Today’s college instructors are expected not only to be engaging in their classes, but to engage students outside the classroom. Whether it’s supervising service-learning, taking students to professional conferences, leading study sessions in coffee houses, or inviting students into our homes, faculty are now expected to be with students in ways that change the kinds of relationships teachers and students have in the classroom. Teachers now interact with their students in a variety of contexts, many of them informal and some of them purely social. These new roles blur the line between being friendly toward students and being a friend of students. This matters whether you’ve been teaching for a while and no longer look like a student or whether your academic career is just starting. All faculty need to know how to build supportive and positive, but businesslike, relationships with students.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
You’ve been assigned your first online class to teach and you feel like you’re ready. You’ve done your homework and learned the ins and outs of the institution’s course management system. You’ve structured your content in purposeful ways and developed thoughtful guiding questions to situate student learning and motivate them. When the class starts, however, you realize that while everything is technically functioning correctly, many of the students are not engaged. While you were looking forward to teaching online and interacting with students, the students are approaching your course as if it’s an independent study. This wasn’t what you anticipated when you agreed to teach online!
We give students exams for two reasons: First, we have a professional responsibility to verify their mastery of the material. Second, we give exams because they promote learning. Unfortunately, too often the first reason overshadows the second. We tend to take learning outcomes for granted. We assume the learning happens, almost automatically, provided the student studies. But what if we considered how, as designers of exam experiences, we might maximize their inherent potential? Would any of these possibilities make for more and better learning from the exams your students take?
While other forms of visual presentations have cropped up—such as Prezi and Empressr—PowerPoint remains the presentation software of choice. Yet many folks develop PowerPoint presentations without fully understanding all components of the software and/or presenter tricks that could make for much more effective PowerPoint presentations.
I have long pondered a phrase I learned from a mentor: “Witness the struggle.” Frances, my mentor, used the phrase when she talked about working with students in emotional pain. She was referring to those students who sometimes lash out in frustration over missed assignments, family dynamics, or other stressful life issues. As a career educator, I have a deep desire to help students and a strong tendency to offer solutions and suggestions. I want to fix their problems and tell them what to do. The wise words of this phrase offer a more powerful and profound answer to the part of me that thinks I need to rescue students. Its simple urging suggests that I be fully engaged and present, that I use silence to clear a space, and that I guard against telling students what to do. More often than not, students simply need to know that their voices count, that they have been heard, and that who they are matters.
The Little Assignment with the Big Impact: Reading, Writing, Critical Reflection, and Meaningful Discussion
Several years ago, I came across the Purposeful Reading Assignment that was reported to encourage students to read, reflect, and write about readings assigned for class. Research (Roberts and Roberts, 2008) and experience tell us that supporting students’ reading, writing, and reflective practices is one of the most challenging aspects of learning and teaching. Although this assignment appeared to be simple, it has proven to be an influential tool for learning and has increased engagement and participation among my students.
The guidelines suggested below propose how critical thinking skills can be assessed “scientifically” in psychology courses and programs. The authors begin by noting something about psychology faculty that is true of faculty in many other disciplines, which makes this article relevant to a much larger audience. “The reluctance of psychologists to assess the critical thinking (CT) of their students seems particularly ironic given that so many endorse CT as an outcome…” (p. 5) Their goal then is to offer “practical guidelines for collecting high-quality LOA (learning outcome assessment) data that can provide a scientific basis for improving CT instruction.” (p. 5) The guidelines are relevant to individual courses as well as collections of courses that comprise degree programs. Most are relevant to courses or programs in many disciplines; others are easily made so.
As the student body becomes increasingly diverse, it’s important to have faculty incorporate multicultural design into their courses regardless of discipline. Although it may not seem that all disciplines lend themselves to including multiculturalism as a learning goal, consider how Christine Stanley and Mathew Ouellett frame the issue.
“A disservice is done to any student cohort when they are globally defined by a single set of character traits. Within any generation, there is diversity and in the Millennial Generation, there is considerable diversity in background, personality and learning style.” (p. 223) So concludes a lengthy and detailed article that seeks, among other goals, to “demystify” the characteristics commonly attributed to students belonging to this generation. “Analysis of research data suggests that these students may not be as different from other generations in the fundamental process of learning as is regularly proposed.” (p. 215) These authors believe that’s important because “it is crucial to accurately assess which specific ‘stable characteristics’ truly impact the learning process and should be targeted for consideration in instructional design.” (p. 215)
In online higher education, adjunct faculty members are an essential resource. These faculty members teach, research, perform service and outreach, and even oversee administrative aspects of higher education institutions (Doe, Barnes, Bowen, Gilkey, Smoak, Ryan, & Palmquist, 2011). Unfortunately, adjunct faculty members often feel isolated and set apart from the full-time faculty, administration, and staff. Dolan (2011) reported adjunct faculty members are generally disappointed with communication, recognition, and a lack of opportunity. One way to improve a sense of belonging is through the development of a strong professional learning community. A successful learning community is primarily focused on student learning, collaboration, and accountability for outcomes (DuFour, 2004).