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Synchronous Online Classes: 10 Tips for Engaging Students

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 23:12

There’s a widely circulated YouTube video you may have seen called “A Conference Call in Real Life.” To spoof the strange, stilted dynamics of conference calls, it replicates them in a face-to-face setting. Participants stiffly announce their names at the door of a meeting room, are suddenly interrupted by bizarre background noises, and find themselves inexplicably locked out of a room they were just in.

If you haven’t watched it, do. You’ll recognize the familiar awkwardness of virtual meetings, where the rhythm of conversational interaction is thrown wildly askew by technological hiccups and the absence of visual cues.

Virtual space is not always easy.

Yet, virtual meetings are increasingly common, not only for geographically distributed work teams, but also for online courses.

So how do you teach in this odd virtual space? How do you keep participants from descending into that peculiar passivity characteristic of conference calls? And how do you help students fight the constant temptation of momentarily clicking away from class? While virtual classes are not without challenges, there are, in fact, concrete steps you can take to run class sessions that are energetic, interactive, and productive. Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Collect information before class. Send a quick email or a 1-3 question survey a day or two before class asking students about their experiences or opinions relevant to the session topic. (e.g. “Have you experienced reverse culture shock? Where did it come from, and what was it like?” “What three changes do you think would most improve public education?”) Collecting information from students in advance will help you prepare appropriate questions and materials. It will also show students that you’re interested in what they have to say, which will help spur discussion in the synchronous environment.
  2. Tell students what to expect. Email students before each synchronous session and tell them what topics or questions the session will cover, how they should prepare, and what they’ll be expected to do. Be as concrete and specific as possible, (e.g., “Please come prepared to … briefly describe your research problem, identify one specific challenge you face vis-à-vis time management, or discuss at least three metaphors used in this book.”) When students have time to prepare, they are often more invested in the discussion and willing to participate. And you will feel better about calling on them.
  3. Make it relevant, then highlight the relevance. We instructors have all too many claims on our time, and we make constant calculations about where to put our efforts and attention. So do students. Thus, as teachers, it’s always worth asking ourselves: Why should students care about this topic? How is it going to help them answer questions or solve problems that matter to them? Highlight the answers to those questions with a brief description of the class session (perhaps in your Learning Management System or in a reminder email) that is designed to spark students’ curiosity. For example, “What are the characteristics of the most and least effective teams you’ve been part of, and what specific things can you do to make the teams you lead function well? We’ll discuss these questions in this week’s synchronous session…”
  4. Ask participants to come with one burning question about the topic at hand—something that frustrates them, confuses them, or that they want a chance to ask you and/or their classmates. Start the session off by giving some or (depending on class size) all of your students the opportunity to ask their questions. See what answers or insights the class can provide before answering the question yourself.
  5. Make sure your synchronous session offers novel content, insights, or activities and avoid duplicating what is covered elsewhere in the course, e.g., readings, videos, discussion boards. While synchronous sessions should, of course, connect to other elements of the course and build toward common goals, there should always be added benefit to attending the synchronous session, such that students don’t like to miss class for fear of missing something important.
  6. Ask participants to keep their cameras on. Students don’t always like to have their webcams on, especially if they’re participating from home in their pajamas. But showing their faces — and seeing yours — creates a sense of connection and accountability that can help to overcome the disconnectedness that virtual meetings so easily engender. Make it a course expectation that students turn on their cameras (and explain why.) Note: If bandwidth issues arise from too many video feeds, you can always elect to turn them off later.
  7. Do a quick social check-inat the beginning of class. Instead of leaving an awkward silence while students are arriving, use the opportunity to chat. Ask students what’s new and interesting in their lives, what their holiday plans are, etc. Just as in a physical classroom, some chitchat helps to break down social barriers while creating the expectation of interaction. You might consider pre-loading a slide that features a current event, cartoon, or trivia question to spark conversation in the minutes before class begins.
  8. Pose a question and give participants a moment to write. Regular cold calling is an effective technique for holding students accountable, but it can irritate them and erode motivation if it feels like a “gotcha” exercise (Lemov, 2015). An alternative is to pose a thought-provoking, relevant question and give students a few minutes to writedown their thoughts/answers. Again, giving students time to prepare gives you license to call on them without putting anyone on the spot.
  9. Ask questions that require students to pick a side. When students are asked to state an opinion, they become more invested in discussing it. So, consider asking a content-relevant either/or question, e.g., “What is more essential to professional success: being organized or being creative?” “Overall, do you think the impact of the Internet has been positive or negative?” Ask students to write their opinion in the chat window, then ask a few participants to explain or defend their positions. Students will quickly add complexity and shades of gray to otherwise simplistic choices (“How can you be creative if you aren’t, on some level, organized?”) and the discussion will be off to the races.
  10. Use synchronous sessions as consultations. If it suits your topic and students’ developmental level, rather than using synchronous sessions for didactic purposes, have students bring challenging dilemmas or problems and get the group’s input and advice. This can be particularly effective with adult learners or in project-based courses.

The tips offered here won’t miraculously eliminate the initial awkwardness of virtual class sessions, but they’ll help. And over time, the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of virtual meetings will become normal, even comfortable. What’s more, you’ll find that most of the tips provided here work equally well in a traditional classroom setting. They are simply methods for increasing mental engagement, participation, and accountability. Because, at the end of the day, teaching with technology is just teaching – if “just” can be applied to something as complex and nuanced as teaching. And while the contexts and specifics differ, the same learning principles and general strategies always apply (Ambrose et al, 2010).

Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M. Lovett, M.C., Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lemov, D. (2015). Teach Like a Champion: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dr. Marie Norman is an associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the Innovative Design for Education and Assessment (IDEA) Lab. She is co-author of the book, How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.

The post Synchronous Online Classes: 10 Tips for Engaging Students appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

Ten Online Teaching Tips You May Not Have Heard

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 21:33

At a time when online institutions are in fierce competition for students and accreditation agencies are taking a critical look at online course quality, it is becoming increasingly important for online instructors to ensure that they are exceeding their institution’s expectations.

Students are also expecting more from their online courses. And while most of us know the importance of addressing students by name in the discussion board and offering students substantive feedback on assignments, there many more things we can do.

In this article, I outline 10 online teaching tips that may be less well-known but can lead to a more positive experience for both professor and student.

1. Communicate Information Using Multiple Channels – If you have important information to convey to students, don’t use just one channel of communication, use multiple. For example, instead of simply posting information only in the announcements area, or only in the feedback area, or sending it only via email, include the information in all three of these places. This will reduce the number of students saying they did not get the memo. Posting information in as many places as possible will result in more students getting the information they need to succeed.

2. Sync School Email Account to Phone – Contact your institution’s help desk for instructions on how to sync your school email account to your iPhone or Android. Not only will receiving email in multiple places reduce your likelihood of missing messages, it will also allow you to address urgent questions and concerns in a timely fashion. Students are often pleasantly surprised at my response time. However, it is important to set boundaries by letting students know when to expect a reply. For example, you can inform them that you normally respond within a 24-hour period, during regular business hours. This will help maintain your work-life balance.

