Monday, October 1, 2012

Students can't multitask

We know that our students aren't learning when they're busy sending and receiving text messages, or surfing the Web, or checking their email. But how can we convince our students of this?

I've never been a big supporter of rules (no matter how sensible they are) that are presented to students without discussion of why they are necessary. All of our classroom rules should be somehow tied to learning, and I believe it helps the enforcement of these rules if we can explain to students why the rules are what they are. To this end, Maryellen Weimer provides a very helpful summary of five studies that underscore the point that students can't both learn and do something else. If they're doing something else, they're not learning. Period.

One example:
In an experiment involving 62 undergraduate students taking a principles of accounting course, half of the cohort was allowed to text during a lecture and half had their phones turned off. After the lecture both groups took the same quiz and the students who did not text scored significantly higher on the quiz.
I don't think that we need to jump to a no-technology-allowed-rule in our classrooms. Laptops, iPads, and smart phones can be useful to students as they  problem solve or research answers. A conversation with students, on the other hand, about their proper use of technology in the classroom can be all the more convincing with these study results in hand.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Events of interest

The Faculty Development Events Calendar features these upcoming workshops and events. Please consider attending--especially as the Center for Faculty Development moves into its new space in CN-103 and CN-105. See the events calendar for further details, including instructions for registering.

We look forward to seeing you at these upcoming events!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Course redesign: Going beyond the content

The third and final reason why we should all be considering course redesign at this moment in higher education is: Redesigned courses can respond to increasing competition and even potential disruption aimed at "traditional" bricks & mortar universities.

Yes, there is increasing competition aimed at colleges and universities, and yes, colleges and universities need to respond to that competition. This doesn’t mean that we all have to turn into profit-seeking commercial enterprises and become the next University of Phoenix. But respond we must. Plus, the response itself--thinking through innovative ways to advance student learning, often by leveraging technology and virtual learning environments--gets at what is for many the “fun” part of course redesign.

First, we need to tackle this notion of competition and disruption. Indeed, there are strong prevailing reasons to think that change is coming and is inevitable. Increasingly, free content, and even free courses, are available on the Web. 2012 has been called the year of the “MOOCdue to the sudden (overblown?) excitement and buzz surrounding initiatives to offer free online university-level classes to any student who wishes to enroll. Venture capital and elite universities have partnered to provide MOOCs under brand names like Udacity and Coursera. Lectures by university faculty on nearly any topic imaginable are available on YouTube, and the Khan Academy alone presently offers more than 3300 videos providing content in Math, Science, Finance and Economics, and the Humanities.

Does it make sense any longer to think of a faculty member’s primary instructional role as “dispenser of expert knowledge?” Probably not. So what, then, is our real contribution to learning? What is our lasting claim to relevancy? Our institutions of higher education still play a unique role in credentialing student learning, and as long as that role continues to be trusted to colleges and universities, the faculty role has protection. I know of no higher education leader, however, who feels comfortable merely digging in behind the bulwark of credentialing. Already there are ongoing efforts to chip away at that protective line of defense and weaken colleges’ and universities’ monopoly on credentialing.

Over the long term, then, what colleges and universities can offer--what their faculty can bring to the learning equation--is design. Design includes the broad context for learning: the scaffolding of experiences, the careful application of content in service of skill-building, the integration of assessments and feedback opportunities, opportunities to learn from peers, practice with metacognition and self-assessment. All these aspects brought together in combinations uniquely tailored to subject matter and circumstance maximize a student’s chances for learning. They are what faculty need to pay attention to in order to remain relevant in this age of disruption.

While content delivery by the instructor can be substituted for with content found in open educational resources (e.g. Khan Academy, HippoCampus, MERLOT), there is no substitute for creating the most engaging and authentic circumstances for inquiry and learning--that is what course design is all about.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Course redesign: fostering student success in the face of considerable challenges

Reason number 2 to redesign courses: Redesigned courses can better respond to challenging trends that, if left unanswered, work against student engagement and persistence.

The trends are clear: Publicly funded colleges and universities are serving more students, who are less prepared, with less state support.

Vincent Tinto describes these trends and the challenges they bring:

For over 40 years access to higher education has improved, and college enrollments swelled from nearly 9 million students in 1980 to over 20 million today. But while enrollments have more than doubled, overall college completion rates have increased only slightly. Only about half of all college students in the U.S. earn a degree or certificate within six years. For community college students the numbers are worse--a little over a third earn a degree or certificate. The struggles of low-income and first-generation community college students are most troubling--only one-quarter of them complete a credential.

The facts are clear. Despite our success in improving access to college, we have been unable to convert those gains into higher completion rates... (Tinto, 2011)

MSU Denver’s own student persistence and graduation rates fall right in line with these broader trends. Our 6-year graduation rate hovers around 20% (a figure, albeit, that counts only students who enter as full-time first-time college students).

These underlying trends are not likely to change. No one is expecting an infusion of increased public funds into higher education. The level of student preparedness for college is not likely to change in any significant way. Regional comprehensive institutions like MSU Denver have been adapting and will need to continue adaping in order to meet students’ needs with fewer resources. Redesigned courses are one solution.

