Given class sizes, teaching loads, and a host of other academic responsibilities, many teachers feel as though multiple-choice tests are the only viable option. Their widespread use justifies a regular review of those features that make these tests an effective way to assess learning and ongoing consideration of those features that compromise how much learning they promote.
What multiple-choice testing has going for it.
Scoring is quick and easy, especially if a machine is involved.
Easy creation of multiple versions, again with machine assistance. Plus, there’s the potential to grow the collection of questions every time the course is taught.
Simple statistics (now regularly calculated by computer or via LMS) allow item analysis to reveal how well a question discriminates between those who know the material and those who don’t.
Can be graded objectively without rater bias.
Allow for inclusion of a broad range of topics on a single exam thereby effectively testing the breadth of a student’s knowledge.
Potential benefits of multiple-choice test questions when done right.
On too many multiple-choice tests, the questions do nothing more than assess whether students have memorized certain facts and details. But well-written questions can move students to higher-order thinking, such as application, integration, and evaluation. SAT questions illustrate how thought-provoking a multiple-choice question can be. Ways to address: Recognize the amount of time it takes to write a good question. Preserve and reuse good questions. Consider using only three-answer options. Research says you can; check the reference below.
Questions can be clearly written and if they are, it’s a straight shot to what the student knows. But the clarity of multiple-choice questions is easily and regularly compromised—with negatives or too much material in the stem, for example. Ways to address: Do an item analysis and find out if a question is being missed by those with high exam scores. If so, there’s probably something wrong with the question and it should be tossed.
What’s problematic about multiple-choice testing.
A careful reading of some questions can reveal the right answer, and test savvy students will use this to their advantage. It might be the grammatical structure that only fits one answer option or the longer length of the correct response. What happens here is that the questions end up testing literary skill rather than content knowledge. Ways to address: Give the test to someone not taking the course and see how many questions they get correct. Ask if something tipped them off to the right answer.
With lucky guesses students get credit for correct answers. It looks like they know something they don’t know. Ways to address: 1) Avoid throw-away answer options—those that are obviously incorrect. If the student doesn’t know the answer but can rule out one or two of the options, they’ve significantly upped the chances of getting it right. 2) Some teachers use a formula that gives points for the correct answer and takes a lesser amount of points off for answers missed. This approach, not terribly popular with students, decreases guessing by forcing student to leave questions blank when they don’t know. 3) Others have students rate the level of confidence they have in their answer, which becomes part of the score. Correct answers with high confidence ratings score the highest. Correct answers with low confidence ratings get a lower score.
Wrong answer options expose students to misinformation, which can influence subsequent thinking about the content. This is especially true if students carefully consider the options and select an incorrect one after having persuaded themselves that it’s right. Ways to address: Spend time during the debrief on incorrect answer options regularly selected. This is a time when students need to be doing the leg work, not the teacher. Have them talk with each other, check notes, look things up in the text, and then explain why the option is incorrect. Make five bonus points available during the debrief. Those points are earned for everyone in the class by students who explain why certain answer options are wrong. More points are awarded when the explanation is offered by someone who selected that incorrect option.
Asked for their test preference, most students pick multiple-choice tests. They like them because they think they’re easier. And they are. With a multiple-choice question, the answer is selected, not generated. Students also think they’re easier because they’re are used to multiple-choice questions that test recall, ask for definitions, or have answers that can be memorized without being all that well understood. Ways to address: Write questions that make students think.
If you regularly use multiple-choice tests, you ought to have a good working knowledge of the research associated with them. That can be acquired with one well-organized and easily understood “Teacher-Ready Research Review.”
Xu, X., Kauer, S., and Tupy, S. (2016). Multiple-choice questions: Tips for optimizing assessment in-seat and online. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 2 (2), 147-158.
An article highlighting the research covered in the Xu, et al. appeared in the November 2016 issue of The Teaching Professor.
Dana Schutz has a visually cacophonous, 13-foot-long painting titled Building the Boat While Sailing. In reviewing the work for the New Yorker, Andrea Scott referred to it as, “an allegory for the process of making a painting.” We think this painting might also serve as an allegory for teaching, which is very much its own creative process. Even in courses with clearly stated objectives and fastidious alignment, the learning environment changes shape frequently as a given term unfolds.
Moreover, with each new section and group of learners the process begins anew. Diligent instructional design is an ongoing and iterative process, and it presents time and knowledge demands that can be difficult for faculty to resource on their own. The challenges presented by such a dynamic situation are particularly evident when one attempts to incorporate new digital technologies into the teaching and learning process. Consider the following:
Missing the Forest for the Trees: New technologies and digital tools have a tendency to become ends in themselves, superseding the desired goal of improved learning. In these instances, the technologies become distractions rather than tools, and they often lead us to mistake entertainment for learning.