3. Text – If you can’t reach a student via phone or email, try texting! It’s harder to miss or ignore a text message. Also, students will appreciate the fact that they can text you if they have a quick question. My students have thanked me numerous times for being accessible in this way. This tip comes with a caveat: While students will benefit from being able to text, it is also important to let them know upfront (via the syllabus or another memo) that it can take up to 24 hours for you to reply.

4. Create an Instagram account – Utilize social media to motivate and share information with students. Create an Instagram page just for students to include motivational quotes, memes, reminders, tips, etc. You might even include a photo or two of yourself, your kids, or pets! Most students enjoy getting to know their professor as a person.

5. Keep a Running List of Resources to Include in Feedback – Compile a list of helpful resources to send to students who are struggling in certain areas. For example, if a student submits a paper that illustrates he or she does not know how to use commas, don’t just point out the mistake, but refer to your list of resources and include the appropriate resource in your feedback. A Word document, bookmarks folder, or desktop sticky note are great places to keep these resources handy.

6. Use Reflection Questions – Get students thinking more critically about their writing assignments by asking questions, such as:

  • In what ways, if any, did writing this paper change your views about the topic?
  • What did you find most challenging about writing about this topic?
  • What do you still want to know about this topic?
  • What did you enjoy most about writing this paper?
  • What did you discover about this topic that surprised you?

7. Create a Forum – If your Learning Management System allows, create a forum where students can go to find useful information and ask questions on a subject. For example, if you notice that most of your students struggle with APA, create a forum where they can easily locate resources on the subject and ask related questions.

8. Do a Welcome Call/Email – If you have time, call each student at the start of the term to say hello and find out what they hope to get out of the class. Most students will appreciate the time you take to do this. If time doesn’t allow, send a private email, addressing each student by name, and asking a direct question to start a brief dialogue.

9. Promote the Rubric – Remind students of the grading rubric for the week’s main assignment in announcements and email to make sure they know what they will be graded on to eliminate questions like “How long does the paper have to be?”

10. Reflect on Your Teaching – On a weekly or bi-weekly basis, ask yourself:

  • What can be improved about my individual interactions with students?
  • What more can I do to make this subject more engaging and memorable?
  • What is lacking in my classroom?

Dr. Noura Badawi has been teaching online for more than 12 years.

The post Ten Online Teaching Tips You May Not Have Heard appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

Teaching Students Specific Skills

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 01:38

Preparing for a keynote at a polytechnic institute got me thinking about those readers who teach students how to do something, not something abstract like thinking, but how to execute some observable skill, such as starting an IV, writing code, or wiring a circuit. Teaching skills, much like teaching in general, shares certain similarities that are relevant across a variety of degree programs. It’s good to review these and use them to take stock of how we can better help students learn specific skills.

A novice learns from an expert – Often, the novice is tremendously impressed by the skill of the expert who accomplishes a complicated task easily and efficiently. It looks effortless, and seeing flawless execution can be very motivational. The novice aspires to do what the expert has accomplished. And because it is done so well, it’s easy for the novice to conclude that learning it won’t be all that difficult.

An expert teaches a novice – Skill instruction relies on demonstrations. And let’s be honest: there’s a bit of showmanship involved and some enjoyment derived when students are impressed by what we can do. To the expert, it feels easy, natural. He or she knows exactly what to do and when to do it. What the expert may have forgotten is how it felt when he or she was learning the skill—the clumsiness, the awkward execution, the tension, and the fear of failure. Once a skill is mastered, the time, effort, and repeated attempts fade from memory. “It’s easy! You can do it,” the expert reassures the novice.

Learning most skills isn’t easy – It’s not as easy as the expert makes it look, and it’s not as easy as the learner thinks it might be. And if the expert claims that it’s easy and the novice’s first attempts are failures or faulty executions, then the novice starts to wonder. “Why can’t I do this? It looks easy, and the expert says it’s easy, but now I can’t do it. What does that say about me? Am I stupid?”

Mistakes are an inherent part of learning new skills – Making mistakes does not automatically equate with a lack of ability, but students continue to believe that ability matters more than effort. If the skill isn’t easily acquired, they begin to rationalize that they probably can’t learn it so why keep trying. Mistakes are how we learn, but our egos seem to take a bigger hit when we fail to learn a specific, demonstrable skill. There’s no way to fudge—the novice, the expert, and everyone else see the mistakes. Novices need to understand that learning from error is more powerful and enduring than executing something flawlessly on the first attempt. The good news is that corrected failures are also more visible and, therefore, easier to celebrate. Get that needle in the vein, develop a web page, or watch that circuit light up and we see the success instantly.

Skill performance depends on practice – It looks easy because it’s been done a thousand times. Learning to do anything well requires hard work for the vast majority of learners. Look at high-performing athletes, musicians, or artists. Their lives center around practice, and even when they are excellent, the practice continues. What we’ve learned about “deliberate practice” documents that working on the less effective aspects of skill performance is what most improves performance. Novices typically underestimate the time and commitment excellent execution requires. Experts can help them correct those assumptions.

A good relationship with the expert makes learning skills easier – The awe and healthy respect novices feel for experts must be part of the relationship. There may even be hints of fear, but they’re balanced by the recognition that the expert wants the novice to master the skill and is there to help. Experts care about the novices and the skills. They have high expectations for both.

Skills develop better with honest feedback – Expert feedback must address what isn’t being executed well. The focus should be on the skill, not the person. “Here’s the problem, and here’s what needs to happen to fix the problem.” Expert feedback supports and encourages. “Keep trying.” “Be patient.” “Practice will improve your performance.” And when the skill starts looking better, there’s acknowledgment of progress. When it’s executed well, there’s praise, but nothing over the top. Mastering skills means there are always things that can be done better.

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Mid-Career Faculty: How to Stay Engaged, Fulfilled, and Productive

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 02:38

Faculty careers are often divided into three phases: the beginning, the middle, and the end. Yet despite the fact that it is the longest segment of one’s career, there is surprisingly little attention given to mid-career faculty. It seems we expect careers to run a bit like they’re on cruise control. Once engaged, it’s a steady pace forward. Just stay between the lines and you’ll get where you need to go with minimal effort.

Free, 20-page report delivers expert advice for avoiding mid-career malaise

But careers don’t stay on track without care and attention. To survive and thrive during those long middle years, faculty must be mindful of their instructional health and well-being. There’s plenty about teaching that can make a teacher tired—an unending stream of courses to teach, lots and lots of content to deliver, students who are not always well prepared or motivated to handle the material, courses and assignments to design, student work to grade, course evaluations that can feel like personal attacks, colleagues showing signs of cynicism, budget cuts—it’s a long list that seems to grow each semester. Feeling exhausted and isolated, mid-career faculty slowly retreat into a dull routine—carrying on, but with a bit less energy and a diminished enthusiasm for teaching and learning.

