student raising hand in class March 27, 2017

How Do Students Learn from Participation in Class Discussion?

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Despite numerous arguments favoring active learning, especially class discussion, instructors sometimes worry that discussion is an inefficient or ineffective way for students to learn. What happens when students make non-value added, irrelevant, or inaccurate contributions? What about comments from non-experts that may obfuscate rather than clarify understanding? What about students who speak only to earn participation credit rather than contribute substantively to the discussion?


international students March 1, 2017

Students’ Use of Their Own Language: Breaking Down Barriers

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“Language influences thought and action. The words we use to describe things—to ourselves and others—affect how we and they think and act.” (Weimer, 2015).

Learners can be empowered or suppressed by the language(s) used in our classrooms and other learning spaces. Given the increasingly divisive rhetoric stemming from the caustic nature of the U.S. presidential election, ill-informed statements such as “this is a country where we speak English, not Spanish,” or “while we’re in this nation, we should be speaking English . . . whether people like it or not, that’s how we assimilate” (Waldman, 2016), cannot be taken lightly. Many of our students may feel that their “own language” and, by extension, their identity, is under threat. The term “own language” is defined as “a language which the students already know and through which (if allowed), they can approach [learning]” (cited in Hall, 2015, n.p.). It’s a term now preferred by scholars and researchers to minimize inaccurate or imprecise usages, such as “native language,” “first language,” or “mother tongue.”

Additionally, educational institutions must confront the reality of a changing demographic stemming from increased international student enrollment, growing numbers of immigrants, generation 1.5 students, and, in Canada, the participation of First Nations communities. For students who speak English as an additional language (EAL), the sense of exclusion is not just a feeling, but a reality with consequences for learning and outcomes.

In this article, I’d like to focus specifically on learners’ use of their own language. For those readers whose professional work involves teaching or supporting EAL students, regardless of field or discipline, have you considered the role your students’ own language plays in the learning process?

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Student in lecture hall June 3, 2015

More Evidence That Active Learning Trumps Lecturing

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The June-July issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter highlights a study you don’t want to miss. It’s a meta-analysis of 225 studies that compare STEM classes taught using various active learning approaches with classes taught via lecture. “The results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sessions, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” (p. 8410) Carl Wieman, a Nobel-winning physicist who now does research on teaching and learning, describes the work as a “massive effort” that provides “a much more extensive quantitative analysis of the research on active learning in college and university STEM courses than previously existed.” (p. 8319) And what does he make of these results? “The implications of these meta-analysis results for instruction are profound, assuming they are indicative of what could be obtained if active learning methods replaced the lecture instruction that dominates U.S. postsecondary STEM instruction.” (pp. 8319-8320) That’s a long way from the guarded language usually found in commentaries on scientific results.


March 30, 2015

Using Student-Generated Reading Questions to Uncover Knowledge Gaps

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Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Student-Generated Reading Questions: Diagnosing Student Thinking with Diverse Formative Assessments, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 42 (1), 29-38. The Teaching Professor Blog recently named it to its list of top pedagogical articles.

As instructors, we make a myriad of assumptions about the knowledge students bring to our courses. These assumptions influence how we plan for courses, what information we decide to cover, and how we engage our students. Often there is a mismatch between our expectations about what students know and how students actually think about a topic that is not uncovered until too late, after we examine student performance on quizzes and exams. Narrowing this gap requires the use of well-crafted formative assessments that facilitate diagnosing student learning throughout the teaching process.


February 28, 2014

Does It Matter How Students Feel about a Course?

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A line of research (done mostly in Australia and Great Britain) has been exploring what prompts students to opt for deep or surface approaches to learning. So far this research has established strong links between the approaches taken to teaching and those taken to learning. If teachers are focused on covering large amounts of content and do so with few attempts to involve and engage students, students tend to learn the material by memorizing it, often without much understanding of it. This new work involved a 388-student cohort enrolled in a first-year biology course and explored the relationship between the ways students emotionally experience a course and the approach that they take to learning in the course.


February 1, 2013

Humor in the Classroom: 40 Years of Research

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You have to admire scholars willing to look at 40 years of research on any topic, and this particular review is useful to faculty interested in understanding the role of humor in education. It starts with definitions, functions, and theories of humor. It identifies a wide range of different types of humor. It reviews empirical findings, including the all-important question of whether using humor helps students learn. And finally, this 30-page review concludes with concrete advice and suggestions for future research. It’s one of those articles that belong in even modest instructional libraries—imagine having to track down the better-than-100 references in the bibliography.



May 26, 2011

Deep and Surface Learning: Revisiting What Educational Research Tells Us

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Deep and surface learning are terms familiar to most faculty. What is known by most is that these terms describe two different approaches to learning. Beyond that, most faculty knowledge is sketchy, although there has been quite a bit of educational research on the topic. I’ve been reviewing this seminal research—it is interesting and worth a revisit so that we might “deepen” our knowledge of what’s involved.


April 11, 2011

What Can Be Done to Boost Academic Rigor?

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When it comes to college students and studying, the general rule most first-year students hear goes something like this. “For every one credit hour in which you enroll, you will spend approximately two to three hours outside of class studying and working on assignments for the course.” For a full-time student carrying 12 credits that equals at least 24 hours of studying per week.


April 1, 2011

Activities that Promote Deep, Lasting Learning Not Used Enough

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Academically Adrift is provoking plenty of discussion throughout American higher education, and with good reason. While there are valid concerns about the methodology, instrumentation and overreaching inferences of Richard Arum’s and Josipa Roksa’s research study, many of their conclusions are important ones that have been confirmed by others.