffernan (1973) and Shedd (2003) for thorough histories of the credit hour.] The U.S. Department of Education defines the credit hour as “One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester…” The expectation was the norm when I was in college in the 1980s and more seasoned professors indicate it was expected in the 1970s too.


lacing up running shoes. May 1

Lessons from Expertise, Decoding, and a Quest for the Five-Minute Mile

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A recent issue of Outside magazine recounts Charles Bethea’s attempt to run a sub-five-minute mile. At age 35 and fit, though not an elite athlete, Bethea’s goal is far short of the world record of 3:43. And although many runners break the five-minute barrier, it’s still a feat well beyond the vast majority of adults. After a respectable benchmark mile of 6:19, Bethea flounders aimlessly. A former college runner advises him to aim for quarter-mile splits of 74 seconds, which Bethea learns he can do, one at a time and with rest in between. But he can’t figure out how to string the four fast intervals together. It’s not until he gets coaching from a world-class miler that Bethea realistically approaches his goal. He quickly learns two things: first, he needs to ramp up his weekly mileage dramatically, and second, he must vary his training to include a prescribed mix of slow runs, hill intervals, and sprints. The road ahead isn’t going to be easy.

Bethea’s progression from mindless, ineffective training to purposeful, measured workouts serves as an entry point to Anders Ericsson’s recent book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016). A professor of psychology at Florida State who has studied experts for much of his career, Ericsson offers fascinating insights applicable to college-level teaching and learning. Although most of our students won’t go on to become experts in our fields, we often aspire to instill the practices and habits of mind which undergird our domains. The question is, how do we do that effectively?

Like Bethea’s initial efforts, most of us, argues Ericsson, go about improving ourselves in ineffective ways. Want to be an elite chess player? Play lots and lots of chess. No less a visionary than Ben Franklin took that route, but he failed miserably in his pursuit of excellence. Why? Because getting better in chess requires not playing more, but carefully studying the matches of chess masters, systematically building up a huge database of positions and possible moves, and having that knowledge stored for ready use in long-term memory. Lacking access to the games of the European chess champions of his day, Franklin never developed the deep understanding of chess he so desired.

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two students laughing March 4

Teaching Unprepared Students: Strategies that Work [Transcript]

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You see it in reading assignments that go unread … homework that’s poorly done, or not done at all … course assignments that are sloppy and incomplete. And, sadly, what you see next is students dropping out. You don’t have to sit by and watch that happen, though. You can intervene with corrective guidance that will help get unprepared students better aligned with the demands and expectations of college.

This transcript from our online seminar will help you discover a host of valuable practices and techniques to help you:

  • Engage students
  • Gain student commitment to performing at a college level
  • Guide students to the right choices and habits in their coursework
  • Encourage students to embrace ideas of accountability and personal responsibility

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student reading outside campus building January 19

An Assignment Strategy to Get Students to Come to Class Prepared

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Why do students come to class unprepared? Because teachers tend to lecture on the material, and students find it most efficient to let them lecture first and then read later. But if your students came to class prepared, would they acquire a deeper understanding of the material?

What I’ve heard for years from teachers is, “If I could only get my students to come prepared, then I could rock and roll in class.” But how do you get students prepared? Rather than finding a solution, this quandary typically comes down to a faculty member bemoaning the current state of students. But it is possible: you can get your students to come to class prepared.

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studying in the library January 12

When Saying ‘No’ to a Student Might Be Saying ‘Yes’ to Learning!

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Last summer, I reached the point of eligibility for early retirement. I thought about taking the leap but did not. I decided to keep teaching, asking myself, how hard could it be to teach for another few years? Harder than I imagined, as it turned out.

For most of my career teaching composition in community colleges, my students have tended to be adults, older and more mature than the typical high school graduate. Increasingly, however, my students are young, immature, and not particularly well attuned to the expectations of college teachers. A recent incident with one such student taught me something about the value of saying “no” to students.

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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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student studying in library December 1, 2016

How to Integrate Self-Regulated Learning into Your Courses [Transcript]

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With so much material to teach, it seems luxurious or even indulgent to spend time thinking about thinking. However, there are distinct benefits of focusing some effort on developing self-regulated learning (SRL) practices among your students.

Incorporating aspects of self-regulated learning into your courses can improve your students’ exam performance, reading and listening comprehension, written and designed products, and problem-solving skills. Its name might suggest otherwise, but self-regulated learning—the skill set and practice of strategically planning, monitoring, controlling, and evaluating ones’ own learning—can be taught.

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student studying in library November 28, 2016

Enhancing Learning through Zest, Grit, and Sweat

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Early in my career, I focused most of my efforts on teaching content. That is, after all, what most of us are hired to do, right? With experience and greater understanding of how learning works, my attention shifted toward metacognition. I began investing lots of time and energy reading and identifying ways to help students grow as learners while they learned the content.


calendar November 25, 2016

Getting International (and American) Students to Submit Work on Time

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It is the beginning of the semester and faculty and students are excited about their classes. There is something about meeting your new students, a feeling you are transforming the lives of citizens. So, if the students are excited, why then, soon after the semester starts, do they start missing deadlines, asking for extensions, and, telling you that they are confused, which is why they did not follow the instructions provided on the syllabus? Although this problem applies to many students, this article focuses on international students, because they are becoming more prevalent in American university classrooms and pedagogical advice rarely takes into account their particular circumstances.

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study group in library September 19, 2016

Five Ways to Teach Students to Be Learning Centered, Too

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Have you ever wondered if your students are as concerned about their learning as you are? If you prioritize student learning, you may be the only person in your classroom with that goal. Learning-centered teachers seek to coauthor classroom experiences with their students, whereas students may seek only to be taught passively. How might you inspire your students to share accountability for their learning? These five considerations can help you teach your students to be learning centered, too.