Researchers Daniel Smith and Thomas Valentine begin by making an important point. At two-year colleges “the classroom serves as the epicenter of involvement.” (p. 134) The same could be said for commuter campuses as well. Students who attend two-year colleges often do so part-time and regularly do so combining school with work, family, and a host of other responsibilities. The same can increasingly be said of many students who commute to campus to take classes. At many institutions students now spend considerably less time on campus, and so if they are to be engaged with academic life, that involvement pretty much begins and ends in the classroom. So, are faculty using instructional techniques that do involve students in the classroom?
As a faculty member, I am always challenged with finding pedagogical techniques that allow my students to connect with course content, each other, and myself in new and interesting ways. Student presentations can help achieve this goal, but they require a wealth of time for each student to present and get immediate feedback from peers and the instructor. Some classes are so large that in-class presentations may not be feasible at all. Or, if you are a faculty member who is not on a block schedule, you would have to use several of your 50-minute class sessions to allow each student a chance to present his or her work. What’s more, some students have a difficult time listening to dozens of peer presentations in one sittings and may tune out after the first few presentations.
People text almost everywhere nowadays, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that students are doing it in class. In this study of almost 300 marketing majors at two different universities, 98 percent reported that they texted during class. They reported receiving just about as many texts as they sent. Perhaps most troubling in these findings were students’ attitudes about texting. Here’s a sample:
Are your students constantly updating their statuses on Facebook? Uploading selfies to Instagram at inappropriate times? Refreshing their Twitter feed every five seconds? Chances are the answer is “yes,” and if you’re like the majority of teachers, you find it mildly annoying at best, or a serious impediment to learning at worst.
The faculty members in the chemistry department are confused.
Last semester, the campus teaching center held a series of workshops to get faculty more familiar with the anti-plagiarism tool that the university adopted and linked into everyone’s online course environment. The teaching center showed everyone who attended the training sessions 51 ways that they could help to catch cheaters, based on research conducted by two researchers at the University of Texas’ Telecampus (McNabb and Anderson, 2009). But the 51 strategies are not why the chemistry faculty are confused.
Andy Stanfield, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at Florida Institute of Technology, is a proponent of using Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning to improve instructional design.
This theory posits the following:
What began as a routine summer workshop on incorporating games and game-like elements into instruction turned into the surprise of the summer; two weeks of fun and intense online game play by an engaged and committed cadre of faculty and staff who were working to apply the principles of gaming to their courses and student activities. I had planned to end the workshop with a two-week follow-up online game for participants, but I didn’t seriously think anyone would do it.
The goal of any well-constructed test is to test students’ expertise on a topic and not their test-taking skills. We need to eliminate as many flaws in our questions as we can to “provide a level playing field for testwise and not-so-testwise students. The probability of answering a question correctly should relate to an examinee’s expertise on the topic and should not relate to their expertise on test-taking strategies.” (NMBE, 2001, p 19)
Tests and quizzes are often the primary means of assessing online learner performance; however, as Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt, online instructors and coauthors of numerous online learning books, including Lessons from the Virtual Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching (2013), point out, there are more effective and less problematic alternatives.
Teachers who use group work frequently incorporate some sort of peer assessment activity as a means of encouraging productive interactions within the group. If part of the grade for the group work depends on an assessment by fellow group members, students tend to take their contributions to the group more seriously. Often teachers use some sort of point distribution system where a given number of points must be divided among members, and they cannot be distributed equally. The problem with these systems is that the feedback they provide lacks specificity. Students don’t know what they are doing that accounts for the score they’ve received, and this makes improvement less likely.