Mid-Career Faculty: How to Stay Engaged, Fulfilled, and Productive is a free, downloadable report featuring 13 articles curated from Faculty Focus, The Teaching Professor, and Academic Leader. It’s designed to help you avoid mid-career malaise and set a course for continued professional growth. Here are just a few of the titles you’ll find in the report:

  • Waking up to Tired Teaching
  • Mid-Career Faculty: 5 Great Things About Those Long Years in the Middle
  • Professional Faculty Development: The Necessary Fourth Leg
  • Avoiding Burnout: Self-Care Strategies for Faculty
  • Look to Midcareer Faculty for Learning Communities
  • Managing the Academic Leadership Pipeline



In addition to identifying many of the challenges mid-career faculty face, the collection offers various approaches for taking care of our teaching selves. It starts with the awareness that teaching careers cannot be powered by intellect alone. Good teaching requires emotional energy as well. We need to feed our emotional energy by taking breaks (even short ones) and making time for those activities that renew us.

We also need to spend more time thinking about the unique opportunities afforded by that long stretch of years in the middle. It’s offers time to gain confidence as a teacher, to explore new options, and take risks. There’s time to fix things, to get them right, or closer to right. There’s time to think, not just about what we’re doing, but why. And it’s those why questions that lead to assumptions, beliefs, and a deeper understanding of what makes an instructional practice coherent and effective. There’s also time to build mentoring relationships with students and colleagues—the opportunity to share what we’ve learned about success in the academy and in life.

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You also get full access to the Faculty Focus website, which is packed with innovative strategies, best practices, and other information you can use on the topics that affect your students, your institution, and your work, including:

  • student engagement
  • course design
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  • educational assessment
  • teaching with technology
  • faculty development
  • curriculum development

We invite you to join the more than 125,000 subscribers who turn to us for proven, practical advice to improve student learning.

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Professor Goldilocks and the Three Boundaries

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 01:38

Evidence of the importance of teacher-student relationships is robust. The relationship between a teacher and a student is related to many positive outcomes for the student, including academic success, improved emotional functioning, and increased well-being even after school completion. In fact, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education reported individuals who felt more connected to a professor while they attended college were more engaged at work and identified higher levels of well-being (Carlson, 2014). The individuals reported emotional support from professors took the form of excitement for learning and a caring attitude about the student’s current well-being and future success.

Although the focus on the outcomes of instructor-student relationships is pervasive, there is often less discussion about the individual components of these relationships. As a professor and a counseling psychologist, my training emphasizes the role that boundaries play in the overall health of a relationship. Boundaries that are too rigid or too loose can negatively affect the relationship dynamic. Rigid boundaries, in which a professor does not try to build connections with students, may negatively impact student perception of the emotional support available to them. Conversely, loose boundaries, in which a professor fails to establish any kind of authority, takes student problems too personally, and shares too much personal information with students, may also damage the instructor-student relationship. Loose boundaries may confuse the student, potentially leading to a conceptualization of the professor as a friend rather than a teacher and mentor.

The just right, or healthy boundaries, are not in place only to protect the student, the professor also accrues benefits. In her book, Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks (1994) notes “teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.” (p.15). At times, I forget how much my own emotional health affects the quality of my teaching and mentorship. When I become over-invested in the personal lives of my students, I have less time to take care of the person who they are turning to for guidance: myself.  It is vital that I maintain both my well-being and my role as a professional.  I believe this is particularly important in a climate where we see more students with mental health issues.

It is important to consider that questions of healthy boundaries are often not answered in terms of definitive correct or incorrect behaviors. As professors, we each must decide what action to take in the gray zone (e.g., whether to have students to our homes or give out our cell phone numbers). A good rule of thumb is to make sure you can maintain the role of professor in every situation. At times professors and students may work together in ambiguous boundary settings, particularly in graduate school. One study suggests the nature of the professional relationship is protected in these settings as long as students maintain a clear perception of the evaluative and mentoring role of the professor (Schwartz, 2011).

A particular gray area for many professors, myself included, is whether to self-disclose in the classroom or during personal interactions with students. To answer this question, I pull from my training in counseling psychology and internally evaluate the purpose of self-disclosure. If the information I am sharing serves the student and our relationship then I proceed (albeit within a professional manner). For example, I may share my own personal experience with not getting into graduate school the first time I applied as a way to allay some student fears. However, it would be wrong of me to share information as a means to gain something from my students or work through an issue I’m having.

Even though each of us may create slightly different boundaries with our students, there are some definitive boundaries that should not be crossed. Research consistently demonstrates that entering into a romantic relationship with a student violates healthy boundaries. As such, many institutions have formal policies against such relationships. In addition, professors should avoid venting or gossiping about other colleagues to students. This form of interpersonal communication does not serve the long-term obligations (i.e., professionalism and mentorship) of the relationship.

In closing, I encourage us to think about our behaviors and the importance of being healthy role models for our students. In Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage Paolo Friere reminds us that “sometimes a simple, almost insignificant gesture on the part of a teacher can have a profound formative effect on the life of a student.” (p. 46). As I think about my undergraduate mentor, it is precisely because of her professionalism, warmth, and mentorship that I still turn to her to help me navigate the waters of working in higher education.


Carlson, S. (2014, May 6). A caring professor may be key in how a graduate thrives. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/A-Caring-Professor-May-Be-Key/146409

Friere, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Schwartz, H.L. (2011). From the classroom to the coffee shop: Graduate students and professors effectively navigate interpersonal boundaries. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23, p. 363-372.

Amanda J. Wyrick is an assistant professor of psychology at Berea College. 

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Faculty Members and FERPA, ADA Section 504, and Title IX [Transcript]

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 01:43

Most faculty members are focused on their core areas of academic expertise, which is as it should be. They are often not trained on the ins and outs of these laws and may not be able to interpret or apply them when needed.

For example, you probably know about FERPA, ADA, and Title IX, but do you know how they apply in specific classroom situations? Or with specific student populations? And what the potential consequences are for you and your institution if you don’t follow the law?

Get answers to these questions and more with the complete transcript to the Magna online seminar, Faculty Members and FERPA, ADA Section 504, and Title IX: How to Use the Fundamentals of These Regulations to Better Identify and Resolve Potential Problems.

This content is for Faculty Focus Premium, Faculty Focus Premium – Annual, Faculty Focus Premium – Group Option and Faculty Focus Premium – Monthly members only. Visit the site and log in/register to read.

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Does the Strategy Work? A Look at Exam Wrappers

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 01:50

For many faculty, adding a new teaching strategy to our repertoire goes something like this. We hear about an approach or technique that sounds like a good idea. It addresses a specific instructional challenge or issue we’re having. It’s a unique fix, something new, a bit different, and best of all, it sounds workable. We can imagine ourselves doing it.

Let’s consider how this works with an example. Have you heard of exam wrappers? When exams are returned they come with a “wrapper” on which students are asked to reflect, usually on three areas related to exam performance:

  • what study skills they used to prepare;
  • what types of mistakes they made on the exam; and
  • what modifications might improve their performance on the next test.

At a strategic moment, this technique confronts students with how they prepared and performed with an eye on the exams still to come. It’s an approach with the potential to develop metacognition—that reflective analysis and resultant insight needed to understand, in this case, what actions it takes to learn content and perform well on exams.