One motivation for redesigning courses--not the motivation I want to stress here, but one motivation nonetheless--is financial. Redesigned courses have the potential to foster deeper learning at a lower cost per student (yes, this means that class sizes can grow while still improving in student learning outcomes). Also, financial gains can be obtained by reducing the number of students who withdraw from a course or who earn a D or F. In their book Next Generation Course Redesign, Burner and Carriveau explain:

If a student does not succeed in a general education course, there are consequences for both the student and the institution, most of them bad. Many of these students are discouraged and drop out. In fact, students who performed well in introductory courses were twice as likely to complete the degree as their less successful counterparts. Those who do not succeed and persist in the program must retake the course, taking a seat away from an entering student. Sometimes up to 50% of the seats in notorious “bottleneck” courses are taken up by repeaters. (p. 5)

No one who is serious about course redesign, though, thinks that cost savings are the primary reason why we should rethink how students spend their time learning in and out of class. Obviously it’s about the learning, and redesigned courses can promote student learning, or student success even in the face of challenging trends, by doing the following:

  • increasing student’s time on task (remember the one who does the work is the one who learns)
  • aligning instruction with how the mind works
  • creating the greatest opportunity for students to learn, practice, and show mastery of skills and content
  • embedding frequent opportunities for feedback
  • giving students the chance to understand patterns, make connections, formulate meaning, and learn deeply.

Make it more likely for a student to learn and succeed in a single class, and you make it more likely for that same student to succeed throughout an entire course of study and graduate with a degree!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Course redesign: rethinking how students spend their time in and out of class

In the traditionally designed course, plenty of time is devoted in class to exposing students to new content, students are expected to do something with that content outside of class time, and feedback tends to be infrequent and lagging in time. 

Through advances in brain imaging and medical technology, we know considerably more about how learning happens--the actual neurobiology of the learning process--than we did just ten or twenty years ago. One conclusion from this research is clear: traditional course design is misaligned with how students learn. We know, for example, that:
  • Learning is a biological effect of doing something. If there is no biological change to the brain, no learning has taken place. The one who does the work is the one who builds and strengthens neural connections and is thus the one doing the learning. This single finding--that the one who does the work does the learning--bears repeating over and over both to ourselves and to our students.
  • Neural networks are strengthened--in other words deep(er) learning takes place--each time information is retrieved from long-term memory and “placed” in working memory in order to do something like write, reflect, explain, speak, etc.
  • Comprehension is far more likely an outcome when the learner is able to discern patterns of meaning in new information.
  • Without connecting new information to existing patterns of understanding, students aren’t making sense and aren’t, thus, truly learning.
For these reasons, the following activities and attributes of a course’s design are most likely to lead to deep learning: frequent quizzing, cumulative exams, small- and large-group discussion, outlining, constructing concept maps, creating timelines, identifying similarities and differences, recoding (or retelling in one’s own words), and discerning main ideas and supporting details. These are all activities that fall under the instructional mode of “active learning,” and they are all best practiced during class time when students can benefit from timely feedback both from the instructor and from their peers. 

Peer instruction--when peers get a chance to learn from one another--is particularly well suited to the neurobiology of the brain. We know that learning is a social and affective process as well as a cognitive one. Working with peers to learn can enhance the affective (emotional) connections that strengthen recall abilities. Also, peers are more likely to share similar patterns of understanding that can aid with comprehension. 

I myself have taught for years as the one doing the work--the one retrieving content from long-term memory to repackage and use; the one identifying patterns to enhance comprehension; the one drawing similarities and differences; the one discerning main points and supporting examples; the one with the affective connection to the subject matter; the one doing most of the talking during class time. I was doing a great job as a learner, while most of my students sat and listened, perhaps with interest, but likely only achieving surface learning. Surely we can do better by designing courses so that students do more of the right kind of work the right kind of way.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Course redesign: rethinking “traditional” design

The first reason why course redesign is both opportune and urgent is that redesigned courses can respond to what we know about how people learn.

First, though, to make the case for course redesign, we need to establish where, precisely, we are beginning. What, exactly, is being redesigned? 

A “traditional” course is one in which most class time is spent on delivery of content. Typically, this means that the prevailing instructional mode--what students spend the majority of their time in class experiencing--is lecture. It also matters what happens outside of class time. In a traditionally designed course, the expectation is that students outside of class time will read, complete writing assignments, or perhaps complete problem sets. Students in traditional courses, thus, are generally being exposed to new material in class and then doing something with that material outside of class. Finally, in “traditionally” designed courses, opportunities for students to obtain feedback are mostly limited to those moments when major exams or assignments are returned, which often happens days if not weeks after the feedback is most useful.

To be sure, there are plenty of excellent, engaging, college teachers who teach courses designed in this traditional way. We also know that traditional course design works for some students. Most faculty today did well as students themselves who encountered traditionally designed courses. The point, though, is that more students can learn more deeply if we take advantage of 1) what we know about how students learn and 2) a greater range of options for course design made possible by virtual learning environments and research-based findings about what "works" that now comprise decades of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

On a side note (and a point that I will expand on in a later post), this is a topic that is garnering more and more attention in the public, including among political leaders. Today's Denver Post features a column marking the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act by questioning the value of higher education. I don't endorse former Governor Lamm's view that our society's investment in higher education runs counter to our need for more auto mechanics (what about our need for an informed, educated, and engaged citizenry?), but this line definitely drew my attention:
One thing Lamm and (CSU President) Frank agree on is that the old model of a professor lecturing to an amphitheater full of young people doesn't work so well anymore.
Depends, I suppose, on what your goal is. If your goal is to cover material so your students can study on their own (read: cram) and pass an exam, then the model works. If your goal is for students to learn deeply and even remember something after the end of the semester, then Lamm and Frank are right.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Course redesign: Why now?

