Peer Review. Two colleagues chatting. May 24

Peer Review Strategies that Keep the Focus on Better Teaching


The peer review processes for promotion and tenure and for continuing appointment provide committees with what’s needed to make overall judgments about the quality of instruction. For teachers, however, peer reviews usually don’t contain the diagnostic, descriptive feedback they need to continue their growth and development in the classroom. The assessments are broad and in the interest of preserving collegial relationships, any negative comments lurk between the lines or in vague statements that can be interpreted variously.

zombies in the classroom May 22

Six Classroom Elements Learned from Zombie Films


College courses, like movies, can inspire, entertain, shock, or repulse. Instructors produce, direct, and star in a series of semester-long scenes, complete with audiences, critics, and awards. If your course could be equated to a movie genre, what would we be watching? Would we see a romantic comedy, focused on relationship-building and a predictable, subtle narrative? Perhaps it would be an action film – colorfully energetic, thrilling for some, and uncomfortable for others.  Current research on learning suggests you may want to consider plot elements in zombie films as you design your courses. Here’s why.

TA working with small group of students. May 19

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


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.

Conference attendees May 17

Taking Time to Refresh, Recharge, and Recommit


I continue to worry that we devalue the affective dimensions of teaching—the emotional energy it takes to keep delivering high-quality instruction.

Most faculty are on solid ground in terms of expertise. We know and, in most cases, love our content. We don’t get tired of it—oh, maybe we do a bit in those foundation courses, but the content isn’t what wears us down; it’s the daily grind, having to be there every class session, not just physically present but mentally and emotionally engaged as well. Good teaching requires more energy than we think it does.

students studying in class May 15

Using Metacognition to Reframe our Thinking about Learning Styles


References to learning styles have become commonplace when faculty and students discuss learning experiences. Although learning styles seem to provide a useful explanation of why students perform differently on different tasks, there is a lack of methodologically sound research confirming their existence in the way they are most often described (Reiner & Willingham, 2010). In fact, most research suggests that people do not use one discrete style to learn new information but vary considerably in the methods they use to learn (Paschler, et al., 2009). Rather than relying on learning styles, focusing instead on metacognition can provide students with strategies that can be adapted and applied based on the learning environment and task. In this article, we briefly address the research on learning styles and metacognition and provide examples of activities to help students develop key metacognitive behaviors.

professor in front of large class May 10

Student Rights and the Role of Faculty


I remember the first time I tackled the controversial subject of students as customers. It was in an in-house newsletter, well before the advent of the Internet and e-mail. Even so, I had numerous phone calls, memos, encounters on campus, and discussions about it in every activity the teaching center sponsored for the next year. I hadn’t even taken a side; I had simply listed arguments for both sides. But, as far as the faculty were concerned then and pretty much since, there aren’t two sides. Students are not customers. Tuition dollars do not buy grades. Education does not come with a money-back guarantee. And students don’t get to choose what they learn—well, they do, but if they don’t choose to learn what we require, the consequences are costly.

evaluate button. assess student learning May 8

Rebranding Student Learning Assessment


Engagement in a continuous, systematic, and well-documented student learning assessment process has been gaining importance throughout higher education. Indeed, implementation of such a process is typically a requirement for obtaining and maintaining accreditation. Because faculty need to embrace learning assessment in order for it to be successful, any misconceptions about the nature of assessment need to be dispelled. One way to accomplish that is to “rebrand” (i.e., change perceptions) the entire process.

students sitting in a circle May 5

Acting Out: Borrowing from Life and Art to Teach Ethics


“No. I won’t do it. It’s wrong,” said Cecily. “I quit.”

“Here’s a box,” Olivia responded icily, reaching out to Cecily. “Empty your desk and leave now.”

The rest of us watched in silence, riveted as the scene unfolded. And it was, in fact, a scene. Despite their impressive realism, public relations students Cecily and Olivia (not their real names) were improv acting so their peers could see what it looks like to take a principled stand.

students reviewing exam results May 3

Point-Based Grading Systems: Benefits and Liabilities


If there’s a perfect grading system, it has yet to be discovered. This post is about point systems—not because they’re the best or the worst but because they’re widely used. It is precisely because they are so prevalent that we need to think about how they affect learning.

It would be nice if we had some empirical evidence to support our thinking. I’m surprised that so little research has been done on this common grading system. Does it promote more effective learning (as measured by higher exam scores or overall course grades) than letter grades or percentages? Does it motivate students to study? Does it make students more grade oriented or less so? Does it provoke more grade anxiety than other systems or less? Does make a difference whether we use a 100-point system or a 1,000-point system? We all have our preferences—and sometimes even reasons—for the systems we use, but where’s the evidence? I can’t remember reading anything empirical that explores these questions—if you have, please share the references.