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.
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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.
What’s the best way to put students into groups? It’s the first task that confronts teachers who want students to work together. And the best reply is one of those “it depends” answers. Here are the questions on which it depends.
Should teachers let students form the groups? Students often prefer this approach. They tend to pick people they know, classmates who are friends, those in the same major, and those who share the same race. It’s more comfortable working with people who are known and similar. When groups are composed of friends, they sometimes struggle with the transition to a more professional relationship. They’re used to socializing, but now there are tasks to complete and that means functioning in different roles. If the group work is a project that requires extended collaboration and will benefit from a variety of opinions and perspectives, letting students form the groups may not be the best approach. On the other hand, for short, ad-hoc group work and for students who may be shy and not used to working with peers, knowing others in the group makes the experience less intimidating.
Recently I had reason to revisit Paul Pintrich’s meta-analysis on motivation. It’s still the piece I most often see referenced when it comes to what’s known about student motivation. Subsequent research continues to confirm the generalizations reported in it. Like most articles that synthesize the results of many studies, it’s long, detailed, and liberally peppered with educational jargon. It does have a clear, easy to follow organizational structure and most notably, it spells out implications—what teachers might consider doing in response to what the research says motivates students. Here’s a quick run-down of those generalizations and their implications.
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).
Some students are more challenging to teach than others. They require pedagogical skills of a different and higher order. Sometimes it’s easier to sigh and just turn away. And that’s legitimate in the sense that students (indeed, people of all sorts) have to figure things out for themselves. But many of us were such “works in progress” when we were in college, and a teacher (or several of them) ended up being instrumental in moving us in more productive directions. It’s for that reason I’d like us to consider some of these challenging students, each one a unique individual, but many displaying the same counterproductive attitudes and actions. Descriptions of these students come much more easily than solutions to what’s holding them back. Said more directly, my goal here is to start this conversation and ask for your wisdom, insights, and experiences with students who are tough to teach.
Although some behaviors are pretty much universally identified as cheating (copying exam answers, for example), we’re not in agreement on everything. Particularly significant are disagreements between faculty and students (for example, students don’t think cheating occurs if they look something up on their phone and can’t find it; faculty consider cheating in terms of intent). In many cases, there is the question of degree (when, for example, collaboration crosses the line and becomes cheating). The effectiveness of cheating prevention mechanisms can be increased by clarifying upfront what is and isn’t cheating. Here’s a collection of activities faculty can use to ensure that students understand the behaviors that constitute 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.
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.