Prevailing trends in higher education make this not only an opportune moment to rethink how we design and deliver instruction to our students. This is a moment, I believe, when we must fundamentally examine and revise our design of learning experiences. Whereas there is no one single pre-packaged design that will work for all courses, course redesign entails rethinking how students spend their time both in course and out of course and almost always means devoting significantly less time in class to delivering content.

Future posts will describe the range of course redesign options and establish some minimum criteria for what I consider to be a fully redesigned course. At the outset, we need to establish the case--why is course redesign urgent at this juncture in higher education? Why does course redesign make so much sense for Metropolitan State University of Denver, which operates under a mission similar to most other regional comprehensive universities? What do we risk by not fundamentally redesigning how our students interact with course material, with each other, and with their instructors?

One quick note: The case I am making in this series of course redesign posts is intended to lay the groundwork for a university-wide initiative, spearheaded by the Center for Faculty Development, to promote course redesign and to support faculty who voluntarily agree to engage in the process. More details about that initiative are forthcoming in the fall.

I identify 3 reasons why it is both opportune and urgent for us to rethink and redesign our courses. Each of these reasons will be expanded on in subsequent posts. In short, redesigned courses can respond to:

  1. Our knowledge of how people learn.
  2. Challenging trends that, if left unanswered, are working against student engagement and persistence.
  3. Competition and potential disruption aimed at "traditional" bricks & mortar universities.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Study time--what can we do?

I have written before about the diminishing amount of time students report studying outside of class. Now, American RadioWorks takes up the topic with this recent Podcast, "College Study Time."

We don't need to go over the data again--much of what is shared in this Podcast verifies the claim in my earlier post  that students are studying about half as much as faculty have traditionally expected them to study, and many of the same possible causes that I originally posted are mentioned.

What I especially like about the Podcast, though, is that the conversation eventually turns to solutions. Beginning at the 13:25 mark, you can hear mention of flipped classrooms, lecture capture, and clickers as just a few of the solutions that can increase both student engagement and time on task.

What do these solutions have in common? Other than requiring technology, they all entail course redesign. (Applying these technologies without rethinking course design won't get you far). Yes, course redesign can be a way to increase students' time on task. In fact, course redesign can be a solution to many challenges: promoting deep learning, getting students engaged in the learning process, increasing student success rates, and ultimately increasing student persistence.

And so next week I will begin a series of posts on course redesign, focusing primarily on answering the questions "what is it?" and "why is it so needed at this juncture?" Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Can Google jockeying work in your class?

Some time ago, I came across this short piece from Educause Learning Initiative on 7 Things You Should Know About Google Jockeying. The idea is intriguing--designate a student to "surf" the Web during class and for terms, definitions, images, etc., related to the ongoing lecture or discussion--in order to make class time more interactive, less teacher directed, and potentially more engaging to students. I wasn't convinced, though: wouldn't this just add to classroom distractions? 

Now, Maryellen Weimer has posted about Google jockeying in an Environmental Sustainability class, as reported in a recent Journal of Chemical Education article. I'm coming around to the idea of maybe incorporating this technique into my next class. What's helpful about Weimer's post, and about the JCE article, is that they are forthcoming about what worked, what didn't work, and what caveats remain. In particular, this line in Weimer's post made me think that maybe this can work in my class:
The authors do acknowledge that a strategy like this depends on course content. They don't see it working well in a highly structured, content-heavy course. But for a seminar, maybe in courses for non majors, it's an interesting option that proved very successful in this course.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

5 easy habits to make your teaching more impactful

Roben Torosyan recently posted Five Habits--Easy but Often Neglected Practices That Improve Outcomes. These are little practices that can make a big difference. Even for experienced teachers, there are likely at least one or two strategies or  practices on the list that can be added to one's repertoire or enhanced. For me, it's this one:
Kick-start your opening: shout before you walk out. Too many classes fail to start or end with anything memorable. Drama and action can motivate learning in class and after it's over. Kick-start your opening with an especially dramatic example, an unobvious question, the answer to a difficult homework problem, a relevant cartoon, or some intriguing background music. End by having students shout out a one-word takeaway. Or ask the question you'll start with next class.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Free Webinar: Making the Jump to Larger Grants--What Faculty Members Need to Know

Are you looking to scale up your grant writing activities and aim your efforts at larger grants? In4Grants is sponsoring this free Webinar on Thursday June 7 from noon to 1pm (Mountain Time). The Webinar description reads:
Professor Russell Olwell, from Eastern Michigan University, will be discussing the direction your research team should follow to go after, receive, and handle large grants. Many faculty get stuck in a rut in their grant-writing, being turned down for individual grants time-after-time, or sticking to grants that are too small to advance the faculty's research goals and each faculty member's personal growth. This Webinar will discuss how to make a jump to larger grant programs and how to successfully integrate grant-seeking and management into a faculty career.
Register here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Strategies to get students to do the reading before coming to class

That's the topic of the first of our summer series of Magna 20-Minute Mentor discussions/workshops.