Disorientation: Integrating new technologies into the classroom can be disorienting and disheartening for those unfamiliar with, or uncomfortable in the presence of, these tools. Learning content that an instructor was previously comfortable teaching can seem unusual or unknown in the presence of new technologies.
Tool Support: Does your institution have a mechanism for supporting faculty use of technology? What about student use? It is not essential for instructors to be experts in every technology they ask their students to use. However, it is important that instructors are comfortable using the tools themselves, and that they are able to direct students to support resources.
Constant Change: Sometimes the pace at which new technologies develop can be exciting…and disheartening. Faculty might spend weeks effectively integrating a new tool into their teaching, only to find out the next semester that the updated version requires a new redesign, the tool has been sold to a private entity and is no longer available, or the license has changed without notice.
Cost: Is a desired tool institutionally funded? If not, how much would it cost? Is there an office or department to fund it? Lacking that, is it worth buying individual licenses? This final roadblock is often the most difficult to avoid and varies widely from institution to institution.
While there are many ways faculty might address these challenges, Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) are uniquely well suited to equip faculty to integrate new learning technologies into their instruction. Marked by their multidisciplinary and communal nature (Cox & Richlin, 2011), FLCs are extended gatherings (typically a semester or more) in which participants organize around a clear objective but in an informal structure. Perhaps most importantly, the FLC itself is a process that develops as the group proceeds. The community members work together to direct the shape of the experience. This design engenders ownership (Cox & Richlin, 2011; Moore & Hicks 2014) in the project without requiring the faculty to become technical experts—ownership that promotes sustainable success.
Many faculty development opportunities (i.e. one-hour workshops, colloquia, self-directed support resources) expect faculty members to embark on their development journey independently. Unfortunately, this isolation often exacerbates the challenges listed above. However, an FLC with an extended timeframe that includes professional staff in support roles provides participating faculty with the time, resources, and partners necessary to successfully engage in the iterative design process. Here are a few recommendations for designing a Faculty Learning Community centered around new technologies:
Evolving Outcomes: Begin with clear outcomes for the community, and ask faculty to articulate their own project objectives in their applications for participation. However, keep in mind that there is an inherent openness to this process. Rework project outcomes as needed and provide progress updates at the beginning of each meeting.
Multi-channel Communication: Include multiple types of interactions throughout the term to meet the many needs of participating faculty. Allow the participants to design the format of their face-to-face group meetings. Then supplement these scheduled sessions with one-on-one design meetings, online communications, self-help resources, and triage sessions.
Campus Partners: Use the participant applications to imagine what types of support the faculty might need, and identify the people on campus best able to offer this support. Reach out to these campus partners in advance of the FLC, gauging their interest and availability to offer demonstrations, create online learning tools, purchase technologies, or meet with faculty one-on-one.
Community Building: Remember that this is a community, and build it as such: work to develop a good rapport among participants; listen deeply to each participants’ goals; learn about disciplines outside of one’s own; require a certain level of participation; and bring drinks and food. Good learning environments tend to blend the formal and informal, supplementing expectations and plans with the free flowing nature of discussion and discovery.
Have an idea of where you want to go, but remember that the ship is not yet built.
Building Faculty Learning Communities: New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 97, edited by Milton D. Cox, and Laurie Richlin, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2011.
Moore, Julie A., and Joya Carter-Hicks. “Let’s talk! Facilitating a faculty learning community using a critical friends group approach.” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 8, no. 2 (2014): 9
Allen S. Brown is an instructional designer at Wake Forest University. Qiaona Yu is an assistant professor of Chinese at Wake Forest University.
This article is featured in the Best of the Magna Teaching with Technology Conference, a collection of articles from some of the top-rated sessions at the 2017 conference. Download the report »
Hello. My car caught on fire last night after leaving homecoming game. I carry my laptop everywhere I go. I’m in the process of strapping to get another one. I’m just glad I got out cause the driver door was messed up. By the grace of God.
So reads the email and accompanying photo we received from a student.
Carmichael and Krueger (as cited in Weimer, 2017) report the challenges of verifying student claims for why an assignment can’t be completed on time. But how is an instructor expected to respond when she receives emails like the one above?
