Faculty use asynchronous discussions to extend and enhance instructional practices in the online classroom. It is widely reported that online discussions play an integral role in facilitating students’ learning, as well as fostering dialogue, critical thinking, and reflective inquiry (Kayler & Weller, 2007; Morris, Finnegan, & Sz-Shyan, 2005). Despite faculty’s knowledge that discussion forums can serve as a useful learning tool, online discussions are not easy to establish and manage.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, advocates an instructional design/community-building approach to academic integrity rather than an adversarial approach. Her stint as a police officer informs this stance. As radar gun companies introduced improved speed enforcement tools, the latest radar detectors (often produced by the same companies) rendered such improvements ineffective. “I learned that you can’t out-tech people, and you don’t want to get into that situation. You don’t want to have that arms race. Certainly some security measures are going to be necessary, but don’t get into the habit of relying on technology to establish a climate of integrity, because it can have adverse effects. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being watched all the time,” she says.
Passivity still seems to be the norm for most college courses: students passively try to learn information from teachers who unwittingly cultivate a passive attitude in their learners. As the subject matter experts, many faculty are reluctant to give up some control. We know the material, there’s a lot to cover, and let’s face it, going the lecture route is often just plain easier for everyone. We “get through” the material, and students aren’t pressed to do anything more than sit back and take notes. Teacher and student thus become complicit in creating a passive learning environment.
This summer I am teaching online, in part because many students prefer to take classes online. Summer is the time for mischief, experimentation and creation—there is just something about that added sunlight, all sorts of plants I know not the names of in bloom everywhere—it just makes you want to try something new.
The explosion of educational technologies in the past decade or so has led everyone to wonder whether the landscape of higher education teaching and learning will be razed and reconstructed in some new formation. But whatever changes might occur to the learning environments we construct for our students, the fundamental principles according to which human beings learn complex new skills and information will not likely undergo a massive transformation anytime soon. Fortunately, we seem to be in the midst of a flowering of new research and ideas from the learning sciences that can help ensure that whatever type of approach we take to the classroom—from traditional lecture to flipped classes—can help maximize student learning in our courses.
As of January 2014, nine out of 10 Americans own a cell phone, with almost half using a smartphone (Pew Research, 2014). Given the ubiquity of mobile devices, it makes sense for instructors to leverage this technology to improve communication with students.
A few weeks ago, a colleague emailed me about some trouble she was having with her first attempt at blended instruction. She had created some videos to pre-teach a concept, incorporated some active learning strategies into her face-to-face class to build on the video, and assigned an online quiz so she could assess what the students had learned. After grading the quizzes, however, she found that many of the students struggled with the concept. “Maybe,” she wondered, “blended instruction won’t work with my content area.”
“I just cram for the exam and then forget everything.”
“If I can just get this last paper done I am in the clear.”
Comments like these make us cringe, but we all know the external factors that motivate students: grades, grades, grades. I spend a great amount of time providing students with concrete, detailed feedback on papers only to hear someone say, “Oh, I didn’t look at the feedback, just the grade.” From a faculty perspective, the grade is the least important. The joy of student engagement and learning drives our work. We ended up in higher education for a reason—most of us see great value in the learning process.
One of the activities I most struggle with as an instructor of visual communications is getting students to give thoughtful and detailed critiques of their fellow students’ work. The critique process for students is challenging for several reasons.
1. Many of them are new to the concepts, theories, and language of design, so they don’t necessarily know what to say or how to say it.
2. They don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so they are weary of expressing dislike for another’s design choices.
3. They are terrified by what others may say about their work, so they don’t say anything about anyone else’s.
4. Some simply will not care or have an opinion. As an educator, this is the most frustrating group because I have yet to find a way to combat this level apathy.
When it comes to technology in the classroom, phrases like “faculty resistance” and the importance of getting “faculty buy-in” are tossed around with great frequency. But is that perception still valid? Are all instructors so set in their ways, skeptical of anything new, and fearful of deviating from what they’ve done that it’s nearly impossible to get them to try something new?