When: Tuesday May 29, 12:30-1:30pm
Where: SI-1086

After viewing of the 20-minute recorded presentation, participants will discuss the strategies presented, what has and has not worked for them, and steps that can be taken to reach that goal of getting students to do their reading.

Limited space remains. Please register in advance to secure your space.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Are you writing this summer?

If you're spending at least part of the summer writing, and if you're interested in maintaining your motivation and productivity, then ProfHacker's Writers' Bootcamp Summer Writing Edition shares several tips and suggestions by which you can't go wrong.

One of the suggestions is to make writing social, and both online and face-to-face writing circles are mentioned as arenas where "you can encourage and challenge each other. You can hold each other accountable. [And] you can celebrate your writing achievements"

Remember that the Center for Faculty Development sponsors a writing circle that accomplishes all of these objectives through a hybrid [part online, part face-to-face] approach. Limited space is still available this summer in the writing circle, so if you seek not to be lonely in your writing, email an expression of interest to Mark Potter.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Do students have unbridled rights to free speech in the classroom?

No--according to a recent Law and Policy report from the Association for Student Conduct Administration.

Naturally, instructors can limit student speech by deciding "which arguments are relevant, which computations are correct, which analogies are good or bad, and when it is time to stop writing or talking." A key takeaway from recent court cases is:
So long as the teacher limits speech or grades speech in the classroom in the name of learning and not as a pretext for punishing the student for her race, gender, economic class, religion or political persuasion, the federal courts should not interfere (Settle v. Dickson County School Board, 6th Circuit 1995).
Still, care needs to be taken when designing assignments and exams. As the report concludes,
For good pedagogical as well as legal reasons, teachers should avoid poorly worded classroom assignments in which students are asked to do little more than emote about provocative thinkers. In the eyes of the law it makes no difference whether one's uncritical sentiments are elicited about Nietzche, Karl Marx, Marcus Garvey, Ayn Rand--or Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How much do students report studying outside of class?

About one hour per week for every hour that they are in class. According to Alexander C. McCormick in the article "It's About Time: What to Make of Reported Declines in How Much College Students Study," which appeared in a recent issue of Liberal Education, this level of self-reported study represents about half as much as students reported studying in the '60s:
...the amount of time that full-time students devote to their studies on a weekly basis has dropped by about ten hours between 1961 and 2003, and the decline cannot be fully accounted for by changes in how study time was measured, in technology, in the college-going population, in the mix of college majors, or in the range of higher education providers.
So, what has caused this drop in the time that students report studying? A commonly expressed explanation is that students are substituting leisure time for study time. Complementing this thesis is the assertion that faculty expectations that are placed upon students have gravitated downward as students' commitment to studying outside of class has diminished. McCormick adds:
This line of reasoning is consistent with the FSSE results..., which show that faculty expectations for study time are not too different from what students actually report.
McCormick furnishes additional explanations of his own: more students are spending more time commuting to attend class, and more students have responsibilities in the home. While preferences for leisure are surely found among our students, "it's important to acknowledge," McCormick argues, "the full range of students' nonacademic commitments."

There is good news, McCormick claims, and that is that the steep decline in reported study time flattened out and has held more or less steady since the early 1980s.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Are you doing what you actually want to be doing?

Using our time productively and wisely is often a challenge in our work in academia. A recent Prof Hacker post by Natalie Houston, which draws on the book 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman, considers some ideas for integrating reflective planning into your workday.

We're all used to the idea of to-do lists. But how about to-ignore lists as well?
A to-ignore list clarifies in specific terms what it is that you do not want to spend your energy or attention on.
These are the four questions to consider when making your to-ignore list:
  • What are you not willing to achieve?
  • What doesn't make you happy?
  • What's not important to you?
  • What gets in the way?
If you, like I, have projects that you want to accomplish this summer, then why not try also maintaining your to-ignore list?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How do you write good conceptual questions to engage students in class?

A recent post on the Official Peer Instruction Blog discusses the attributes of effective "concept test" questions. Concept test questions are conceptual questions designed for use in in-class peer instruction with clickers. Effective questions are the questions that, when posed in class for students to discuss and then answer, bring gains to students' conceptual understanding of the "big issues" of the class.

Concept test questions are typically used in the following way when employed in peer instruction: The instructor posts a multiple choice question; students commit to a response using their clickers; before the clicker results are displayed, students turn to their neighbor to compare their responses and discuss why they think their answer is the right one; students respond once more to the multiple choice options using their clickers; clicker results are displayed for the class to see. Even if you're not using clickers in class, the characteristics that make for effective concept test questions also make for effective questions in any classroom setting where you're trying to get students to engage with each other and with the material.

A few key takeaways from the post include, from  Rebecca Younkin:'s important that the answer not be so obvious to everyone in the class that the (questions do not) motivate any discussion. You have to pick something that's, on the one hand, a little bit subtle, but you don't want to just be tricky.
From Judith Herzfeld:
The trick in designing concept tests is to think of them like designing your learning goals for a lesson, or for the chapter that they're reading. To decide what are the ideas that you really want them to get out of the material. Then, to go through and ask questions that will reveal the kinds of uncertainties they might have about the material.
 And finally:
Simply put, writing effective questions is easier then it might seem. You will more often than not observe gains from the very act of engaging your students in the mind tasks of metacognition and retrieval practice and then peer discussion. The questions will of course improve once you get feedback from students and make tweaks.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spring Forum success is in the numbers (and in the comments)

It has been a month, now, since the 2012 Spring Forum. Participant feedback has been solicited and submitted.

