active learning techniques February 28, 2018

Deeper Thinking about Active Learning

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I keep worrying that we’re missing the boat with active learning. Here’s why. First, active learning isn’t about activity for the sake of activity. I fear we’ve gotten too fixated on the activity and aren’t as focused as we should be on the learning. We’re still obsessed with collecting teaching techniques—all those strategies, gimmicks, approaches, and things we can do to get students engaged. But what kind of engagement does the activity promote? Does it pique student interest, make them think, result in learning, and cultivate a desire to know more? Or is it more about keeping basically bored students busy?


prof in lecture hall June 8, 2016

Are We Too Preoccupied with Teaching Techniques?

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College teachers love techniques. If you’re invited to lead a teaching workshop, you can expect to be asked, “Will you share some good techniques?” Suggest them in the workshop and watch lots of smiling participants write them down with great enthusiasm. Why do we love teaching techniques so much? Because many of us come to teaching not having many? Because they work? Because they keep our teaching feeling fresh?


October 21, 2013

Motivating Students with Teaching Techniques that Establish Relevance, Promote Autonomy

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Underachievement in college students is linked to lack of motivation (Balduf, 2009 and references therein). Two major factors that contribute to poor motivation are inability of students to see the relevance of classroom activities to their chosen careers (Glynn et al., 2009) and lack of a sense of autonomy (Reeve and Jang, 2006; Reeve, 2009).


teaching techniques that work April 4, 2013

‘What Works’ in the Messy Landscape of Teaching and Learning

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The title is borrowed from text in an excellent article that challenges our use of the “what works” phrase in relationship to teaching and learning. Biology professor Kimberly Tanner writes, “… trying to determine ‘what works’ is problematic in many ways and belies the fundamental complexities of the teaching and learning process that have been acknowledged by scholars for thousands of years, from Socrates, to Piaget, to more recent authors and researchers.” (p. 329) She proceeds to identify six reasons why the phrase hinders rather than fosters an evidence-based approach to teaching reform (in biology, her field, but these reasons relate to all disciplines). “Language is powerful,” she notes. (p. 329) We use it to frame issues, and when we do, it guides our thinking.


September 17, 2012

Using “Frameworks” to Enhance Teaching and Learning

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I want to explain the use of what I call “frameworks” in my college teaching. I have used them during nine years of teaching graduate and undergraduate classes, and my students tell me that they are particularly helpful. Although I teach in Utica College’s Education program, this tool has application across a broad number of disciplines and courses at a variety of levels.


September 14, 2011

When Your Students May be Smarter than You: Teaching Advanced Learners

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While some college faculty bemoan the fact that their students are not critical thinkers, expressive writers, or otherwise scholarly inclined; those of us in professional schools, especially at the graduate level, may have the opposite problem. Our students may be so bright they scare our socks off.


instructor helping students December 6, 2010

Things Effective Teachers Do

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It’s been a while since I was an undergrad, but I still remember my two favorite professors. They had completely different personalities and teaching styles, they even taught in different departments, but they did some things in very similar ways. I think that’s what made them so effective. It really wasn’t the content — although that was part of it — it was more the classroom experience they created.



November 10, 2010

Teaching Risk-Taking in the College Classroom

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Are your students too conservative? I don’t mean their politics—I’m talking about their attitudes toward ideas and actions that are new, difficult, or complicated. Many of my writing students are conservative learners: they worry about grades and want to “play it safe,” they don’t take time to imagine alternatives, or they have low skill or confidence levels that reduce their abilities to try new things. And sometimes my own teaching or grading practices undermine my invitations to take the intellectual risks that are crucial to student learning.