Recent research verifies that when looking at small differences in student ratings, faculty and administrators (in this case, department chairs) draw unwarranted conclusions. That’s a problem when ratings are used in decision-making processes regarding hiring, reappointment, tenure, promotion, merit increases, and teaching awards. It’s another chapter in the long, sad story of how research on student ratings has yet to be implemented in practice at most places, but that’s a book, not a blog post. Here, my goal is to offer some reminders and suggestions for when we look at our own ratings.
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There is a discourse of deficiency around students—what they can’t do, how “ill prepared” they are—that gets aired at nearly every faculty meeting. We read it in op-eds online. We hear it in state legislatures and in copier rooms. It is the air we breathe, especially if we teach in community colleges. Certain populations of students are considered more deficient than others. These populations are partitioned by institution type and placement level, rather than by race or class. Community college students and students who have landed in developmental classes are considered the most deficient of all. We blame the high schools they came from and, sometimes implicitly, we blame them. They are lazy. They need handholding. They simply don’t have the skills. There is only so much we can do with them.
Advances in neuroscience and digital imaging give us an unprecedented understanding of how individuals access, process, and respond to information. Previously we may have had an intuitive understanding that our students learned differently. Now functional MRI scans demonstrate this in living color. However, simply recognizing learner diversity is one thing; navigating this challenge in the classroom is quite another. How can we possibly hope to present content, structure learning experiences, and devise assessments that will be appropriate and effective for students with different learning strengths and challenges? Fortunately, researchers have developed a framework based in neuroscience that can help.
There’s an assumption that students arrive at college with some idea of how to study. They have, after all, completed four years of high school prior to their arrival, earning a seat in a college classroom.
But college is different. And we all know what happens when we assume.
Knowing how to handle student complaints is an essential skill for department chairs. In an interview with Academic Leader, Patricia Markunas, chair of the psychology department at Salem State University, offered advice on minimizing the number of complaints and managing those that do make it to the department chair.
Valerie Powell, assistant professor of art at Sam Houston State University, decided to supplement her face-to-face courses to extend the classroom and provide opportunities for students who are not comfortable speaking up in the face-to-face environment. Rather than demanding that students interact using a specific tools, she offers options “to meet students where they are.”
Here’s a set of questions about large classes that I’m thinking we ought to be discussing more than we are.
1. How many students make it a large class? Teachers who do and don’t teach large classes have their opinions, but it’s not clear who has the right answer. Often faculty views seem related to the size of their college or university. I once consulted at a small liberal arts college where I was asked to sign a petition against classes enrolling more than 35 students. At about the same time, I saw a list of the 10 courses most often taken by beginning students at my R1 university. Only two—English composition and physical education—enrolled fewer than 30 students, and most had many more.
In the 1970s, my mother, a fifth-grade teacher, would lament, “The TV remote has ruined my classroom! I can almost feel the kids trying to point a clicker at me to change the channel!” Little did she know that college students today don’t need to wish for a remote control to switch from their professor to entertainment—an endless assortment of distractions are all on their smart phones.
Successfully transferring a face-to-face course to the online learning environment requires careful preparations that take into account differences between these two modalities.
“If you simply take your face-to-face class and put it online and teach it electronically, you will fail miserably,” says Paul S. Caron, director of education at Lewiston-Auburn College, whose first experience teaching online taught him some valuable lessons about how to provide students with an effective, supportive, and motivating learning experience.