110 Metro State faculty and staff attended the event. Of the 49 attendees who completed the request for  feedback, 48 responded "yes" to the item "I plan to use what I learned from the day's program in my work." The one person who responded "no" to this item reported instead that he or she only attended to staff a resource table at lunchtime.

Respondents were asked to describe one example of something they learned that they plan to use in their work. Among the responses were mentions of Classroom Assessment Techniques (specifically, folks mentioned word journals, one-minute papers, and muddiest point papers), graphic syllabi, the tips shared on how to increase publication productivity, and the idea of incorporating daily quizzes into classes. There is much more than just these examples in the responses, but this is already quite a list capturing the range of learning that took place at the Spring Forum!

Respondents also indicated the topics about which they hope to see follow-up programming. Those include learner-centered teaching, syllabus design, Universal Design for Learning, brain-based learning, creating and using a graphic syllabus, the writing life of faculty, service learning, and using technology to be more effective in the classroom. You can be sure that the Center for Faculty Development will be following up on these and other topics with workshops, book discussions, faculty learning communities, etc. Already, there is a book discussion planned for summer that will raise, once again, the topic of brain-based learning.

Plans are already under way to build upon the success of the last couple of Spring Forum events and provide the Metro State community next year with an event of even greater quality and impact. And to all of you who furnished feedback after this year's Spring Forum event, thank you!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Will you be spending time this summer preparing your academic portfolio?

Recently, a Faculty Focus post by Joy Burnham, Lisa Hooper, and Vivian Wright offered their "Top 10 Strategies for Preparing the Annual Tenure and Promotion Dossier." As someone who has gone through the tenure and promotion process elsewhere and who is pretty closely familiar with the process at Metro State, I find all 10 of the recommendations sound pieces of advice that are applicable to our newly changed Metro State process. It's hard to overemphasize the suggestions to read guidelines carefully, to demonstrate transparency in your portfolio, and to follow rules and guidelines regarding what should and should not be included in portfolios.

One suggestion by the authors that is all too often overlooked is to seek out mentors. They write that "no one on the tenure-earning track should be on an island. Find people who will assist you. Seek multiple mentors, such as fellow tenure-earning peers who are in the same boat with you."

To that end, the Center for Faculty Development is sponsoring a small group-work session across 3 Fridays in June (June 1, 8, and 15 from 9am to noon), open to the first 12 tenure-line faculty who sign up. Space is still available to faculty who wish to work collaboratively and benefit from peer feedback as they work on completing drafts their portfolios. Please note that participation all three days is essential to meeting the workshop outcomes.

Can't make it in June? We will be offering the small group-work sessions again early in the fall (dates TBA).

Friday, April 20, 2012

End of semester checklist

A few years ago, Ethan Watrall wrote an end of semester check list for professors closing out their semester-long courses. As we head toward the end of this spring semester, it's worth taking a look at that list once more. Some of items on the checklist capture good ideas for all teaching faculty; others likely pertain more to some faculty members than others. My own comments follow each of Watrall's checklist items:

  • "Backup my Course Websites": Most Metro State faculty who have course Web sites use Blackboard, so the specific suggestion for how to back up a course Web site on WordPress might not apply. Still, it's probably a good idea to have backup files or even hard copies of materials that are housed on Blackboard. The end of the semester is a great time to review your files to make sure you have copies (hard or electronic) of everything that's saved to Blackboard.
  • "Update my CV": For many of us at Metro State, this now means updating our entries in Digital Measures. Whether you're using Digital Measures or maintaining your CV the old fashioned way (as a Word file), the end of the semester is a good time to make sure your CV is updated before losing track of your accomplishments.
  • "Write an 'End of the Semester Roundup' Post on Your Blog": Perhaps you maintain a blog, but even if you don't, there is no better time to pause, reflect, and write about what worked well in your classes this semester, what you want to try differently next time, or even interesting pedagogical problems that arose for you that might be the basis of a SoTL project.
  • "Shred Exams/Papers from X Number of Semesters Ago": I have been informed from the Registrar's Office that it is good practice to retain a student's academic records (for most of us, this means the stacks of final exam booklets that line our shelves) for 5 years after the student's graduation or last date of attendance. I don't think anyone expects faculty to track all their students' graduation dates or last dates of attendance, so take these parameters with a grain of salt. Talk to your colleagues to find out what your department practices are regarding the shredding of old exam books.
  • "Backup my Class Materials": This is just good sense--make sure you have all your files saved in more than one place. Watrall adds "now is a good time to clean up the file names and remove any duplicate files, drafts, or other garbage files."
  • "Unplug": Your office machines, that is, during any lengthy absences.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Upcoming in faculty development

Metro State faculty and staff are welcome to attend the following workshops, brown-bag discussions, etc., taking place over the next week. Be sure to check out the Faculty Development Events Calendar for more information and for instructions regarding registration.
Spaces are available in each of these drop-in events!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Should we count effort in assigning final grades?