During the past year, through the collection of anecdotal accounts from our online instructors, we have observed a rise in the number of students who contact us with excuses for why they cannot possibly meet the course deadlines. We wonder if this is a result of our failure to be more explicit in our syllabi, even though we take great care to outline our expectations and requirements regarding deadlines and extensions. In an effort to minimize student excuses, we even added the following language:
Due Date Extensions
Students should submit requests for due date extensions to faculty in writing at least 24 hours in advance of the specified due date.
Extensions are granted at the discretion of course faculty in emergency or extraordinary circumstances such as the following:
Medical Illness: a medical certificate may be requested by faculty
Compassionate Grounds: those situations for which compassionate leave is normally granted
Unexpectedmisadventure, hardship, or trauma: documentation may be requested by faculty.
Work or other study commitments, computer crashes, or printer failures are NOT valid reasons for an extension.
No penalty will apply if an extension is sought and granted by the responsible person or delegate. If the assignment is handed in after the extension period, then established penalties will apply.
Students whose circumstances require extensions longer than one week are advised to meet with faculty to discuss available options, including course withdrawal or incomplete grade assignment.
We’re convinced there are some students who are requesting extensions because they truly believe their absence falls under the umbrella of “compassionate grounds” or “unexpected misadventure, hardship, or trauma.” Some recent examples include:
My husband and I need a break. We are going camping and I will not have cell service.
I am going on a family cruise that was planned a year ago.
Lastly, there are the students who write to their instructors in the 11th hour or after missing class, and provide a laundry list of woes they have experienced during the week.
So, what are some effective ways to minimize the number of students coming to us with such scenarios? First, as a proactive step, we encourage our faculty to emphasize to students on day one that earning a graduate degree requires sacrifices—from themselves and their families. Who among us didn’t miss out on things during our grad school days because we had a paper or project to finish? Adding a personal story from our own journey helps to express the commitment that is needed. Smith (2016) reminds us that instructors always serve as a model. Shaping desirable behaviors can often be achieved by providing students an opportunity to observe instructor behavior.
We further suggest crafting responses to students to follow these guidelines:
Start with an empathy statement. Dear____, I am sorry your life has been hectic of late. I appreciate you contacting me.
Describe concern in behavioral terms. As the syllabus indicates, ___ % of your final grade relates to class participation. I understand that you are choosing to receive point deductions for your absence.
Conclude next steps that can improve desired expectation. I hope the loss of points will not greatly impact your overall grade. To ensure that this does not occur, please review the participation criteria identified on the rubric.
As a final suggestion, we encourage faculty to keep their sense of humor when confronted with student excuses. Some days this is easier than others.
Debbi Leialoha is a professor, Shelly Leialoha is an associate professor, and Sherry Leialoha-Waipa is a faculty associate—all at the Gleazer School of Education at Graceland University. The three are sisters (Sherry and Shelly are twins). They have been faculty members at Graceland for 15 plus year, primarily facilitating coursework in the online M.Ed. program through Graceland’s Independence, Missouri campus. They also facilitate an adult literacy program in Falmouth, Jamaica.
Genius without education is like silver in the mine.” Benjamin Franklin may not have realized at the time that he was actually using a tool for the education he espoused, namely, the analogy. More than a simple witticism, the statement can be explored for rich conceptual parallels. Although a familiar teaching tool periodically invoked as a creative clarification, we faculty may not fully appreciate how an analogy might be mined for its full value. In higher education in particular, creation of an effective analogy is a worthy endeavor because it serves not only to instruct, but also potentially to hone the deeper, more complex higher order thinking skills we aspire to teach students.
The cognitive and educational benefits of using analogy (relational or analogical reasoning) in education, especially primary and secondary, have been well explored. Although research-based recommendations have not been made for every college-level subject, principles with practical implications have been identified. Of particular interest to faculty should be the 2015 assertion Richland and Simms offer in WIREs Cognitive Science that “relational reasoning can be productively considered the cognitive underpinning of higher order thinking,” where this type of reasoning is “the process of representing information and objects in the world as systems of relationships (which) can be compared, contrasted, and combined in novel ways depending on contextual goals.” They note the beauty of the dual benefit. Analogy is both “a tool for promoting content acquisition and a basic cognitive mechanism for using information flexibly and across contexts.” For an analogy to serve as both a tool for basic understanding and development of complex reasoning, it must be carefully and intentionally designed and delivered.
An effective analogy may be pursued in many contexts. It may provide motivation in an intro course or illuminate complex concepts of an upper-level subject. It’s an invaluable means of encouraging visualization of what cannot be seen or experienced. Once it creates a spark of recognition, it may cascade into a deeper and broader appreciation of the subject, often creating the desire to delve further. However, as the foundation beneath a house determines its livability, the careful construction of the analogy with a clear view of the instructional goals determines its fruitfulness.