But is there any evidence that exam wrappers improve performance and promote metacognitive insights? For a lot of instructional strategies, we still rely on the instructor’s opinion. However, in the case of exam wrappers, we do have evidence—just not a lot and the results are mixed. In this most recent study (with a robust design), they didn’t work. Researchers Soicher and Gurung found that the wrappers didn’t change exam scores, final course grades, or scores on the Metacognitive Awareness Inventory, an empirically developed instrument that measures metacognition. Examples where exam wrappers did have positive outcomes are referenced in the study.

What instructors most want to know about any strategy is whether it works. Does it do what it’s supposed to do? We’d like the answer to be clear cut. But in the case of exam wrappers, the evidence doesn’t indicate if they’re a good idea or not. That’s frustrating, but it’s also a great example of how conflicting results lead to better questions—the ones likely to move us from a superficial to a deeper understanding of how different instructional strategies “work”.

What could explain the mixed results for exam wrappers? Does the desired outcome depend on whether students understand what they’re being asked to do? Students are used to doing what teachers tell them, pretty much without asking themselves or the teacher questions. As these researchers note, maybe students don’t “recognize the value or benefit of metacognitive skills” as they are intended to be developed by exam wrappers (p. 69).

Is effectiveness a function of how many exam wrappers a student completes? Would they be more effective if they were used in more than one course? Maybe the issue is what students write on the wrapper. Would it help if the teacher provided some feedback on what students write? In other words, the effectiveness of exam wrappers could be related to a set of activities that accompany them. Maybe they don’t work well if they’re just a stand-alone activity.

It could also be that students are doing exactly what we ask of them. For example, they see that they’re missing questions from the reading, and so they write that they need to keep up with the reading and not wait until the night before the exam to start doing it. But despite these accurate assessments, they still don’t keep up with the reading. Students have been known to abandon ineffective study routines reluctantly, even after repeated failure experiences.

There’s a lot more complexity than meets the eye with almost every instructional strategy. We’d love for them to be sure-fire fixes; supported with evidence and with predictably reliable outcomes. Unfortunately, how instructional strategies affect learning is anything but simple, and our thinking about them needs to reflect this complexity.

We could conclude that with mixed results and instructional contexts so variable, there’s no reason to look at the research or consider the evidence. Wrong! The value of these systematic explorations is not so much the findings but their identification of details with the potential to make a difference. So, you may start by thinking that exam wrappers are a cool idea, but that’s not all you’ve got. Sets of conditions and factors made a difference when someone else used them and took a systematic look at their effects on learning. That means you can use them having made some purposeful decisions about potentially relevant details.

Reference: Soicher, R. N. and Gurung, R. A. R., (2017). Do exam wrappers increase metacognition and performance? A single course intervention. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 16 (1), 64-73.

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A Case for Coaching in Faculty Development

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 02:52

I recently spent a rainy afternoon watching the semi-finals of the Madrid Open and noticed how often one of the players looked to his coaching box for reassurance about his strategy. Coaches are not just for players trying to make it into the big leagues; “even Rafael Nadal has a coach. Nearly every elite tennis player in the world does. Professional athletes use coaches to make sure they are as good as they can be.” (Gawande, 2011)

If coaching is a proven strategy for ensuring that athletes perform at their best and is used at the highest levels in the business world, why shouldn’t faculty turn to coaching to ensure continued growth and peak performance? In a piece in The New Yorker magazine, renowned surgeon Atwal Gawande recounts his experiences in hiring a retired surgeon to coach him to even higher degrees of professional excellence than he had achieved on his own. Rather than coasting at mid-career on his accomplishments, Gawande stretched his skills further, reduced his complication rates, and concluded that “coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.” (Gawande, 2011)

Coaching as a professional development strategy is beginning to take hold in the education sector. In the preface to his text, “Instructional Coaching” Jim Knight recounts an experience all too familiar to those of us working in faculty development in higher education. At the conclusion of a workshop, he invited participants to send him an update after they’ve had a chance to experiment with some of the evidence-based instructional strategies discussed during the session. “At the end of 2 years, I had not received one postcard. The reality was, I suspected, that inservice sessions just did not provide enough support for most people to implement what they had learned.” (Knight, 2007)

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Creating Rich Learning Experiences Even When Class is Canceled

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 01:30

In my corner of the country, we experienced an unusually harsh winter which resulted in many class sessions being canceled due to school closures. Our faculty, and likely other groups of faculty in our region, received an email message that stated:

If you cancel your face-to-face session, I expect a comparable experience will be online for your students.

This is easier said than done. For faculty who don’t regularly deliver coursework online, the expectation to “just move your teaching session online” can be an overwhelming task. It’s not as simple as putting that day’s lesson online. Teaching effectively online requires a skill set that can only be acquired with knowledge and experience. It doesn’t happen automatically.

Stepping into a chance to grow in this area, however, can be a wonderful learning experience, and it can better equip you for times when your face-to-face class session might be interrupted. A potential bonus for accepting this new challenge is that it will enhance your pedagogical knowledge and perhaps offer you the opportunity to imagine more possibilities for class session design. In this piece, I’d like to describe my pedagogical thinking and practical application when bad weather forced me to move my face-to-face session to a fully online session.

My class of adult students, who are studying to become K–12 teachers, was scheduled to meet face-to-face for a session devoted to learning about the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that K–12 teachers must possess to work effectively with families. Their preparation for class was to interview two families with pre-K–Grade 3 students and to bring the data to class. My plan involved students analyzing the data in small groups and debriefing as a class. Then I would deliver a short interactive lecture on research in this area, introduce students to a tool that they would explore individually, and create an opportunity for them to reflect and connect their learning to their work as future teachers.

As I considered how to convert my face-to-face plans into an online format, I first reviewed the pedagogical elements that were part of my original plan and thought deeply about how my planned in-class activity could be transformed for the online setting. Student engagement, delivery of a critical “chunk” of content, and metacognitive activity were the elements that I built into my online session.

Student engagement with content and with one another was a strong part of my design. To quote the late Herbert Simon of Carnegie Mellon University, “Learning occurs from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.” For my students, engagement began by working independently to contribute their interview data to a shared Google document online. I expanded the engagement by putting my students in pairs and assigning them to review the data associated with a designated question and look for themes. This collaboration could happen via Google chat, a phone call, email, text messaging, or any other tool of their choice. The pair would soon share their results via a Zoom online meeting with the entire class. As the whole class gathered in a synchronous format online, I continued student engagement by having the pairs share their findings with the group.

The second pedagogical element I moved online was a mini-lecture around a chunk of content approximately 12 minutes in length. Using a screencast, I shared the research regarding the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed by teachers when working with families. What we know about how students construct new knowledge tells us that students need to acquire new content in digestible chunks. I asked students to think about how what they learned in the interviews aligned with the information I shared and then to spend four minutes writing about the alignment they discovered.