Maryellen Weimer reports on a study that finds, not surprisingly, more students than faculty think that effort should count toward a course grade. What is surprising is that the faculty surveyed in the study thought that effort should count for nearly one-fifth of a final course grade (versus students who thought, on average, that effort should count for about 40% of the final grade). Weimer reacts:
I'm rather mystified by faculty thinking that effort should account for 17% of the grade.I suppose if it's the course grade, and effort is equated with things like regular attendance, completion of homework, asking and answering the right questions that, by the end of the course, faculty might have a sense of who's trying hard and can be rewarded for doing so. But it still doesn't make much sense. How could you be in class, do the homework, regularly participate and not master the material? What about the students who aren't in class, don't do the homework but still perform well, are they docked for not showing effort?
Weimer's bottom line is that mastery should determine the final grade. The readers' comments, on the other hand, betray a number of alternative perspectives on the matter. One example:
Although I don't believe in bumping up points for effort, I do believe in distributing a lot of opportunities for points throughout a course: free participation points (for example through clicker questions or in-class assignments), extra credit, and repeatable, online quizzes. That way, if a student completes all of the homework, attends class regularly, and participates, then s/he'll acquire enough points to raise a D to a C.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Invitation to attend the 2012 eLearning Consortium of Colorado Annual Conference

The 23rd Annual Conference of the eLCC is scheduled for April 11-13 in Breckenridge. Registration is now open,
The conference supports the eLCC organizational goal: to enhance educational opportunities by providing up-to-date resources and information about teaching and learning using technology. Presenters are from various types of educational institutions, with the majority from higher education two- and four-year schools...
The technology and processes may be used in online, on-campus, and everything in between to support and enhance teaching and learning. Presenters and attendees share best practices, discuss trends, and talk about current events. 

Does group work "work"?

Yes, says Barbara Millis, in "Promoting Deep Learning," a recently published IDEA Center Paper.
Using cooperative groups or even pairs can significantly increase student learning and foster the deep approaches recommended in the literature... A meta-analysis by Springer, Stanne, and Donovan (1999) provides strong evidence that the use of small groups can result in greater academic achievement, more favorable attitudes, and increased persistence. Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) determined that cooperative learning and small-group learning improved overall student learning by a .51 standard deviation, evidence that should convince even the staunchest "lecture-holics."
What I especially like about Millis' short article is that it describes three different approaches to cooperative learning that can apply in both face-to-face and online courses and across disciplines. I'm always looking for ways to structure group activity that will 1) keep students on task, 2) lead to real learning outcomes, and 3) are not overly-designed and are easy to set up. Her descriptions of "jigsaw using a graphic organizer," "cooperative debates," and "pro-con-caveat grid" all fit those criteria.

Friday, February 24, 2012

How do we get our students to do the reading and to understand it?

This is a question that comes up frequently in faculty development circles. Teachers who want to spend more time in class with active learning are understandably reluctant because they know that students won't come to class prepared for discussion, problem-solving, group work, etc.

Recently Faculty Focus posted two articles that provide some solutions both for getting students to read and for encouraging comprehension.

Maryellen Weimer reports on a study by Terry Tomasek that includes prompts to encourage critical thinking over the reading. Whether you want your students to be able to identify problems or issues in the reading, make connections, interpret evidence, challenge assumption, or apply what they read, there are specific prompts to foster these different levels of thinking. Tomasek decides first what level of thinking she wants her students to engage in, and then she assigns one prompt at the time the reading assignment is announced; students respond in one or two paragraphs prior to coming to class using Blackboard. These pre-class postings then provide fodder for in-class discussions.

In the post "Two Strategies for Getting Students to Do the Reading," Weimer reports on a study published in the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education that compares two strategies--reading quizzes and "Readiness Assessment Tests" (RATs). Reading quizzes are a common feature in college classes, and they work well, the authors argue, when the instructor's objective is for students to learn the material in any way possible, or when there isn't enough time to score open-ended responses to the reading. But when the instructor's objective is for students to do the reading prior to class and be prepared to participate fully in discussions and learning activities, the authors recommend RATs. Administered at the beginning of a class or before class, students answer broad open-ended questions--not questions that students can turn to a specific page in their reading to find the answer. Typically, in a single RAT, students might respond to two or three such questions, and the answers are graded.

Both of these studies are on to the same basic idea: Hold students responsible and expect them to engage in higher order questions around their reading. You can even build these expectation as out-of-class work that will have the effect of turning your in-class activities into more fruitful experiences.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

One-minute paper: make it predictable

Today I heard Vincent Tinto talk on the topic of student success (his premise: it doesn't arise by chance). Student success begins in the classroom, and we know from studies what's necessary: clearly stated and high expectations; support; feedback and assessment; and engagement.

Minute papers provide for feedback and assessment and engagement. When Tinto administers minute papers, he frames his questions as: What interests you most from class today that you want to learn more about, and what's still muddy that you want to understand more clearly?

