keyboard June 16

Creating Rich Learning Experiences Even When Class is Canceled


In my corner of the country, we experienced an unusually harsh winter which resulted in many class sessions being canceled due to school closures. Our faculty, and likely other groups of faculty in our region, received an email message that stated:

If you cancel your face-to-face session, I expect a comparable experience will be online for your students.

This is easier said than done. For faculty who don’t regularly deliver coursework online, the expectation to “just move your teaching session online” can be an overwhelming task. It’s not as simple as putting that day’s lesson online. Teaching effectively online requires a skill set that can only be acquired with knowledge and experience. It doesn’t happen automatically.

College students sitting in classroom and feeling bored. June 12

What’s Going on Behind the Blank Stare?


Regardless of our subject area, we’ve all had moments where some students appear to hang on every word, gobbling up our messages, images, graphs, and visuals with robust engagement. Within those very same classes, however, there will be a degree of confusion, perplexed looks, or at worst, the blank stare! In my field of anatomical education, like many other STEMM* disciplines, the almost ubiquitous use of multimedia and other increasingly complex computer visualizations is an important piece of our pedagogic tool kit for the classroom, small group, or even the one-on-one graduate-level chalk talk. Although a picture indeed does say a thousand words, the words that each person hears, or more importantly, comprehends, will vary widely.

student struggling with test June 2

Too Much Jargon: A Barrier to Learning?


The language of our disciplines is complex—it has to be. What we study is specific and detailed, and it needs to be described with language that precisely captures essence and nuance. However, for students being introduced to our disciplines for the first time, it’s all new language, and it’s mostly new language for students now learning about our fields more in depth at the postsecondary level. Moreover, many students now come to college with limited vocabularies. They might be learning in a second language, or simply not had educational backgrounds that promoted vocabulary development.

Most introductory courses contain literally hundreds of terms that are unfamiliar to students. When learning a foreign language, students are helped by knowing what the new word refers to. When they learn that the French word chat means cat, they know what a cat is. But when it’s a term like sidereal time or pyrimidine, not only is it a new phrase or word, it refers to something also unknown to students.

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.

College students working together in class. May 1

Four Types of Group Work Activities to Engage Students


Collaboration helps to develop many of the key skills that will be required of students for their future success. Students can develop many of these so-called “soft skills,” or Essential Employability Skills, by engaging in group work and other forms of collaboration (Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development 2005). Collaboration leads to greater retention, improved student achievement, and increased self-esteem and metacognition, and it can be used to facilitate active learning and to promote inclusion by increasing contact among diverse groups (Bossert 1988; Bowman, Frame, and Kennette 2013; Hennessey 1999; Kennette and Frank 2010; Kramarski and Mevarech 2003; Rajaram and Pereira-Pasarin 2007; U.S. Department of Education 1992). Despite the many benefits of group work, instructors are sometimes hesitant to use it due to some of its well-known pitfalls (social loafing, disputes, individualized grading, student bemoaning, etc.).

student at internship April 3

Assessing Social Science Internships Using the Business Model


Regardless of the academic program, internships can be a key piece of any student’s academic experience. In my involvement as an internship coordinator for political science, the only assessment model I had was what I knew from my experience as an undergraduate and graduate student. This included working with faculty to identify an internship opportunity, being placed, accomplishing a minimum number of hours, writing a journal of daily activities, and writing a reflection paper on the overall experience and its relation to my academic coursework. Once these minimum requirements were satisfied, a passing grade was bestowed, given that internships are a pass/fail class. Now, as a faculty member, I had become concerned that a more rigorous assessment was needed.

low-stakes writing assignment February 24

Using Low-Stakes Writing Assignments to Achieve Learning Goals


During my time as a teaching fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the importance of student learning goals and student learning objectives to quality course design and management. Learning goals, often broad in nature, are most commonly applied at the course level. Learning objectives are statements about measurable expectations and behaviors that can contribute to the achievement of the learning goals.

Laptop and books on desk of classroom. January 16

Extending the Shelf-Life of Your Instructional Videos: Six Common Pitfalls to Avoid


When instructional video is produced thoughtfully and used to promote active engagement, it can improve student motivation, learning, and performance, make content more memorable, and bring highly visual material to life (Ljubojevic et al, 2014; Zhang et al, 2006; Hegeman, 2015; Hsin & Cigas, 2013; Merkt et al, 2011; Kay, 2012; Schwan & Riempp, 2014; Routt et al, 2015; Jarvis & Dickie, 2009).

Video has other benefits as well. It allows students to watch lectures at their own pace, rewinding and re-watching as needed. It lets instructors assign lectures as homework, opening up class time for interaction. And it can reduce the total time faculty need to spend preparing and delivering the same material for different semesters or audiences. Once you’ve recorded a video, you can–theoretically–use it again and again.

student studying in library November 28, 2016

Enhancing Learning through Zest, Grit, and Sweat


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.