In “Calculating Final Course Grades: What About Dropping Scores or Offering a Replacement?” (The Teaching Professor March 2014), the editor notes that “some students … assume that course content is a breeze, [so] the first exam serve[s] as a wake-up call.” (p. 6) In two Introductory Psychology classes (150 students), I recently implemented an effective three-step strategy for getting the best out of such students (and, indeed, all students).
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
I heard someone say today that he’s been teaching for 50 years and never really thought about his teaching. “I just go in there and teach—I don’t think about it.” And here I am having spent something like 45 years thinking a lot about my own teaching and that of everyone else. From my perspective, it’s hard to imagine teaching without thinking about it.
Instructors commonly cope with a missed test or failed exam (this may also apply to quizzes) by letting students drop their lowest score. Sometimes the lowest score is replaced by an extra exam or quiz. Sometimes the tests are worth different amounts, with the first test worth less, the second worth a bit more, and the third worth more than the first two—but not as much as the final.
See if this sounds familiar.
You’re scheduled to teach a course you have taught before that desperately needs revision. The content and pedagogy go back for a decade or more and are both sadly obsolete, or the grades have been abysmal and the students are threatening to revolt, or someone (the department head, a faculty committee, or you) has decided to offer the course online, or maybe you’re just bored and dread the thought of teaching it again.
I looked down into the menacing waters as a rogue wave jolted the raft. Trembling, I stepped back, my chattering teeth and throbbing heart in perfect sync.
“Let’s go!” It was Miss T, her tone, fierce and impatient.
Again, I crept forward, looking out toward the distant boat wondering how in the world I would ever make the 30-yard swim. Suddenly: hands on my shoulders—a push. I was airborne.
Trying to support students in an online course can create an unsustainable burden on the instructor. “I’ve heard faculty members say things such as, ‘When I first started teaching online, I drowned in my course. I was making myself available 24 hours/seven days a week. If a student posted, I felt I had to reply immediately. They were counting on me regardless of time of day,’” says Dr. Laurie Grosik, assistant professor in the master in health science program at Saint Francis University. In an interview with Online Classroom, she suggested ways to support online students without creating an undue burden on the instructor.
As faculty, it seems we are very concerned about cell phones in the classroom. Articles about the problem are popping up everywhere in the pedagogical literature, and they often are the “most-read” and “most-commented” articles listed on various websites. Is student use of electronic devices that pressing of a pedagogical problem? I’ve been wondering if our focus on it isn’t becoming excessive.
Goals for my First-Year Seminar students include proficiency with a host of study skills as well as course content based on what we call “learning about learning.” To support new college students in understanding what, exactly, learning is, my colleagues and I introduce a number of themes and authors to our students over the course of the first semester. Themes can include locus of control, memory learning and the brain (including information processing models), current research on learning disabilities, theories of motivation and learning, mind-set theory, emotional intelligence theories, and research on millennial students just like them. Students read materials written by authors doing work in these areas.
With access to a world of information as close as our phones, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all there is to teach. New material continues to emerge in every academic discipline, and teachers feel a tremendous responsibility not only to stay current themselves, but to ensure that their learners are up to date on the most recent findings. Add to this information explosion the passionate desire by faculty members to share their particular areas of expertise and it’s easy to see why content continues to grow like the mythical Hydra of Greek legend. And like Hercules, who with each effort to cut off one of Hydra’s nine heads only to have two more grow in its place, faculty struggle to tame their content monsters.
Haven’t we all entertained that inquiry from an absent student, “Did I miss anything important?” The question is poorly phrased, but I recognize that it’s usually well-intentioned. The student is concerned about what he or she missed. My concern is about those continued absences and how to allow the student to make up for a missed class. The first day of class I read a Tom Wayman poem (www.loc.gov/poetry/180/013.html) that gets at the phrasing of the question and what the student misses by being absent.