It's not how he frames the questions, though, that I find most critical for advancing student learning. It's the frequency and the follow-up in his practice. Tinto administers minute papers at the end of class about 80% of the days the class meets. That's far more often than I have used them. Predictability, he argues, instills in students the expectation that they'll be asked to report on something, thus they're more likely to pay attention on any given day. Tinto also purposefully keeps responses anonymous so students will more likely be honest in their self-assessment. Finally, Tinto provides written feedback to the class, in the form of a one-sheet handout that summarizes the main points raised by the minute papers, clarifies misconceptions, and suggests additional readings, resources, or ways of thinking about the topic. He also spends 5 minutes or so at the beginning of the next class session discussing responses.

Ultimately, Tinto steps out of the way of the learning process, and after students respond to his minute-paper prompts, he has them form groups of 3 or 4 to discuss what they wrote and to help each other clear up any misconceptions they may have That's the point where you've reached the juncture of high expectations, support, feedback and assessment, and engagement--the recipe for student success.

You can read more about minute papers at the resource page of the CFD Web site. Click on the question "Once I have course learning objectives, how do I assess student progress in meeting them?"

Monday, February 6, 2012

Good question-making at the root of effective teaching--an interview with Ken Bain

In 2004, Ken Bain wrote about creating "natural critical learning environments" in his book What the Best College Teachers Do.  Presently, Dr. Bain is working on completing his new work What the Best College Students Did

The Higher Education Teaching and Learning Portal features an interview with Dr. Bain in the second volume its International HETL Review. Dr. Bain takes the opportunity to expand on his ideas about teaching and research--how they are related without having to be in opposition to each other--and about the centrality of questions to both teaching and research: 
Rather than dwelling on the perceived conflicts between them (teaching and research), we need to explore ways that the learning of teacher and student can complement each other rather than stand in conflict. I think the most fruitful way of doing that may be in understanding the power and importance of good question-making in the success of each. The ability to ask good questions has long been recognized as central to research and publication success, but we also need to see its importance in cultivating someone else’s learning, and how, in turn, the ability to ask good questions to spark someone else’s learning can help drive a research agenda. Great teacher/scholars recognize that already. 
The connection is this: people are most likely to take a deep approach to their learning when they are trying to answer questions or solve problems that they, the learners, have come to regard as important, intriguing, or just beautiful. Yet in a formal educational environment, the learner is usually not in charge of the questions. We could solve that problem by putting the learners always in charge of all the questions, and some people have attempted to do just that. But while that has some benefits, it also has limitations. Novice learners cannot imagine some of questions that advanced learners have begun to consider. Thus, we need to have advanced learners (teacher/scholars) raising questions for novice learners (students) to think about.  
However, that often creates a gap between the conditions that prevail in a formal educational environment and the conditions that may stimulate deep learning. The great teachers have learned to fill that gap by asking questions that students will find important, intriguing, or just beautiful, and they manage to do so because of their own deep understanding born out of their own learning. Their own struggle to frame the questions that will provoke students often leads to new insights that will influence their research. Cultivating someone else’s learning entails more than asking great questions, but it is the necessary ingredient that underpins everything else. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Classroom management workshop

The Judicial Affairs Office in Student Life will offer a "Student Conduct and Conflict Workshop" on Wednesday February 8. More details are at the Faculty Development Events Calendar.

It is not uncommon for our faculty to struggle with classroom management issues. Faculty who have attended this workshop in the past have found it helpful both in prevent classroom management problems and in dealing with problems if and when they arrive. From the workshop description on the Events Calendar:
In this workshop, we will be presenting information about the student code of conduct violations (academic dishonesty or behavioral), reporting procedures, how to work with disruptive students, and conflict resolution support for faculty and students.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Online resources at

The Web can be a tremendous source for online instructional resource and faculty development materials. To help you access the most useful of those materials, the Center for Faculty Development continuously sifts through relevant Web sites and "saves" the best by bookmarking them in

If you haven't yet explored the online resources that are bookmarked and tagged under the MetroCFD profile of, you may be pleasantly surprised by the range of (mostly teaching related) resources found there. Topical tags help to organize the resources, and you can view all the tags in a word cloud.

Some of the online resources bookmarked at are the same as those made available at the CFD instructional resources Web page. Finally, you can subscribe to the RSS feed of the MetroCFD profile to be notified whenever a new Web site or online resource is added to the collection.

Can we get students to come to our office hours?

In a recent post, Faculty Focus offers some tips for encouraging students to interact with their professors outside of class. Some of the tips (which students themselves generated in the course of 33 in-depth interviews) are pretty basic, like "be there for office hours." Others, though, are tips that can pretty easily be added to our teaching routines if we're not already doing them. For example:
Write your email and office hours on the board regularly, maybe even every class session at the beginning of the course. Say more times than you think necessary that you welcome questions, comments, and the chance to interact with students.
Offer tutorials during office hours and encourage small groups of students to attend. 
In sum, the authors state,
students do pay attention to those classroom behaviors that convey we care. If we vigilantly maintain our office hours and employ the strategies recommended by these students, then we can more actively engage students in academic discourse, facilitate a deeper understanding of our fields and their associated professions, and serve as better advisors and mentors. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lecture capture--a growing trend in higher education

Interested in knowing more about lecture capture and its pedagogical benefits?

CHECO, the Colorado Higher Ed Computing Organization, is sponsoring a day-long program on lecture capture on Tuesday February 7 in Lowry.

