Friday, October 14, 2011

Why Change?

In an interview with Higher Education Teaching and Learning Portal, Dee Fink shares his ideas for why the "traditional" approaches to teaching, which have for long (centuries, even) served society well, are no longer the best ways to teach.

His two reasons:
The first is all the evidence, using multiple criteria, that we are not currently doing a good job in higher education.  One of these is a study by Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard University.  He did some careful research on how well American students were achieving eight kinds of learning we would all like to see in college graduates, e.g., how to communicate, how to think, how to live with diversity, preparing for a global society, etc.  His conclusion for all eight kinds of learning was the same:  Students are achieving each of these desirable kinds of learning to a degree but nowhere near what they could be and should be achieving.
And secondly:
The second source of concern is the new kinds of learning that are being identified as important in the 21st century.  AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities) recently asked a major set of civic and corporate leaders what kinds of learning they thought were essential today.  They identified, among others: Information literacy, teamwork and problem solving abilities, intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning, integrative learning, preparing for lifelong learning.
But there is an even more succinct and powerful reason for changing how we teach: Most faculty, Fink claims, already want to change, and so the case in favor of change is one that can be readily digested by college faculty: 
When working with professors, we need to recognize that they obviously do not enjoy seeing disinterested students in their courses, or the evidence of lackluster learning in the final exams.  If we can help them see that new ways of teaching can make dramatic changes in both these situations, it would go a long way toward helping professors take a more positive attitude toward learning about new ways of teaching. 
Read the full interview at the HETL portal, and if you would like to consult more resources, see here, here, and here. (Tip: You can find many online resources about course design at the CFD's social bookmarking site,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Making Your PowerPoint Iconic

Today's Faculty Development Updates post comes from Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet, Teaching and Learning Center, Eastern Kentucky University. It is made available by the 2011-12 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.

Ever receive an email with one of those High Importance icons brightening your Inbox? The point is that the icon, being more visual than the printed word, indicates something powerful to the brain. Maybe that’s why those stars we all craved on our elementary school papers meant so much to us.

Humans are visual learners. Most of us have learned to apply that principle to our PowerPoints (PPTs), but we’d like to suggest another addition to your PPTs that is sure to improve deep learning and student learning outcomes. 

In Learning to Think Things Through (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall: 2009), Gerald Nosich define fundamental and powerful concepts as “those basic concepts that lie at the heart of a discipline or course” (198). And if you haven’t heard us explain the importance of beginning each class with the key concept(s) you’ll be discussing that day, you’ve heard someone talk about the value of daily learning objectives.

So here’s our tip. One way you can minimize PPT clutter while magnifying student learning is through icons. On your PPTs, get in the habit of starting each day with a slide that lists those fundamental and powerful concepts (FPCs). And to make your students metacognitive, let them know these introductory concepts are key by adding an icon beside the FPCs.

For instance, since we want to hammer our students over the head with FPCs, we use as our icon Mjollnir, so whenever they see the hammer of the Norse god Thor beside a key concept, they know—in their terms—it will be on the test.

Now what would happen to student learning if every course in our discipline, our college, or even our university adopted the same PPT symbol? That’s an inquiry for another time.

Submitted by:
Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet
Teaching and Learning Center
Eastern Kentucky University

(For more from Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet, see their feature in the December 2008 issue of Thriving in Academe, "Keeping Your Classroom C.R.I.S.P.")

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's time for mid-semester check-ups

A post from last week on ProfHacker reminds us that it's time to conduct mid-semester course assessments--those formative check-ups that tell us how we're doing in time to make adjustments to our courses. The timing of that post coincided with a workshop sponsored by the Center for Faculty Development that presented numerous options for framing midterm assessment instruments, including the thoroughly tested and widely applicable "College and University Classroom Environment Inventory."  Maryellen Weimer has written about this instrument here, and it is available for the asking if you email the Center for Faculty Development.

A simpler approach suggested in the ProfHacker post is to ask your students to write responses to these questions: What's going well? What needs improvement? What can the students do to improve the class? What can the instructor do to improve the class?

Even a simple approach like this that takes no more than 10 or 15 minutes of class time can convey to students that you care about their learning while providing you with some rich feedback useful for teaching improvement.