I ended our synchronous session by introducing students to a tool that would facilitate metacognition. They were to use the rubric, associated with the needed knowledge, skills, and dispositions, to score their preparedness in each category. This metacognitive activity continued in the final section of the class that was conducted offline and independently. Students were asked to craft a two-page “reflect and connect” writing assignment in which they would reflect on their learning through the class session and connect it with their readiness to apply what they learned in the classroom. They completed the writing assignment by sharing their personal strengths that apply to this work as well as their areas for growth.

Student feedback on the online session was extremely positive. Students recognized the value of engagement with the content and engagement with each other. They were amazed that they could do this kind of collaborative work in an online environment, and they appreciated the opportunity to reflect on how their current knowledge and skills support and illuminate areas for growth.

There are many reasons that you might need to cancel classes at some point during a school year. Being able to skillfully move face-to-face coursework to an online session can continue the rich learning experience of the class and honor the tuition money that students invest to prepare them for the future.

Karen Buchanan, EdD is a professor and the Chair of the Doctor of Educational Leadership program at George Fox University.

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Buchanan, K. (2016). Goldilocks and the ‘just right’ strategy for helping students acquire new content. Faculty Focus, January 15, 2016.

Doyle, T., & Zakrajsek, T. (2013). The new science of learning: How to learn in harmony with your brain. Stylus Publishing, LLC.,

Doyle, T. (2011). Learner-centered teaching: Putting the research on learning into practice. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation. Retrieved 1/15/17 https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/principles/index.html.

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What’s Going on Behind the Blank Stare?

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 23:32

Regardless of our subject area, we’ve all had moments where some students appear to hang on every word, gobbling up our messages, images, graphs, and visuals with robust engagement. Within those very same classes, however, there will be a degree of confusion, perplexed looks, or at worst, the blank stare! In my field of anatomical education, like many other STEMM* disciplines, the almost ubiquitous use of multimedia and other increasingly complex computer visualizations is an important piece of our pedagogic tool kit for the classroom, small group, or even the one-on-one graduate-level chalk talk. Although a picture indeed does say a thousand words, the words that each person hears, or more importantly, comprehends, will vary widely.

My lab, the Corps for Research of Instructional and Perceptual Technologies (CRIPT Lab), uses the experimental paradigm of spatial ability to explore how individuals use images to learn. Each of us has varying degrees of spatial orientation, sense of direction, and ability to mentally manipulate objects or spatial ability. This trait can be measured using a variety of tests that indicate our prowess. It is thought that spatial ability influences our educational choices and even how well we do in those subjects (Wai, Lubinski, and Benbow 2009). We use the cognitive theory of multimedia learning (Mayer) and the cognitive load theory (Valcke 2002) to suggest persons with lower spatial ability undergo higher extraneous learning loads as they scramble to keep up with complex visualizations that are sometimes utilized to demonstrate phenomenon. We have commenced collecting neurophysiological data during learning and testing. Rest assured; these are not a catch-all tests of intelligence, but they do have reasonable and growing predictive applicability.

Education doctoral student Jay Loftus studied how cerebral blood flow is elevated in persons with high spatial ability compared to low spatial ability when using static pictures to learn bones of the feet or large vessels in the chest. The goal wasn’t to learn their names or functions, but rather to understand how these anatomical parts fit together.

Consistently, persons with high spatial ability score better on tests he devised, and they did so with higher cerebral blood flow. For incorrect answers, higher spatial–ability persons had a slight fall in blood flow, but lower spatial–ability persons’ blood flow fell below their baseline, indicating a potential shunting of blood to other areas of the brain in an attempt to answer the question. We tend to think of this as a higher cerebral “work rate” to get the job done. In a sense, low spatial–ability persons are experiencing higher extraneous cognitive loads in this learning and testing modality (Loftus, Jacobsen, and Wilson 2016). Loftus is currently studying these effects using dynamic images, common to many multimedia environments, and the effect seems exacerbated further.

We can alter student cognitive loads in a variety of ways through good, bad, or ugly demonstrations.

We wanted to probe deeper to better understand whether spatial ability is “all in the head.” We took it a step further to see whether people of varying spatial abilities examine visualizations in the same fashion. Doctoral student Victoria Roach incorporated eye tracking technology to address her questions. Eye tracking uses high-speed cameras to observe where the eye moves while observing a screen. With this technology, she measured the where and when-related events as they pertain to examining a visual. From a visual and cognitive perspective, we as humans process visual information only when we fixate on things in our visual world. So Roach developed a measure of salience (“where” combined with “when”) within each image. She monitored persons while they undertook tests of mental rotation. Thus, at the end of the experiment she knew their mental rotation score, or how well they had done on the test, as well as their attention salience during the test. Interesting results have begun to emerge from her experiments. First is that high and low spatial–ability persons pay attention to different parts of the same presented image. That is interesting in itself, but consider that where one looks within the picture may impart clues to better orient and deduce meaning.

Going a step further, we often place time limits on our tests, and in doing so, we separate further the high from the low spatial–ability learners, giving them less time to concentrate on the important aspects and thus stymieing lower spatially able learners. Give people more time to complete the tests, and we find the obvious: scores tend to increase across the board. More importantly, though, lower spatially able persons start to pay attention to similar salient pieces of the visualization as their higher spatial–ability counterparts (Roach et al. 2016). In her yet-to-be-published research, Roach has gone as far as defining the most salient area of an image from a group of highly spatially able persons; she then shows this salient area to low spatial–ability persons, saying only that it’s an important place in the picture. The coached low spatial–ability persons increase their score considerably, equivalent to raising a grade point average, and the effect is enduring as they continue to do better on subsequent “noncoached” tests.

Putting this research together is empowering for teachers and students. First, we need to realize that we as educators can alter student cognitive loads in a variety of ways through good, bad, or ugly demonstrations. If we inadvertently increase the extraneous cognitive load of a diagram, graph, or visual, the effects are widespread and differential across our learners, and those with lower spatial abilities suffer the most. Is spatial ability a dependent variable of your tests? Now imagine what happens in a testing situation where time limits are short and stakes are high. Finally, there is immense power in pedagogy and our ability as educators to lead students to understanding complex visualizations. If we direct attention, show students where and how to look at a phenomenon, the divide between spatial ability at least is shortened, and our learners can concentrate on the message (knowledge) rather than the visualization (medium).

* STEMM is often referred to as disciplines involving science, technology, engineering, and math, and we often include medicine to represent allied health science fields.


Loftus, Jay J., Michele Jacobsen, and Timothy D. Wilson. 2016. “Learning and Assessment with Images: A View of Cognitive Load through the Lens of Cerebral Blood Flow.” British Journal of Educational Technology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12474.

Mayer, Richard E. 2014. “Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning.” In Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, edited by R. E. Mayer, 31–48. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Roach, Victoria A., Graham M. Fraser, James H. Kryklywy, Derek Mitchell, and Timothy D. Wilson. 2016. “The Eye of the Beholder: Can Patterns in Eye Movement Reveal Aptitudes for Spatial Reasoning?” Anatomical Sciences Education 9 (4): 357–66.

Valcke, Martin. 2002. “Cognitive Load: Updating the Theory?” Learning and Instruction 12: 147–54.

