multitasking while studying
Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Confronting the Myth of Multitasking: A Collection of Tools and Resources

Download a self-check quiz for students, plus a look at key research findings

Most of us need no research evidence to document that students are using their phones and attempting to multitask in class. We see it all the time, and if you suspect it's also happening when they study, research confirms that as well. In some ways, we can’t really blame students. People are on their phones everywhere, including places where cell phones are supposed to be off. And let’s be honest, faculty are pretty much like everyone else when it comes to paying attention to what’s on their phone when they shouldn’t be—in faculty meetings, workshops, while listening to the college president, and when they grade student work. Students do have a problem, but so does pretty much everyone else. We need big societal changes and those aren’t yet forthcoming. Without them, is it any surprise that solutions tried in the classroom have had limited success?

Most faculty have responded to students’ proclivity to multitask with policies that prohibit the use of devices in class, significantly curtail their use, or put instructors in charge of when and for what they can be used.  (See “Cell Phone Policies: A Review of Where Faculty Stand”) A growing body of evidence documents how students are responding to these policies. If the class has more than 100 students in it, 90% of students reported on one survey that they could text without the instructor knowing (Tindell and Bohlander, 2012). In a study involving smaller class sizes, 32% said they could text without the instructor knowing Clayson and Haley, 2013). In the same study, which involved multiple sections of a marketing course, 56% of students said that texting in the class was banned and 49% said they texted anyway. Whether students can text without us knowing is not as important as the fact students think they can do it without us knowing.

Students are also using their devices when they study. In one study that analyzed student activities in 3,372 computer logs of study sessions, multitasking happened in 70% of those sessions (Judd, 2013). Studies referenced in the resources that follow document how frequently students switch between studying and their devices when they study.

As the resources illustrate, this kind of task-switching slows them down and compromises their attempt to learn the material. The amount of notes they take, quiz scores, exam scores even course grades are all negatively affected. Because it’s our job to guide, manage, and otherwise direct their learning experiences, we must explore a range of approaches to help make students more acutely aware of how their attempts to learn are being compromised by these devices.

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facilitating effective online discussions
Online Learning

Seven Ways to Facilitate Effective Online Discussions

Unlike a lot of faculty teaching today, Brian Udermann learned about the potential of online discussion boards almost by accident. It all happened about 15 years ago when he noticed the online discussion forum feature in his institution’s new learning management system and decided to set one up for his face-to-face class in health and nutrition.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” said Udermann, now director of online education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “There were no grades affiliated with it. I didn’t even create a prompt, or a question, or an activity, nothing. I just told students, ‘Hey, this is available in our class, this discussion forum thing, and if you ever want to go out there and interact with each other, you certainly can.’”

Nothing happened for about a week or so, but then one day a student posted a comment about something he found interesting from the day’s lecture. Then another student chimed in, then another. And for the rest of the semester a small group of students would drift in and out of the discussion forum, chatting about the most recent class and the things that piqued their interest.

Fast forward to 2018 and Udermann is teaching others how to facilitate effective online discussions. He knows firsthand the challenges of engaging online students and hears from faculty about the frustrations of trying to find the right balance with their online presence as well as the age-old challenge of cultivating meaningful dialogue among students.

He offers the following seven strategies for creating robust discussion board activities that students will find interesting along with helpful tips for managing instructor workload related to reading and grading posts.

1. Identify your optimal number of discussion forums.

Oftentimes, an online instructor will determine the number of required forums based on the weeks in the semester. So, by default, a 15-week course has 15 forums. That can be too much, especially during weeks where students have midterms, papers, or other large projects due.

In surveys of online students at UW-La Crosse, Udermann says they started noticing a theme about five years ago whereby students said the discussion boards sometimes feel like busywork. It’s that kind of feedback that can help faculty reconsider the structure of their discussion board requirements and reflect on what they’re really hoping to achieve.

“We always have this conversation with new instructors before they teach their first online course,” said Udermann. “Why are you using discussion forums in your class? Is it just because it’s an online class, and you think that that’s what you’re supposed to be doing? What’s the purpose? What’s the meaning? What are the students going to learn? What do you want them to achieve based upon their participation in these forums? Are your discussion forum activities tied into the student learning outcomes for the class?”

Once you have the answers to those questions and a clear purpose to each assignment, share it with your students. The reason we’re having this discussion forum this week is because ________.

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discussion board rubrics
Rubrics

Rubrics for Online Discussions

A well-designed rubric is an effective tool for communicating expectations, streamlining the grading process, minimizing grade challenges, and establishing performance benchmarks.

In "Seven Ways to Facilitate Effective Online Discussions," Brian Udermann discussed some of the benefits of using rubrics to help keep instructors and students on the same page.

“Share your rubric with students so they know what to expect and how they will be graded,” said Udermann, director of online education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “And if you do give a student a two out of five or a one out of five, be specific in your feedback. ‘Here’s the reason you got the score that you did.’ It’s kind of an eye-opener for them and usually gets their attention.”

