You’ve just returned from a Teaching Professor Conference or read of an innovative teaching strategy in a book you devoured. You desperately want to incorporate the innovations you’ve learned into your own courses, but at that exact moment, you feel your energy drain when you imagine hearing unsupportive administrators utter their stern objections “to keep things the way they are.” You pause to look around, seeing older colleagues who have more teaching years behind than ahead of them—“I tried that once . . . “—knowing that they never received the administrative nod for their innovations.
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“What do the readings have to do with class?” “Why do we even have to do the readings?”
After spending more than a decade supporting college faculty in teaching, I have heard students utter these statements numerous times. I often observe classes and conduct mid-course focus groups with students. It continues to surprise me that students regularly question how the readings connect to class. Certainly, instructors would not be assigning readings that had nothing to do with the course! Given how much we worry about students not doing the readings, why would we assign unrelated readings? Yet, frequently, in courses in different disciplines, I’ve heard this type of feedback from students, “We don’t understand the readings, they have nothing to do with what we talk about in class.”
Another Tax Day is upon us. I’ll keep this post brief, just in case you haven’t yet filed.
The Internal Revenue Service is good for lots of things, but it’s not usually viewed as a source of sound teaching advice. In 2016, however, the government agency created an online publication called the Behavioral Insights Toolkit. At just 72 pages, the toolkit is a relatively short guide for IRS employees and researchers to help promote compliance and improve taxpayer engagement by leveraging strong communication practices.
I was wrapping up a presentation on memory and learning when a colleague asked, “How do we help students learn in courses where there’s a lot of memorization?” He explained that he taught introductory-level human anatomy, and although the course wasn’t all memorization, it did challenge students’ capacity to retain dozens of new terms and concepts.
Among the trickiest decisions teachers make is whether to round up the final grade for a student who is just a few points shy of a passing score.
Although some students need a “second lap” to master academic skills needed for later coursework, repeating courses makes it harder for students to progress toward a degree. Time is money (literally, in higher education), and when students are asked to spend more of both on a class they already took, they may get discouraged or drop out. This is a consequence we need to take seriously, as nearly half of students do not complete a bachelor’s degree in four years.
When a family gathers around the table to share a meal, the one who prepared and served the fare most likely spent time pondering the recipes, considering the meal’s consumers, and selecting the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. As in the kitchen, so it is in the classroom. Faculty also ponder content, consider the lesson’s recipients, and select the right balance of lecture, group processing, and independent demonstration of competence. We decide upon our objectives for the lesson and we build our processes around the objectives, seeking to ensure that we reach everyone in our classrooms, online or face to face.
With the proliferation of learning management systems (LMS), many instructors now incorporate web-based technologies into their courses. While posting slides and readings online are common practices, the LMS can also be leveraged for testing. Purely online courses typically employ some form of web-based testing tool, but they are also useful for hybrid and face-to-face (F2F) offerings. Some instructors, however, are reluctant to embrace online testing. Their concerns can be wide ranging, but chief among them is cheating.
Due to the shift to performance-based funding in many states, colleges and universities have sharpened their focus on student retention. Because of this, I have sought out information about best practices in retaining students, in particular online students, to help do my fair share in this effort for the schools where I teach. While I found many articles about the importance of social presence, one of the more interesting discoveries was from a chapter in Trust in Organizations on the concept called “swift trust.” Although it is mostly put into practice and studied in workplace settings, it certainly applies to education, too.
When we consider the multiple life challenges and wellness issues faced by college students, it is safe to assume that the impact of trauma is manifest in every classroom. Trauma, whether experienced as a singular event or as a chronically unsafe environment, shapes how survivors perceive their vulnerability in the world and challenges their ability to cope. When we pursue greater understanding of the effects of trauma on individuals and the systems in which they operate, there is also a growing awareness that trauma is far more prevalent than we might have imagined. In fact, recent studies indicate that exposure to trauma is a widespread experience.
For baseball fans and players, springtime can only mean one thing: spring training. Every year professional baseball players head to Arizona or Florida to hone their craft. These are professionals mind you, but they continue to spend hours each year working on many of the same things Little Leaguers work on during the start of their seasons—throwing, catching, hitting, base running, and so forth.
As they make minor adjustments in these fundamentals of the game, the overall outcome is a major improvement. The same is true for faculty who remain mindful of their fundamentals, and make small, incremental improvements to their teaching.