Faculty Focus

HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS

Teaching and Learning

How Accurately Do Students Track Their Participation?

Grading participation presents a number of challenges. If instructors rely on their sense of who participated, how often, and in what ways, that can be a pretty subjective measure. After all, besides noting who’s contributing, the instructor needs to listen to what the student is saying, and frame a response while keeping the larger discussion context in mind. Is the discussion staying on track? Are there points that have yet to be made? If instructors opt for a more objective system, they face the cumbersome task of comment counting during the actual discussion. While listening to the student, the instructor must find the student’s name and record the comment. It requires a challenging set of multitasking skills.

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Do Attendance Policies Influence Student Learning?

Most college teachers don’t need research results to confirm that class attendance is a problem for many students. Some skip occasionally, others regularly; and some we see for the first time on exam days. Most faculty believe that students learn the material much better when they regularly attend class, and hence policies that require attendance are now the norm in many (could we say most?) classrooms.

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The Elusive Benefits of Study Groups

Faculty often recommend study groups to students, especially in large courses or in courses where students typically struggle with the material. “You’ll do better on exams in this course if you work together with some other students.” Beyond these verbal recommendations or some description of the benefits of study groups in the syllabus, most faculty leave the formation and activities of study groups entirely up to students.

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Understanding Adult Learners’ Needs

Understanding learner needs is essential for providing quality education. One approach to understand learner needs is through the use of student evaluation questionnaires which allow us to collate student feedback or suggestions. A common argument against the use of student evaluations is that students do not know their own needs. However, many studies have shown student feedback/suggestions to be reliable and valid. If we do not even attempt to understand their needs, we may fail to recognize the support they require to be successful.

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Are We Preaching to the Choir about Student-Centered Learning Practices?

I’d like to report on a nonscientific study I have been conducting, without human-subjects approval or even a clear research plan. This won’t make it into the research journals, but the results are still compelling.

My “study” has been continuous for over two years. During that time, I have made numerous trips, at random times, from my administrative office to a building on the opposite corner of campus. For nearly three months, I made the round trip twice a day or more. Every time, I have walked through the ground floor of our main general classroom building, which has about 14 classrooms, mostly 30- to 50-person rooms, but also with one 120-person tiered lecture hall. The classrooms are assigned to courses covering a wide range of disciplines, mostly first- or second-year classes.

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Four Ways to Motivate Your Students

Motivating students is one of the most difficult challenges for any faculty member, but lighting the fire is critical to ensuring active, dynamic classes. Alice Cassidy, PhD, principal of In View Educational and Professional Development and a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, has devised a four-step process to motivate students for a more stimulating class for students and faculty alike.

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Noncontributing Members in Small Groups: An Important Distinction

One of the biggest concerns that faculty have about using small groups involves the contributions of individual members and whether some in the group are riding on the contributions of others. These freeloaders, who are mostly known in the literature as “social loafers,” are assumed not to be contributing because they are lazy and happy to have others doing the work. Students share this concern about nonproductive group members. They regularly list it as one of the main reasons they don’t like to participate in group work.

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Four Levels of Student Reflection

Promoting reflection is a goal endorsed by many faculty. They believe that students need to develop skills that will enable them to look at a piece of work they produce or an aspect of their professional practice and make accurate judgments about it. It’s not an easy skill to acquire, and practice is essential to its development. If teachers are giving students opportunities to reflect, they need to be able to assess how well students are reflecting and provide feedback that deepens the students’ skills.

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Students Share Their Thoughts on Active Learning

“Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.”
– A. Chickering and Z.F. Gamson, “Seven principles for good practice,” AAHE Bulletin 39 (March 1987), 3-7.

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A Google Jockey Helps Get Students Engaged

And what in the world might a Google jockey be? In a first-year seminar on environmental sustainability, the Google jockey was a student who surfed the Web for material related to the discussion topic or lecture and then displayed that material in real time to the rest of the class. In this case, the student was a senior biochemistry major described in the article as “bright” and “engaged.” But don’t rule out this interesting strategy if you don’t have this kind of student preceptor at your disposal.

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