Wai, Jonathan, David Lubinski, and Camilla P. Benbow. 2009. “Spatial Ability for STEM Domains: Aligning over 50 Years of Cumulative Psychological Knowledge Solidifies Its Importance.” Journal of Educational Psychology 101 (4): 817–35.

Dr. Tim Wilson is an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario. He also serves on the advisory board of the Teaching with Technology Conference.

Reprinted from The Best of Teaching with Technology, a report featuring articles based on some of the top-rated sessions at the 2016 Teaching Professor Technology Conference (now known as the Teaching with Technology Conference).

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Activities for Building Cultural Competencies in Our Students and Ourselves

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 23:58

Editor’s note: This article is reprinted from Diversity and Inclusion in the College Classroom, a free report from Faculty Focus. Download here.

“Who am I to speak about diversity and inclusion? I am a middle-aged white woman from an upper-middle-class family. I have been afforded numerous opportunities many of my students never have been, and possibly never will be, afforded. I am the picture of privilege.” This is what I told myself at times when the topics of diversity and inclusion came up. However, when you look at the racial/cultural makeup of most college campuses, if faculty “like me” do not broach the sensitive topics of diversity and inclusion, who will?

Therefore, when I was presented with the opportunity to creatively approach diversity and inclusion via a health disparities course, I saw this as an amazing, if not somewhat frightening, opportunity. The result has been both humbling and empowering for me personally.

Health, inherently, is a very complex, dynamic, and enigmatic topic to begin with. When you then ask students to look at not only differences in health outcomes for various populations, but why those differences exist and are so pervasive, it becomes even more complicated. Why do some racial groups experience significantly poorer birth outcomes compared to other groups, particularly when there are no clear genetic/biological explanations? Why are rural residents at significantly higher risk of dying from a heart attack than urban residents? Why is the relationship between income and health so tight? These are just some questions we address in our health disparities course, and underlying these important questions is the need for a foundational appreciation and understanding of our individual strengths, challenges, and historical perspectives. Here are a few guiding principles I have learned along the way to help students, and myself, get somewhat closer to bridging some significant gaps related to diversity and inclusion.

Be a brave yet humble example. In my class I ask students to investigate, question, and reflect on their own biases from a place of nonjudgment. Therefore, I must be willing to do the same and share the results of my personal inquiries. I must be brave enough to admit I may not fully understand and appreciate the challenges of many of the populations we discuss in this class. I must be brave enough to admit and investigate my own biases. I must be humble enough to recognize I will always have much to learn. I must set the example for approaching topics and situations that I am uncomfortable with from a place of compassion, a genuine desire to improve my own understanding, and an acceptance that I may not always get it right. What’s more, with the right intentions, I must not let the fear of getting it wrong keep me from trying.

Provide students the opportunity to investigate their own biases and/or cultural experiences from a place of nonjudgment. Several times a semester I provide in-class opportunities for students to sit quietly, reflect, and respond in a private journal to some leading questions about the population, topic, or disparity we will discuss. I encourage them to approach the exercise as a witness, not a judge. They should not feel the need to be punished for acknowledging their own biases. Instead I encourage students to investigate their biases and look at them as opportunities to learn more about themselves and ways they may interact with their environment and fellow humans. Once ground rules have been established, as well as an environment of mutual respect, we often move on to discussing and sharing our biases and typical stereotypes. This includes breaking down those stereotypes that appear on the surface as well-intentioned, such as Asians are good at math, Mexicans are hard workers, Native Americans are very spiritual, and African-Americans are good athletes. This often leads to great discussions regarding the danger of lumping people together even with seemingly positive attributes. It is also interesting that rarely, when I lead this discussion, can a class come up with any positive stereotypes for white people.

Emphasize that a collective response may not be appropriate for everyone identified with a particular “group.” When discussing diversity/inclusion issues, I have found it is critical to introduce the concept of intersectionality, and how different aspects of identity and discrimination can intersect or overlap. There is an activity from the Australian Attorney General’s Department that I have incorporated into my courses. It introduces, via an interactive activity, the concept of intersectionality (which originated during the women’s rights era, highlighting the fact that many of the voices of the women’s rights movement were white and were not representative of black women and their experiences with discrimination and disadvantage).

To begin the activity, students are first provided a new “identity.” Examples include: refugee woman, 35, recently arrived from the Congo through the women-at-risk program; male, doctor, with two children; young boy, 14, who recently left home after confrontation with a physically abusive step-father. Once the students have assumed their new identities, they are asked to stand even in a line while statements are read aloud. Based on the statements read and their identities, students can decide if the statement applies to their identity in a negative (step back), positive (step forward), or neutral (stay in place) way. It is interesting for students to see how quickly some parts of an individual’s social identity can lead to advantage or disadvantage. In just several statements, students visibly see the gaps between themselves and their classmates’ new identities—very rarely do they ever meet again in the middle. I view our job as faculty, in part, as one to help students become responsible citizens who will somehow find ways to bridge these gaps.

Approach it from a competency perspective rather than a deficit perspective. Introduce students to opportunities and tools that will help them continuously build cultural competency. In my field there is an excellent, free online course on developing cultural competencies in the health professions. This online course, developed and delivered by the Department of Health and Human Services, provides the groundwork for us to discuss what cultural competency “looks like” in our field of health care. Students engage in the course online, which includes a pre- and post-test. There are scenarios, video vignettes, discussion questions, and reflections. I also point out to students that just because they earned a certificate indicating they completed a cultural competency course, it does not mean they have suddenly arrived at this magic place of being culturally competent. There is no such place; it is a journey, not a destination, and one we are on together.

For more articles like this one, download your copy of Diversity and Inclusion in the College Classroom »

Australian Attorney-General Department, (2010), AVERT family violence: Collaborative responses in the family law system. Intersectionality Exercise. Retrieved from: http://www.avertfamilyviolence.com.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2013/06/Intersectionality.pdf

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, (2016), Think cultural health: Culturally competent nursing care: A cornerstone of caring. Retrieved from: https://ccnm.thinkculturalhealth.hhs.gov/

Melissa Gomez is an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at Austin Peay State University.

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Channel Your Inner Avatar and Add Interest to Your Online Content

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 09:00

Have you ever experienced the eerie, but familiar, sensation that your students have not done the required reading and are not prepared for class? We all know that our class sessions would be a lot more enjoyable—for us and for our students—if our students were better prepared for class discussions. After one particularly challenging session, we discovered that while our students spend around 20 hours a week preparing for class, they spend about 10 hours a day using a variety of digital devices, such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, video games, and TVs.

After some contemplation, we decided to embrace our inner avatar! We found CrazyTalk Animator 2, which enabled us to put a face, body, motion, and a voice to the instructor. This program allows users, even those without any coding experience, to create short video clips using a selected avatar and voice. The avatars can run, smile, frown, dance, write, and do a number of other things. Moreover, the user can simply drop the avatar into any PowerPoint presentation to add an additional component of animation to an otherwise lifeless slide. We created the avatars to present short, focused discussions of course topics.

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Having a Conversation About a Challenged Grade

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 01:17

Conversations about grades are difficult—particularly if you’re a newer faculty member and you haven’t experienced many of them.