Description and Details:
The morning session will consist of a vendor exhibit that will facilitate hands on demos and interactive discussions. We currently have 7 vendors confirmed for this event; Cisco, Crestron, Desire To  Learn, Echo360, Mediasite, Panopto and Tegrity. The afternoon will consist of presentations from the Colorado Higher Ed community on the status, successes and challenges related to supporting lecture capture technology at their institutions. 

Date: February 7, 2012
Location: Lowry Conference Center, Denver CO
-          9am-1pm – Vendor exhibit
-          1pm-4pm – Lecture capture update from Colorado institutions
More details will be sent in January to those who register including maps, parking info and food options (as lunch will be ‘on your own’).

Although the event is free, registration is required. Registration is now open and available on the CHECO Web site.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The syllabus as literary work

I try to write my syllabi to reflect the attitude that teaching is a scholarly endeavor. As I was putting the final touches earlier this month on my syllabus for spring semester, I was reminded of the buzz last fall over the posting of a couple of David Foster Wallace's syllabi. You can find the actual syllabi here and here.

While I don't necessarily recommend these as model syllabi, it's always a useful exercise, I think, to exchange our ideas and attitudes about teaching. DFW's syllabi contain some gems about his own thoughts regarding teaching and the learning process. I especially like that he freely borrows from other professors' syllabi (thereby recognizing that teaching is a community endeavor that is made better by sharing) and cites them accordingly (demonstrating good practice to his students while also conveying that a syllabus is, in some respects, a scholarly document).

One example of where DFW borrowed from a colleague's syllabus:
English 67 is a seminar. By way of elucidation, please look at the following gloss from Prof (name removed)'s E67 syllabus for Fall '05: "This is a discussion-based course; it is not a lecture course. What we learn will be driven primarily by the questions, comments, ideas, and energies that you bring to our discussion. In other words, we will learn about texts by actively engaging them and each other in our regular meetings."
And he follows this up under Course Rules & Procedures with:
Even in a seminar course, it seems a little silly to require participation. Some students who are cripplingly shy, or who can't always formulate their best thoughts and questions in the rapid back-and-forth of a group discussion, are nevertheless good, serious students. On the other hand, as Prof. (name removed) points out supra, our class can't really function if there isn't student participation--it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways. There is, therefore, a small percentage of the final grade that will concern the quantity and quality of your participation in class discussions. But the truth is that I'm way more concerned about creating an in-class environment in which all students feel totally free to say what they think, ask questions, object, criticize, request clarification, return to a previous subject, respond to someone else's response, etc. Clinically shy students, or those whose best, most pressing questions and comments occur to them only in private, should do their discussing with me solo, outside class.

Monday, January 16, 2012

IRB Workshop for Undergraduate Research

Have you supervised undergraduate research projects, or are you interested in doing so? The undergraduate research project that you want to supervise may fall under the category of "human research" and require review by the human subjects review committee of the Institutional Review Board. Find out more by attending the upcoming workshop (Undergraduate) Research and the IRB Process on Thursday January 26 from 11am to 12:15pm in SI-1086. Be sure to register for this workshop at the Faculty Development Events Calendar.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Team-based learning in action

Duke-NUS (National University of Singapore) Medical School has produced this video to showcase their team-based instructional approach. To me, the video is valuable in that it shows how team-based learning combines the benefits of peer instruction with the rigor of working to solve conceptual problems.

Yes, Metro State is a far different educational context than Duke-NUS. Still, I think the video conveys a perspective on the role of the instructor that can be extremely useful to us:
As faculty (who practice team-based learning), we spend a lot of time writing the questions well... this is done behind the scenes. What we do not spend our time doing is talking to the students directly. It’s the students who talk.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Answers to some questions from affiliate faculty members

Earlier today I facilitated the workshop "Introduction to College Teaching at Metro State for New Affiliate Faculty." We were able to respond to some questions during the panel discussion, but not all.

Here are responses to some more of the questions submitted by participants in their "minute papers":

  1. "How do you deal with students who complain about requirements?" If this question is referring to assignments that students are required to complete in the course, I think the best way to preempt these kinds of complaints is to show early and often how the assignments align with the course learning objectives. Then your answer can be, "you're required to do this in order to master the learning objectives of the course." It's when students don't see that alignment, I think, that they're more inclined to complain about a required assignment.
  2. "Are faculty software downloads or discounts available (e.g. Adobe or Word)?" Yes! All affiliate faculty are entitled to the Microsoft Office suite of applications, which includes Word. Contact Information Technology to find out where to pick up the CD-Rom (you'll need to show your Metro State ID, and you can only receive one CD-Rom).
  3. "I would like more teaching examples." Observing others' teaching is a great way to get ideas about your own teaching. One helpful resource (which I mentioned during the workshop) is Merlot. Specifically, look for the Elixr Case Studies of teaching for some great examples. If you're interested in seeing live examples of teaching, consider taking part in this semester's Peer Instructional Coaching cohort offered by the Center for Faculty Development. I will email a call for participation within a couple of weeks from now.
Several people mentioned that they would have liked to hear more about active learning and strategies to engage students. This will be a topic featured at the Spring Forum on March 30 In addition, because so many people mentioned it, I will offering a stand alone workshop sometime during the first half of the semester. Check the Faculty Development Events Calendar and this blog for the latest updates regarding workshops, etc.