Professor smiling in class August 28, 2018

Tonic for the Boring Syllabus


It had happened before, sitting at the computer, working on a syllabus, again, fluctuating between excitement about a new course and a vague sense that life itself was being sucked out of me one sterile byte at a time. I was fighting boredom. And this was supposed to interest students? I tried to imagine it igniting their curiosity, but instead I saw them staring at it with the enthusiasm saved for the fine print on a life insurance policy. But they must read it. It is their life insurance policy for a future full of knowledge and wisdom! It defines how we’re going to relate! As I sat there writing my syllabus I had a vision of the Ferris Bueller video of the professor droning on and on while asking for input: “Anyone? Anyone?” That was not where I wanted to go. I had to stop and rethink what I was doing.

first day of class August 23, 2018

Advice for the First Day of Class: Today We Will


The first day of class is critical. What happens on the first day, even in the first moments, sets the tone for the entire course. The impression you make will last the entire semester, and today’s students are not shy about sharing their opinions. Most students will make up their minds about the course and the instructor during that first class period.

first assignment August 7, 2018

First Assignment Helps Establish Expectations


There is a lot to cover on the first day of class. You establish procedures and convey expectations. You review the syllabus and, if you’re teaching a lab, safety protocol. You also spend some time teaching some material. While you might not make an assignment on the first day, you still should use some time on the first day to talk about your expectations for students’ work and how you assign grades.

supporting international students June 29, 2018

Teaching International Students: Six Ways to Smooth the Transition


Dear professor, I am Chang [a pseudonym], an international student of your research class. I’d like to ask if I can use a recorder (only voice) in your class, because I’m afraid that I can’t understand class content at once.



This was an e-mail that I received before the first day of class, exemplifying the anxiety international students may experience as undergraduate/graduate students in a foreign country. My response to the student was to give it a try first and see if he could understand the course content or not. I also tried to comfort him by saying that all class materials would be posted on Blackboard. Guess what? The student did just fine in my class and never needed to record lectures.

Responding to microaggressions in college classroom April 30, 2018

Responding to Microaggressions in the Classroom: Taking ACTION


The term “microaggression” was coined in 1970 to name relatively slight, subtle, and often unintentional offenses that cause harm (Pierce, 1970). Since then, a substantial body of research on microaggressions has demonstrated their prevalence and harmful effects (Boysen, 2012; Solorzan, et. al., 2010; Suárez-Orozco, et. al., 2015; Sue, 2010).

cheating in college March 13, 2018

Students as a Forgotten Ally in Preventing Cheating


I’m still wandering around in the literature on cheating. It’s hard not to get depressed. It’s such a pervasive problem and one that compromises all that education could and should be.

Faculty are pretty much focused on preventative measures, which are essential, but there are a couple of other issues rarely mentioned in the literature or in our discussions. Students who don’t cheat usually aren’t on our side when it comes to enforcing cheating policies. In one study, almost 93% of the students said they had witnessed another student cheat, but only 4.4% said they had ever reported a cheating incident (Bernardi, et. al., 2016) Students are in a bind—they don’t want to rat out fellow classmates, some of whom may be friends. If they do and word gets out, they are labeled as “snitches” and “tattletales” — told to mind their own business and otherwise berated. With serious social consequences like these, it takes real courage to do the right thing.

cell phone policies in college March 6, 2018

Cell Phone Policies: A Review of Where Faculty Stand


In December we asked readers to share their policies on the use of cell phones and other electronic devices in class. About 50 readers did so. Thanks for answering the call (no pun intended). This is an important issue that’s of great concern to many faculty.

The collection of policies shared runs the gambit. We were amazed at the diversity of approaches represented. What we’ve done here is to identify a set of broad categories and offer select examples from those we received. Some policies illustrate features of more than one category. Occasionally, what illustrates the category is contained in a comment or explanation the reader shared, not an actual policy statement.

Creating a positive classroom environment January 22, 2018

Six Ways to Promote a Positive Learning Environment


During the past 10 years, my colleagues and I have observed a steady increase in specific behaviors that create conflict in our classrooms. These disruptive behaviors do not arise every day and certainly are not exhibited by all students, but collectively, my colleagues and I could fill a sizeable bucket every year with examples of student behaviors that are rude, hostile, or confrontational. A belief that students have the right to do whatever they want because they are paying for their educational experience, and that faculty have no right to impose limitations on this freedom, is rooted in students’ assumption that as consumers of higher education, their individual needs and desires are the only relevant factor faculty should consider when developing course policies, assignments, and curriculum (Fullerton, 2013)