But it is possible to make such conversations constructive—even instructive. This on-demand program, delivered in an innovative format, will show you how.

Having a Conversation About a Challenged Grade is a collaborative-learning course. It illustrates common student grievances about their grades, and provides effective strategies to turn discussions about them in a positive direction.

You will work through specific scenarios—e.g., a student protesting that he worked hard and did not get the grade expected, or that her classmates got better grades for similar work, or that you are simply being subjective.

This content is for Faculty Focus Premium, Faculty Focus Premium – Annual, Faculty Focus Premium – Group Option and Faculty Focus Premium – Monthly members only. Visit the site and log in/register to read.

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Improvising Great Classroom Discussion

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 16:15

I was watching a video of several of my students teaching this week. I had to be away for a conference, and they were scheduled to teach that day anyway, so I asked our Center for Teaching Excellence to record it. I would evaluate them later. Although most of the students in the class are planning to be English teachers, it’s not an education class. For that reason, I planned to pay closer attention to the content and preparation than to their actual pedagogy.

However, as I watched the video, I kept noticing places where discussion would be on the verge of beginning, only to see it die almost immediately. The students were prepared, and they were often asking the types of questions we want them to ask. Why did the discussion keep faltering? I had to start looking at their pedagogy.

What I discovered was that they didn’t know how to build on each other’s comments. A student would make a statement that could easily lead to a larger discussion, but no one responded, as if there was nothing else they could say about the comment. The student leading the discussion would then move on to some other topic. When I realized what was happening, I remembered the “Yes, and . . . ” idea from improvisational comedy.

The “Yes, and . . . ” idea has been rather popular of late, stemming from a rising interest in improvisational comedy; Don’t Think Twice, a movie about an improv group; and a variety of comedians and business leaders speaking and writing about the idea. For those not familiar with the “Yes, and . . .” idea, it’s almost exactly what it sounds like. In improv, the actors are supposed to accept whatever premise another actor begins with; they say “yes” to the setup. And then they try to build on the situation or line of dialogue, the equivalent of saying “and . . . ”

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Classroom Discussions: How to Apply the Right Amount of Structure

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 00:29

While preparing for a Teaching Professor Conference session on facilitating classroom discussions (much of which applies to online exchanges), I’ve been reminded yet again of the complexity involved in leading a discussion with students new to the content and unfamiliar with academic discourse.

One of the most vexing complexities involves finding the balance between structure and the lack of it—between controlling the content and opening it up for exploration. Without structure, discussions tend to wander off in different directions, and what should have been talked about isn’t discussed. A single comment can take the discussion off track, and once it’s headed in the wrong direction, it’s tough to get it back. Open-ended explorations are potentially productive, but too often the wandering doesn’t go anywhere and little learning results.

Of course, the solution to these meandering discussions is to structure the exchange. Teachers can keep the discussion on track by identifying beforehand exactly what topics will be discussed. Off-topic comments can be ignored or politely set aside.

But it’s easy to make discussions too structured. That’s one of the lessons we’re learning about online interactions. When they’re tightly scripted (make a comment, respond to someone else’s comment, and then follow-up if someone comments on your comment) they aren’t all that interesting and don’t engage students all that effectively. Students will follow the script for their online exchanges but there’s none of the spontaneity that breathes life into a discussion.

Discussion has two features that make it a powerful teaching tool. If different voices, different perspectives, and a range of experiences are shared, they can lead the discussion to new places. Ideas emerge that participants (including the teacher) haven’t considered before. The comments flow, circle each other, and connect unexpectedly. Participants are engaged—with the content and each other. In a good discussion, you can feel the learning happening!

Secondly, discussions have power derived from their uniqueness. The combination of comments, questions, ideas, and insights shared in a discussion become a knowledge base created by that group. No other group has talked about this set of issues in exactly this way. What the group creates may not contain much, if any, new knowledge, but the group owns it. It’s related to how constructivists describe knowledge creation. When a group makes meaning, it does so in ways that are meaningful to its members.

Overly structured discussions rarely accrue either of these powerful benefits. The tough challenge for teachers is figuring out how much structure is enough, but not too much, so that we can move the discussion where it needs to go while still allowing it to go elsewhere.

How does one prepare for these unstructured structured discussions? Maybe it starts with having a general sense of discussion possibilities, identifying some of the priorities, but being open to unexpected outcomes. What actions does this general orientation entail? Most of us launch discussions with questions, but we also head into the discussion having good answers to those questions. We take seriously our role as defenders of what the discipline has discovered or come to believe. However, knowing the answers can limit how we respond to what students offer. Perhaps our perspective on content needs to be less fixed, more open to other ways of considering how it looks and feels when it’s first encountered.

Maybe we ought to track with an idea a bit further before concluding it’s a dead end. So, the comment sounds off target, irrelevant, potentially misleading, but we might just need to hear more. Maybe we’ve missed something in the student’s thinking. Maybe it makes lots of sense to everyone else. Maybe it does it lead somewhere.

Lastly, one place that deserves strong structure, but often doesn’t get it, is the end of the discussion. Discussion shouldn’t just peter out or end when the class session does. Every discussion should conclude with time devoted to summary, integration, and new question generation. Interesting ideas can lay around for a while in a discussion, we need to reinforce learning by doing something with these ideas in the conclusion or letting students see if they can put them together in a sensible way.

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Learning the Lessons of Silence

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 01:54

“The lessons of silence.” I found these four words in Lao Zi’s book, the Tao Te Ching. I have been ruminating over them lately. In our modern society, more and more individuals fear stillness. In our classrooms, fewer students appreciate the sound of silence. Their faces light up when I give animated lesson presentations but wilt whenever I ask them to pause and think about the ideas we have just considered. Outside my classroom, I seldom see them minus headphones, earbuds, or cell phones. They (and some of the rest of us) have yet to learn that the most profound ideas are born in moments of silence.

In my teaching, it is in the moment of silence where I come to understand whether students are learning or not. It is when the whole class stares at me in silence that I realize I need to rephrase my question. It is when a student pauses while reciting that I see some concepts I’ve taught are not yet clear. It is when a student does not say anything but smiles sweetly that I know my ideas made an impression. It is in the silence of my classroom after the last student has left when I reflect on my own teaching that I better understand how to impact their learning. It is in the silence of my office after typing the last sentence in my manuscript that I learn to think deeply about what I have just written. There is an analogy that perfectly captures all of this for me: it is the silence that follows the first four notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Those notes are meaningless unless one appreciates the sound of silence that surrounds them.

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The Power of the Short: Making the Most of Brief Instructional Videos

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 13:12

When it comes to instructional tools, few can deny the benefits of using videos in the classroom. Since the days of the filmstrip, this medium has been used to supplement classroom instruction. Today’s classrooms are filled with a myriad of images, video clips, and other multimedia resources. Integrating multimedia elements is how we gain students’ attention and engage them in our content. Videos can also improve working memory and learning, especially with focused attention on visual-spatial and pictorial elements (Gyselinck et al., 2000). However, if multimedia content is not used effectively we lose the opportunity to harness this powerful tool.

