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!