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McGraw-Hill Education announced last week the latest in a series of initiatives to make course materials more affordable and effective for millions of U.S. college students by launching a new textbook and eBook rental program for its more than 250 copyright 2019 titles, as well as all future titles.
Rentals will be available starting this Spring through the company’s eCommerce channel on MHEducation.com as well as through approved distributors. New titles will be available to approved distributors on a consignment basis for their own rental programs at prices that are significantly lower than what they pay on a wholesale basis today. The program is open to all distributors of McGraw-Hill Education’s higher education textbooks. To date, McGraw-Hill Education has finalized agreements with two leading textbook providers: Barnes & Noble Education (NYSE: BNED), through its Barnes & Noble College and MBS Textbook Exchange subsidiaries, and Chegg, Inc. (NYSE: CHGG). Additional distributor discussions are underway to ensure that the company’s rental program is widely available to students.
Building on its leadership in delivering affordable, high-value digital learning solutions like McGraw-Hill Connect® and ALEKS®, the rental program is expected to save students as much as 70 percent off the costs of traditional bound print textbooks.
“For us, it’s about driving real value for students and instructors while preserving choice,” said Bill Okun, President of Higher Education at McGraw-Hill Education. “We want to help students be more successful and instructors achieve their teaching goals, at an affordable price that meets their needs. By shifting the way we deliver hard-bound textbooks, we’re providing another important option to access McGraw-Hill’s high-quality content and curriculum at a lower price.”
This announcement marks the continued expansion of McGraw-Hill Education’s affordability initiatives – including digital learning solutions that embed interactive content, assessment tools and actionable analytics; digital and print bundles; eBooks; mobile applications; looseleaf; and open educational resources (OER) for select titles. Depending on the format, these solutions are available for purchase, rent, subscription or through institutional Inclusive Access agreements, which enable the delivery of digital materials directly to students for first-day-of-class access.
By working with Barnes & Noble Education and Chegg, McGraw-Hill Education is able to make its affordable, effective materials available to millions of students across the country. Barnes & Noble Education serves more than 6 million students and their instructors through its nearly 1,485 physical and virtual campus bookstores, and in addition serves more than 3,700 institutionally run and contract managed stores through its MBS Wholesale business. Chegg’s connected learning platform for students reaches approximately 10 million unique visitors in a month.
“We are excited to partner with McGraw-Hill Education on this initiative, expanding our robust offering of rental titles for the students we serve,” said Patrick Maloney, President of Barnes & Noble College. “Offering a wide array of affordable course material options for our students and faculty is a top priority for Barnes & Noble College. In partnering with McGraw-Hill Education on this new rental program, we can leverage our nearly 1,485 campus bookstores to ensure students have access to the affordable materials they need to succeed in the classroom.”
McGraw-Hill Education will also work closely with MBS to ensure the Company’s rental program is widely available to students served by all bookstores, both contract managed and institutionally run, beginning this fall.
“We are pleased to take part in McGraw-Hill Education’s rental program, and look forward to further expanding our distribution partnership,” said David Henderson, President of MBS Textbook Exchange. “MBS will seamlessly integrate McGraw-Hill Education’s rental titles into the ordering process for all bookstores we service, providing a streamlined ordering and distribution process for our clients. More importantly, this will provide our clients greater access to affordable course material options for their students.”
“Removing barriers for students and saving them money while they pursue their educational paths have always been core pillars to our mission. By partnering with McGraw-Hill Education, we continue to expand our relationship with partners to provide students with excellent course materials at an excellent price,” said Nathan Schultz, Chief Learning Officer, Chegg.
About McGraw-Hill Education McGraw-Hill Education is a learning science company that delivers personalized learning experiences that help students, parents, educators and professionals drive results. McGraw-Hill Education has offices across North America, India, China, Europe, the Middle East and South America, and makes its learning solutions available in more than 60 languages. Visit us at mheducation.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter.
About Barnes & Noble Education, Inc. Barnes & Noble Education, Inc. (NYSE: BNED), a leading provider of educational products and services solutions for higher education and K-12 institutions, enhances the academic and social purpose of educational institutions. Through its Barnes & Noble College and MBS subsidiaries, Barnes & Noble Education operates 1,483 physical and virtual bookstores and serves more than 6 million students and faculty, and offers a suite of digital software, content and services including direct-to-student study tools. The Company also operates one of the largest textbook wholesale distribution channels in the United States. Barnes & Noble Education acts as a strategic partner to drive student success, provide value and support to students and faculty, and create loyalty and improve retention, while supporting the financial goals of our college and university partners.