Many believe that brevity is key to using multimedia elements in the classroom. There are many news outlets espousing that human attention spans are shrinking. While this has yet to be proven in actual research, it does highlight the fact that this perception is prevalent. Think about how this perception pervades our society with short snappy headlines, hashtags, text language, emoticons and other social networking pictures and posts.

Brief videos can not only capture students’ attention, but are also quite effective for learning. Think back to the days of School House Rock. During the 1970s and 1980s, these short, animated films were a staple of the Saturday morning cartoons. The educational influence of these short videos was, and still is, tremendous. Many children learned multiplication, grammar, and even memorized the Preamble to the Constitution through these engaging short films, which live on through a dedicated YouTube channel.

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Students’ Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Five Ways to Break the Cycle

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 02:38

Faculty are often confronted by the ghosts of educators past. In the writing intensive courses I teach, those ghosts usually manifest in one phrase: “I’m a bad writer.” This embarrassed confession bespeaks an educational experience fraught with negative beliefs and expectations, not just about their writing but about their ability to succeed in general. The phrase becomes an inescapable prophecy lurking in every writing assignment prompt. “I know I’m not going to do well on this assignment,” they explain to themselves, “I’m just not a good writer.” They do not seek help, ask questions, organize their notes, or create outlines and rough drafts of their essays because the outcome is a foregone conclusion. And of course, because they do not do these vital steps in the writing process, they receive poor grades—and the prophecy is fulfilled. From the front of the classroom, however, I can see the reality: the student is not a “bad” writer but merely under-practiced and under-prepared. But how can I help students to see it for themselves? How can I support students to move beyond negative past experiences and make positive ones? How can I empower students to break these cycles?

  1. Provide opportunities for metacognition. Students who are caught in a negative self-fulfilling prophecy cycle often lack the ability to see the situation clearly. They explain and justify their actions, which only serve to perpetuate negative cycles. Faculty can offer small opportunities like a one-minute paper or longer exercises such as reflection essays at the end of a unit. You may also have them do a SWOT analysis of their current situation and talk about what they put into each quadrant. Providing students with opportunities to think about their thinking allows them to step outside the course and examine their approach to the learning situation.
  2. Flip roles. Students in a negative cycle often see themselves as frustrated victims who play a passive role in their academic experiences. To move students to active participants in their education, faculty members can give students positions of leadership. One approach is to have students contribute to a study guide that everyone may use on an upcoming exam. The students take on the role of “expert,” reinforcing that they have something valuable to contribute. Another approach is to have students take on the role of “helper;” writing a reflection about their strengths in the course and how they can use those strengths to help their peers. Creating leadership roles empower students who feel disenfranchised.
  3. Create check-in points. Check-in points hold students—and help you to hold students—accountable for their progress. Students may not appreciate it, but accountability provides small “wins” that slowly break down the negative self-fulfilling prophecy cycle over time. Some examples for check-in points include asking for drafts on longer projects and creating low-stakes or ungraded quizzes. Faculty can also implement an “exit ticket” system where students must submit a question, comment, answer, or concern before exiting the classroom. These check-in points allow you to intervene in the learning process and dispel negative or unproductive approaches.
  4. Build in moments for dialogue. Often, our moments of dialogue with students happen during class discussions or through graded assessments. Students in a negative cycle are often disinclined to participate in these discussions or engage in conversations about their work, which means that they are not reaching out for help and not improving their approach. Building moments for open dialogue with students allows you to bring these quietly suffering students into the conversation. Using informal surveys, faculty-student conferences, or “muddiest moment” reflections offer opportunities to interrupt a negative cycle. I often use a “start, stop, and stay doing” survey that asks students to reflect not only on the class, but what they can start, stop, and stay doing.
  5. Point it out. Perhaps the most obvious way to help students recognize and disrupt a negative self-fulfilling prophecy cycle is to make them aware of it. We would like our attempts to encourage metacognition and to quietly empower them from behind the scenes to be successful, but sometimes a direct approach is the most effective. Ask students to plot out their approach to an assignment on a timeline and have them reflect on each step. Where did they need help, where did they ask for help, how did they ask for help, and why did they choose this approach? As you walk through their approach, you can show them places where their process could be improved.

Self-fulfilling prophecies are usually negative, but they do not have be. Faculty members play a vital role in helping students to replace their negative prophecies with ones that reinforce successful strategies—and finally exercise those ghosts of educators past.

Dr. Melissa Wehler serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences at Central Penn College. She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

The post Students’ Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Five Ways to Break the Cycle appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

The Failure of Feedback

Sat, 06/03/2017 - 02:42

“Good job”



Do they look familiar? Students are used to getting the bulk of their feedback as these sorts of “margin comments” running down the side of their papers. Unfortunately, such comments are of almost no value to the student, because he or she does not understand them. All the examples above lack sufficient detail to be of help to the student. For feedback to have value, the student needs to be able to see what they did well or poorly in their work, and how to do better the next time around. But the examples above do none of that.

A student who reads “good job” does not know what was good about their job, and thus what should be repeated the next time. Was the writing good, and if so, was it the spelling, grammar, or sentence structure that got the praise? Maybe the organization of the work was good, and so should be repeated next time. Perhaps it was the ideas that were good, and so the student should focus on critical thinking in their work. The student is given nothing with “good job” that can guide them to repeating the performance next time, or to building on it. The student might even pick the wrong thing as good and start repeating something that is not good, leaving the instructor to wonder why the student’s performance has gone down.

The same holds true with statements like “vague.” Ironically, it is the feedback itself that is vague. The student does not know what is vague about what they said. After all, it was not vague to them. They knew what they meant, so why didn’t the teacher? They may even decide that it must be vague to the teacher because the teacher did not read it carefully. The student does not know what they did wrong, or how to fix it.

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Teacher Behaviors Checklist

Sat, 06/03/2017 - 00:59

Master teacher. The idea is a bit of a misnomer. It sounds intimidating. It suggests a long, protracted process—maybe even an elite status. But that’s not what it is at all.

There are no years of required experience. No official credentials. Rather, it is far more aspirational, as it refers to a set of behaviors that distinguish the great teachers from the rest.

Below is a list of 28 traits taken from a study conducted by Buskist & Keeley (2005). Both faculty (N=118) and students (N=917) had to agree for a trait to be listed. Students provided examples of corresponding behaviors (listed in parentheses). Asterisks indicate the top 10 traits rated by students. Caret symbols indicate the top-10 traits rated by faculty.

Master Teacher Traits

^ Accessible (Posts office hours, gives out phone number and e-mail information)

* ^ Approachable/Personable (Smiles, greets students, initiates conversations, invites questions, responds tolerantly to student comments)

Authoritative (Establishes clear course rules, maintains classroom order, speaks in a loud, strong voice)

Confident (Speaks clearly, makes eye contact, and answers questions assertively)

* ^ Creative and Interesting (Experiments with teaching methods; uses technological devices to support and enhance lectures; uses interesting, relevant, and personal examples; not a monotone presenter)

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