Here are two examples of rubrics Udermann shared during his program.

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common teaching mistakes
Preparing to Teach

Four Horsemen of the Teaching Apocalypse

Four problems account for the lion’s share of serious teaching problems:

  1. Misalignment
  2. Expert blind spot
  3. Content overload
  4. Over-identification

An overstatement? Perhaps, but over the many years we’ve worked with faculty in a wide range of disciplines, we’ve seen these issues undermine students’ learning, motivation, and morale in insidious ways. Easy to fall prey to, they compromise the effectiveness of even seasoned teachers. Here’s some advice on recognizing the problems, avoiding them, and preventing the host of headaches they can cause.

Misalignment
Three important elements characterize any well-designed course: objectives (what students should know or be able to do by the end of the course), assessments (the means used to gauge students’ progress toward those objectives), and instruction (the methods and materials employed to help students acquire the knowledge and skills articulated in the objectives). A solid course design requires that these elements be aligned, each dovetailing with and supporting the others.

Misalignment occurs when these three elements are not in sync, in particular when the knowledge and skills being taught are not the same as those being assessed. “I’d never do that!” you might be thinking. And of course, no one ever means to. But it can happen more easily than most of us realize. All too often, we teach the whats (terms, definitions, formulae) and the whys (concepts, principles) of a subject but assess the hows (procedures, methods) and the whens (conditions of application).

Think of how we learn to drive. We study the whats and whys of the rules of the road in order to pass a written test. Then we have to pass a test of actual driving. Would studying for the written test prepare us adequately for the driving test? Of course not. Actual driving requires other knowledge, skills, and practice, for which road rules are necessary but not sufficient. If we prepared for the driving test solely by learning road rules, it would constitute misalignment: the instruction and assessment don’t line up.

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Using analogies in your teaching.
Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Mining the Analogy

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine.” Benjamin Franklin may not have realized at the time that he was actually using a tool for the education he espoused, namely, the analogy. More than a simple witticism, the statement can be explored for rich conceptual parallels. Although a familiar teaching tool periodically invoked as a creative clarification, we faculty may not fully appreciate how an analogy might be mined for its full value. In higher education in particular, creation of an effective analogy is a worthy endeavor because it serves not only to instruct, but also potentially to hone the deeper, more complex higher order thinking skills we aspire to teach students.

The cognitive and educational benefits of using analogy (relational or analogical reasoning) in education, especially primary and secondary, have been well explored. Although research-based recommendations have not been made for every college-level subject, principles with practical implications have been identified. Of particular interest to faculty should be the 2015 assertion Richland and Simms offer in WIREs Cognitive Science that “relational reasoning can be productively considered the cognitive underpinning of higher order thinking,” where this type of reasoning is “the process of representing information and objects in the world as systems of relationships (which) can be compared, contrasted, and combined in novel ways depending on contextual goals.” They note the beauty of the dual benefit. Analogy is both “a tool for promoting content acquisition and a basic cognitive mechanism for using information flexibly and across contexts.” For an analogy to serve as both a tool for basic understanding and development of complex reasoning, it must be carefully and intentionally designed and delivered.

An effective analogy may be pursued in many contexts. It may provide motivation in an intro course or illuminate complex concepts of an upper-level subject. It’s an invaluable means of encouraging visualization of what cannot be seen or experienced. Once it creates a spark of recognition, it may cascade into a deeper and broader appreciation of the subject, often creating the desire to delve further. However, as the foundation beneath a house determines its livability, the careful construction of the analogy with a clear view of the instructional goals determines its fruitfulness.

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sleeping in class
Classroom Climate

Disruptive Students: Personality Styles and Recommended Responses

In a perfect world, college students would always be eager, well disciplined, and respectful.

In the real world, some students come to class late, miss deadlines, or fall asleep during lectures. Others monopolize class time, make insulting or abusive comments, and even physically threaten or intimidate other students and professors.

In extreme incidents, there is even the occasional student who poses a dangerous risk to the entire community.

A supplement to the Coping with Seven Disruptive Personality Types in the Classroom whitepaper, this quick reference guide explains how to recognize typical styles of troublesome behavior and exactly what to do in response.

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instructor presence when teaching online
Online Learning

From Barely There to Fully Present: Three Ways to Improve Your Instructor Presence

I recently received a frantic phone call from a distraught colleague who had just received her student evaluations after teaching her first online course. Tearfully, she shared with me sample student comments such as, “I didn’t get any feedback on my assignments until it was too late to help me with the next assignment,” and “I never heard from my instructor. It was like she was barely there.”

Frustrated because she felt that she had been doing a good job of communicating with her students, and also fearful because her adjunct position depended in part on receiving positive student evaluations, she asked for help in setting up an improvement plan for the next course.

Unfortunately, my colleague’s frustrating experience is not uncommon for instructors new to the online environment. Managing instructor presence—students’ perceptions of how instructors interact with them and guide their learning during a course—is the key to overcoming that frustration. It’s not unusual for instructors and students to have widely different perceptions of instructor presence during the same course.

