learning objectives May 2

Learning Objectives: Where We Start and Where We End

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On the surface, learning objectives don’t seem all that complicated. You begin with an objective or you can work backwards from the desired outcome. Then you select an activity or assignment that accomplishes the objective or outcome. After completion of the activity or assignment, you assess to discover if students did in fact learn what was proposed. All that’s very appropriate. Teachers should be clear about what students need to know and be able to do when a course ends. But too often that’s where it stops. We don’t go any further in our thinking about our learning objectives. There’s another, more challenging, set of questions that also merit our attention.


the hardest students to teach April 25

The Hardest Students to Teach

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Some students are more challenging to teach than others. They require pedagogical skills of a different and higher order. Sometimes it’s easier to sigh and just turn away. And that’s legitimate in the sense that students (indeed, people of all sorts) have to figure things out for themselves. But many of us were such “works in progress” when we were in college, and a teacher (or several of them) ended up being instrumental in moving us in more productive directions. It’s for that reason I’d like us to consider some of these challenging students, each one a unique individual, but many displaying the same counterproductive attitudes and actions. Descriptions of these students come much more easily than solutions to what’s holding them back. Said more directly, my goal here is to start this conversation and ask for your wisdom, insights, and experiences with students who are tough to teach.



cheating in college classroom April 11

Activities that Promote Awareness of What Is and Isn’t Cheating

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Although some behaviors are pretty much universally identified as cheating (copying exam answers, for example), we’re not in agreement on everything. Particularly significant are disagreements between faculty and students (for example, students don’t think cheating occurs if they look something up on their phone and can’t find it; faculty consider cheating in terms of intent). In many cases, there is the question of degree (when, for example, collaboration crosses the line and becomes cheating). The effectiveness of cheating prevention mechanisms can be increased by clarifying upfront what is and isn’t cheating. Here’s a collection of activities faculty can use to ensure that students understand the behaviors that constitute cheating.


courses with heavy workloads April 4

Course Workload: What Influences Student Perceptions?

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Course workload is yet another of those amorphous terms regularly used in print and conversation for which we have loose and different understandings. It’s a term with connections to various topics: hard and easy courses, standards and rigor, effort and accomplishment. For students, courses with a heavy workload can create feelings of stress. Their beliefs about the amount of work involved in a course sometimes (or is it regularly?) influence their decisions about what courses to take. In an end-of-course rating comment, a student wrote of a colleague’s course: “It’s very good. She’s an excellent teacher, but engineering students should be advised not to take it. It’s too much work for a required course not related to the major.”



teaching colleagues March 20

Those Indispensable Colleagues

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I’ve been especially appreciative of my colleagues this week and there are lots of reasons why.

  • My colleagues teach me. As might be suspected, I mostly collaborate with folks who are interested in teaching and learning. They’re good teachers and good teaching advocates who think about teaching in intellectually robust ways. They have ideas that are new to me and will often send me things they think I should read. I learn from their experience, their insights, and what they believe about teaching and learning.


cheating in college March 13

Students as a Forgotten Ally in Preventing Cheating

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I’m still wandering around in the literature on cheating. It’s hard not to get depressed. It’s such a pervasive problem and one that compromises all that education could and should be.

Faculty are pretty much focused on preventative measures, which are essential, but there are a couple of other issues rarely mentioned in the literature or in our discussions. Students who don’t cheat usually aren’t on our side when it comes to enforcing cheating policies. In one study, almost 93% of the students said they had witnessed another student cheat, but only 4.4% said they had ever reported a cheating incident (Bernardi, et. al., 2016) Students are in a bind—they don’t want to rat out fellow classmates, some of whom may be friends. If they do and word gets out, they are labeled as “snitches” and “tattletales” — told to mind their own business and otherwise berated. With serious social consequences like these, it takes real courage to do the right thing.


active learning techniques February 28

Deeper Thinking about Active Learning

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I keep worrying that we’re missing the boat with active learning. Here’s why. First, active learning isn’t about activity for the sake of activity. I fear we’ve gotten too fixated on the activity and aren’t as focused as we should be on the learning. We’re still obsessed with collecting teaching techniques—all those strategies, gimmicks, approaches, and things we can do to get students engaged. But what kind of engagement does the activity promote? Does it pique student interest, make them think, result in learning, and cultivate a desire to know more? Or is it more about keeping basically bored students busy?


multiple-choice tests February 21

Multiple-Choice Tests: Revisiting the Pros and Cons

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Given class sizes, teaching loads, and a host of other academic responsibilities, many teachers feel as though multiple-choice tests are the only viable option. Their widespread use justifies a regular review of those features that make these tests an effective way to assess learning and ongoing consideration of those features that compromise how much learning they promote.