Faculty Focus

HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS

Articles

students studying in the library

A Memo to Students about Studying for Finals

To: My Students
From: Your Professor
Re: Studying for Finals

The end of the semester is rarely pretty. You’re tired; I’m tired. You’ve got a zillion things to get done—ditto for me. You’ve also got grades hanging in the balance to be decided by how you perform on the final exam. The pressure is on, and it’s not just this course. It’s all of them.

Read More »
faculty meeting

Ugly Consequences of Complaining about ‘Students These Days’

I recently overheard a faculty member talking about students, and it wasn’t good. She sounded very much like a conference presenter whom Melanie Cooper describes in a Journal of Chemical Education editorial. The presenter’s talk had a strong “students these days” undercurrent.

Read More »
student struggling with test

Teaching Students How to Manage Feedback

The classroom is a non-stop hub of feedback: test grades, assignment scores, paper comments, peer review, individual conferences, nonverbal cues, and more. Feedback is essential for student learning.

Still, students’ ability to process and use feedback varies widely. We have some students who eagerly accept feedback or carefully apply rough draft comments, while many others dread or dismiss their professors’ notes or reject exam grades as “unfair.” Although feedback is integral to our classrooms and work spaces, we often forget to teach students how to manage it.

Read More »
student studying late at night

Courses That Are Hard, but Not Too Hard: Finding the Sweet Spot

I have been doing some reading and thinking about hard courses. Courses need to be challenging, but when they become too hard, students stop trying and little learning results. So how do we find that sweet spot between hard and not too hard? More importantly, how do we create that sweet spot in our own courses through the decisions we make about content, assignments, and exams?

Read More »
Professor smiling, students hands raised

Humor in the Classroom

Humor is one of my favorite teaching tools. I rely on it—when the room feels tense, when I sense learner drift, if I aspire to make a point more memorable. Humor doesn’t cause learning, but it does help create conditions conducive to it. It doesn’t make hard content easy, but it can make learning it feel easier.

Read More »
reflective learners

Transforming Midterm Evaluations into a Metacognitive Pause

Midterm evaluations often tip toward students’ (unexamined) likes and dislikes. By leveraging the weight of the midterm pause and inviting students to reflect on their development, midterm evaluations can become more learning-centered. Cued by our language, students can become aware of a distinction—that we’re not asking what they like, but what is helping them learn. This opportunity for students to learn about their learning yields valuable insights that not only inform instructors about the effects of our methods, but also ground students in their own learning processes, deepening their confidence in and commitment to their development in the second half of the course.

Read More »
Professor helping student in lecture hall

Finding Signs of Progress When Learning is Slow

Slow learning—not to be confused with slow learners—is learning that happens gradually, where understanding deepens slowly and skills advance but without immediate noticeable change. Some learning occurs all at once; suddenly, there’s a performance breakthrough. Typically, fast learning feels easy, even if it was proceeded by a frustrating period of confusion. What is finally understood is so clear, so obvious—what is finally mastered no longer seems hard.

Read More »
Professor in front of class.

Getting More out of Exam Debriefs

Brief—that pretty much describes exam debriefs in many courses. The teacher goes over the most commonly missed questions, and the students can ask about answers but generally don’t. These kinds of debriefs don’t take up a lot of class time, but that’s about all that can be said for them. For some time now, I’ve been suggesting that students, not the teacher, should be correcting the wrong answers. The students are the ones who missed the questions.

Read More »
Diverse group of university students in classroom

Getting Names Right: It’s Personal

Editor’s Note: The following article was excerpted with permission from To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching, a new book that brings together student experiences and opinions with advice from master educators and experts. The book was written by students at Michigan State University under the guidance of Joe Grimm, visiting editor in residence in the MSU School of Journalism since 2008.

“I spend a lot of money to go to school here. It would be nice if a professor knew my name.”

“I appreciate the fact that you asked me what I wanted to be called because my name has various pronunciations in different languages.”

Read More »
student on laptop in library

Online Discussion Forums as Assessment Tools

Classroom Assessment Techniques, or CATs, are simple ways to evaluate students’ understanding of key concepts before they get to the weekly, unit, or other summative-type assessment (Angelo & Cross, 1993). CATs were first made popular in the face-to-face teaching environment by Angelo and Cross as a way to allow teachers to better understand what their students were learning and how improvements might be made in real time during the course of instruction. But the same principle can apply to online teaching as well.

Read More »