December 5

Backward Design, Forward Progress

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Readers of Faculty Focus are probably already familiar with backward design. Most readily connected with such researchers as Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, and Dee Fink, this approach to course construction asks faculty to initially ignore the specific content of a class. Rather, the designer begins the process by identifying desired learning goals, and then devising optimal instruments to measure and assess them. Only thereafter does course-specific content come into play—and even then, it is brought in not for the sake of “covering” it, but as a means to achieve the previously identified learning objectives. Courses designed this way put learning first, often transcend the traditional skillset boundaries of their discipline, and usually aim to achieve more ambitious cognitive development than do classes that begin—and often end —with content mastery as the primary focus. Although the advantages of backward design are manifest, it’s probably still the exception to, rather than the rule of, course planning.


student studying in library November 14

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.


students working on project November 12

The Power of Transparency in Your Teaching

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The Winter/Spring 2016 issue of Peer Review highlights the powerful impact ‘transparency’ can have on learning for all students. One aspect of transparency is making obvious the intellectual practices involved in completing and evaluating a learning task. But making these processes visible for students is more easily said than done; we are experts in our fields for the very reasons that our thinking and evaluating are automatic and subconscious. It’s hard to describe exactly what we do intellectually when we synthesize or integrate, critique, or create. Similarly, it’s difficult to articulate the differences between an assignment we score as an A and one to which we give a B. Thus, a challenge in achieving transparency is developing a deep awareness of our own processes. Only then can we explicitly teach those thinking processes.


professor and student discussing grade October 18

Using Rubrics as a Defense Against Grade Appeals

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Faculty dread the grade appeal; anxiety prevails until the whole process is complete. Much has been written about how to avoid such instances, but the potentially subjective assessments of written essays or clinical skills can be especially troublesome. One common cause of grade appeals is grading ambiguity in which the student and faculty member disagree on the interpretation of required content. Another cause is inequity, whereby the student feels others may have gotten more credit for very similar work or content (Hummel 2010). In the health-care field especially, these disagreements over clinical-skills assessments can actually result in student dismissal from the program and may lead to lawsuits.


Google Maps on iPhone August 16

A Real-World Writing Project Integrating Mobile Technology and Team-Based Learning

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Teaching first-semester freshmen presents some unique challenges. You are teaching them not only your subject, but also how to be college students. One of the best strategies I have found is to begin with a collaborative project that asks them to research their new home: the campus.


student presentations April 27

Learning to Fail or Failing to Teach?

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I recently took a position with a new institution and was asked to teach a senior seminar course. I determined that the best method for the students to show synthesis of knowledge was for them to develop a series of presentations investigating topics, problems, or issues in the field of kinesiology. The students were tasked with investigating and developing solutions from the current body of research. The first semester I taught the course, students were given a checklist of requirements and rubric for each presentation. I spent a short amount of time discussing the presentations during class and answering any questions students had. After each presentation they received their rubric and written feedback on their performance. As you can see in the table, the average grade actually went down with each presentation students gave during my first semester teaching the course.



Collaborative learning assignments February 5

Group vs. Collaborative Learning: Knowing the Difference Makes a Difference

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Five years ago, I transitioned from a totally lecture-based classroom to a more student-centered, engaging one. Initially, I found that when students were placed in groups, they didn’t necessarily work together. What I discovered was that the activities needed to be structured collaboratively to promote learning.


teaching information processing skills January 29

Helping Students Develop Critical Information Processing Skills

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The wealth of digital information has shifted our focus in higher education from developing critical thinking skills to developing critical information processing skills. Today’s students are digital natives, and many assume these students possess basic research skills because of their natural ease with technology. However, many college students lack important information processing skills to understand electronic material. Grafstein (2002) noted that “Given the seductively easy accessibility of masses of unregulated information, it is imperative that students, from the very beginning of their academic careers, adopt a critical approach to information and develop the ability to evaluate the information they encounter for authenticity, accuracy, credibility, authority, relevance, concealed bias, logical inconsistency, and so on” (p. 199).


diversity and inclusion in the college classroom September 18, 2017

Inclusion by Design: Tool Helps Faculty Examine Their Teaching Practices

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Are there barriers to inclusion lurking in your courses?

After meeting at a diversity and inclusion session of the 2013 Professional and Organization Development Network (POD Network) Conference in Pittsburgh, the three of us set out to develop a tool to help faculty examine their courses through a diversity lens. We were driven by a lack of available resources that provide a practical approach to digging deep into the nuances of one’s course.