Most faculty now recognize the importance of students being able to direct their own learning. It’s what positions them for a lifetime of learning. And most faculty also recognize that many of our students are more dependent than self-directed. They want the teacher to make most, if not all, of the learning decisions for them. “What do you want in this assignment?” “How long should it be?” “Do I need to have references?” “What do I need to know for the test?” “How many homework problems should I do?” All these are questions self-directed learners ask and answer for themselves.
Evidence-based teaching seems like the new buzzword in higher education. The phrase appears to mean that we’ve identified and should be using those instructional practices shown empirically to enhance learning. Sounds pretty straightforward, but there are lots of questions that haven’t yet been addressed, such as: How much evidence does there need to be to justify a particular strategy, action, or approach? Is one study enough? What about when the evidence is mixed—in some studies the results of a practice are positive and in others they aren’t? In research conducted in classrooms, instructional strategies aren’t used in isolation; they are done in combination with other things. Does that grouping influence how individual strategies function?
The current state of student assessment in the classroom is mediocre, vague, and reprehensibly flawed. In much of higher education, we educators stake a moral high ground on positivistic academics. Case in point: assessment. We claim that our assessments within the classroom are objective, not subjective. After all, you wouldn’t stand in front of class and say that your grading is subjective and that students should just deal with it, right? Can we honestly examine a written paper or virtually any other assessment in our courses and claim that we grade completely void of bias? Let’s put this idea to the test. Take one of your assessments previously completed by a student. Grade the assignment using your rubric. Afterwards, have another educator among the same discipline grade the assignment using your exact rubric. Does your colleague’s grade and yours match? How far off are the two grades? If your assessment is truly objective, the grades should be exact. Not close but exact. Anything else reduces the reliability of your assessment.
Twenty-first century skills necessitate the implementation of instruction that allows students to apply course content, take ownership of their learning, use technology meaningfully, and collaborate. Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is one pedagogical approach that might fit in your teaching toolbox.
Those who write about teaching persona (the slice of our identities that constitutes the “public teaching self”) encourage us to start by reflecting on the messages we want to send to students. A dialogue with ourselves is a useful beginning, but for the last days of a semester another option might be more intriguing and revealing.
Many college courses today incorporate some form of group assignment, such as a project, presentation, or a collaborative paper or report. However, instructors are frequently met with resistance from students who don’t like working in groups and don’t want their grade to be affected by peers who may not pull their weight. Nonetheless, research shows that there are many benefits to group work, in terms of both active learning and expanding teamwork skills. Other benefits include better communication skills, critical-thinking abilities, time management, problem-solving skills, cooperation, and reinforcement of knowledge (Forrest & Miller, 2003; Hammar Chiriac, 2014; Kilgo, Ezell, & Pascarella, 2015). Furthermore, since the use of work groups and teams in the workplace has increased, it is important for students to have prior experience in group work. Certainly, a collaborative attitude and the ability to work with others are important at most places of employment.
How many explanations do you think you offer during a full week of teaching? Explanations are one of teaching’s most central activities and yet something we rarely think about, in general, or how we do them, specifically. Maybe we can remedy that by considering some features of clear explanations.
What does it mean to be a wallflower? Such a person might be thought of as shy and might sit apart from others at a party or social gathering, choosing to listen and observe rather than participate. And in the online classroom, a wallflower might be the person who reads course information and discussion boards regularly, but never posts. So how do instructors know if this online wallflower is really engaged in the course?
It was always the same scenario. I’d be feeling a great sense of accomplishment because I had spent hours grading a set of English papers—painstakingly labeling errors and writing helpful comments. Everything was crystal clear, and the class could now move on to the next assignment. Except it wasn’t, and we couldn’t. A few students would inevitably find their way to my office, plunk their papers down on my desk, and ask me to explain the grade. Something had to change. I knew exactly why I was assigning the grades, but I obviously needed to find a more effective way of communicating these reasons to my students.
With the academic year nearly over and final exams upon us, it’s a good time to consider how we assess student knowledge in our courses. Cumulative finals are still used in many courses, but a significant number of faculty have backed away from them because they are so unpopular with students, who strongly voice their preferences for exams that include only questions on content covered in that unit or module.