For instructors who may be teaching multiple courses and spending large blocks of time answering student email, the time spent on their courses makes them feel fully present and fully engaged. To students, however, who may be looking for interaction from the instructor on the course discussion boards, it may seem the instructor is “barely there” because there is little trace of him or her in the course.

How would your students rate your instructor presence on a continuum from “barely there” to “fully present”? If there’s a difference between your students’ perception and your perception of your instructor presence, you can improve your presence with some simple strategies.

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mid-semester feedback
Grading and Feedback

A Collaborative Midterm Student Evaluation

Can students collaborate on the feedback they provide faculty? How would that kind of input be collected? Both are legitimate questions, and both were answered by a group of marketing faculty who developed, implemented, and assessed the approach.

The first argument, supported by research cited in their article, establishes the value of collecting midterm feedback from students. Students tend to take the activity more seriously because they still have a vested interest in the course. The teachers have the rest of the course to make changes that could potentially improve their learning experiences. There’s also research that documents when midcourse feedback is collected and the results are discussed with students, end-of-course ratings improve. And they don’t improve because teachers are doing everything students recommend—sometimes a policy doesn’t need to be changed so much as it needs to be better explained.

The faculty involved in this project reasoned that having students collaborate on feedback for the instructor might have several advantages. It could increase student engagement with the process. Almost across the board now, there are concerns about the low response rates generated by online course evaluations. In addition, students don’t generally put much effort into the feedback they provide. In one study cited in the article, students self-reported taking an average of 2.5 minutes to complete their evaluations. Because doing an evaluation collaboratively was unique and happened midcourse, faculty thought that maybe students would get more involved in the process.

They also wondered if the quality of the feedback might be improved by the interactive exchange required to complete it. And along with that, they thought the process could increase students’ feelings of accountability by virtue of providing feedback in a public venue. Perhaps it would be harder for students to get away with making highly critical, personal comments.

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flipped learning ideas
Blended and Flipped

Don’t Just Flip—Unplug

Why “unplug” in the classroom?

In his book Teaching Naked, Jose Bowen challenges us to rethink the role of technology in our courses and be more intentional about when we use it, why we use it, and what our students do with it. Bowen (2012) explains, “Technology is most powerfully used outside of class as a way to increase naked, nontechnical interaction with students inside the classroom” (preface, p. x). Here are three reasons you might want to consider adding unplugged strategies to your classroom:

  • To increase focus. In my work, the FLIP means to “Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process” (Honeycutt 2013 & 2016a). When you FLIP, you focus on integrating active learning strategies and helping students achieve higher-level learning outcomes when they are in class with you and their peers. When your students disconnect from their devices for part of a lesson, they can connect with each other and work with the course material in a different way. They are focused on the task of solving a problem, organizing information, analyzing content, or creating something new.
  • To decrease distractions. In a 2013 study, undergraduate students reported using a device (phone, laptop, tablet) almost 12 times a day during class for nonclass activities (McCoy). Interestingly, in 2012, researchers found that students did not have to be the ones engaging in nonclass activities to be distracted. Students in view of a peer engaged in off-task activities scored 17 percent lower on a post-lecture comprehension test (Sana, Weston, and Cepeda, 2012).
  • To add value. One of the most common challenges faculty face when implementing flipped and blended instructional design models is how to encourage students to complete coursework outside of the in-person class time. Students need to know how their out-of-class work will be used in class. Bowen (2012) explains, “Nothing has more potential to eliminate boredom and create an incentive for a student to come to class prepared than a complete rethinking of the use of class time, overhauling it from a passive listening experience into a transformative learning environment” (p. 185).

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disruptive students
Classroom Climate

Coping with Seven Disruptive Personality Types in the Classroom

The typical college professor is bound to run into his or her share of difficult students during the course of an academic career. Some students create nuisances by engaging in annoying behavior, such as interfering with classroom proceedings, making irrelevant comments, and causing noisy interruptions. They may turn assignments in late, disregard the course expectations, and insist on special treatment for themselves. Other students, however, may pose a very real threat to the safety of the professor and fellow students.

Relatively few college professors are trained in how to recognize and respond effectively to these challenging or threatening behaviors. Sometimes, faculty will have difficulty distinguishing between a student who is a mere nuisance and a student who poses a very real threat to the community. It is comforting to know that many of the most difficult and disruptive encounters with students tend to fall into predictable, known categories.

This white paper will help you to set enforceable standards, expectations, and boundaries flexibly with students, depending on the exhibited personality style.

After reading this white paper, you will know how to better manage passive-aggressive behaviors such as sleeping in class, lateness, and procrastination. You will learn essential principles regarding the value of collaborating with on-campus resources to resolve disruptive crises. This white paper also provides guidance to help professors know whether and when they need to report certain disruptive incidents.

Perhaps most important, this report provides the guidance necessary to help instructors and administrators recognize “red flags” that portend physical risk when dealing with potentially dangerous students.

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