BNED companies include: Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, LLC, MBS Textbook Exchange, LLC, BNED LoudCloud, LLC, Student Brands, LLC, and Promoversity, LLC. General information on Barnes & Noble Education may be obtained by visiting the Company’s corporate website: www.bned.com.
About Chegg Chegg puts students first. As the leading student-first connected learning platform, Chegg strives to improve the overall return on investment in education by helping students learn more in less time and at a lower cost. Chegg is a publicly-held company based in Santa Clara, California and trades on the NYSE under the symbol CHGG. For more information, visit www.chegg.com.
It’s hard to say—we have no definitive measures of learner-centeredness or even mutually agreed upon definitions. And yet, when we talk about it, there’s an assumption that we all understand the reference.
My friend Linda recently gave me a beautifully illustrated children’s book that contains nothing but questions. It reminded me how good questions, like beams of light, cut through the fog and illuminate what was once obscured. And so, to help us further explore and understand what it means to be learner-centered, I’ve generated a set of questions. For the record, these questions were not empirically developed, and they haven’t been validated in any systematic way. However, they do reflect the characteristics regularly associated with learner-centered teaching.
Questions like these can be useful in helping us to confront how we teach. They produce the most insights when asked sincerely and answered honestly. For most of us, there’s a gap between how we aspire to teach and how we actually teach. Given the less-than-objective view we have of ourselves as teachers, it’s easy to conflate aspirations with actualities.
The questions also can be used to prompt discussion between colleagues who wish to help each other explore the extent to which their teaching is learning-focused. They can be used by cross-disciplinary groups whose views, framed by what they teach, show how learner-centeredness looks from different angles. And, they can be used by departments or programs who aspire to be student-centered and need benchmarks to assess their progress. The question set is a work in progress, and I welcome your feedback on how we can make it better. Are we missing important questions? Should some questions be taken off the list? Please share in the comment box.
It’s good to remember that the characteristics identified in the questions are part of something larger. They define the concept operationally and with helpful details, but individual characteristics, even a collection of them, still provide an incomplete picture. It’s a bit like dissecting a flower. The parts are all there to examine, but they’re separate, and a flower is best understood and enjoyed in its integrated wholeness.
Characteristics of learner-centered teaching
Does the course contain activities that put students in positions to learn from and with each other?
Are students encouraged to discover things for themselves, or does the teacher usually tell them what they should know and do?
Are there policies and practices in the course that promote the development of autonomous, self-directed learning skills?
Is student input solicited on course topics, policies, assessment methods, and class activities?
Is collaboration emphasized more than competition in the course?
Is what’s being learned, why it’s being learned, and how it can be learned discussed more often than grades?
Are students voluntarily participating or do they sit silently until called on to answer questions and make comments? Does their nonverbal behavior indicate they’d rather not speak?
Do students talk more than the teacher during class discussions? Do students respond to each other or only to the teacher?
Is it a course where questions play a more prominent role than answers?
Are students being taught how to answer their own questions?
Are mistakes handled as learning opportunities for the teacher and the students?
Are skills like critical thinking and problem-solving taught explicitly?
Is the teacher modeling how expert learners handle problems, find answers, deal with failure, and celebrate success?
Are students being given the opportunity to develop self- and peer-assessment skills?
Do students have the chance to practice the principles of constructive feedback (when they provide input about the course and/or about the work of their peers)?
Do students regularly comment on evaluations that it was a course where they had to think? Or, was a course where they had to teach themselves (meaning the teacher held them responsible for learning)?
In a perfect world, college students would always be eager, well disciplined, and respectful.
In the real world, some students come to class late, miss deadlines, or fall asleep during lectures. Others monopolize class time, make insulting or abusive comments, and even physically threaten or intimidate other students and professors.
In extreme incidents, there is even the occasional student who poses a dangerous risk to the entire community.
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I recently received a frantic phone call from a distraught colleague who had just received her student evaluations after teaching her first online course. Tearfully, she shared with me sample student comments such as, “I didn’t get any feedback on my assignments until it was too late to help me with the next assignment,” and “I never heard from my instructor. It was like she was barely there.”
Frustrated because she felt that she had been doing a good job of communicating with her students, and also fearful because her adjunct position depended in part on receiving positive student evaluations, she asked for help in setting up an improvement plan for the next course.
Unfortunately, my colleague’s frustrating experience is not uncommon for instructors new to the online environment. Managing instructor presence—students’ perceptions of how instructors interact with them and guide their learning during a course—is the key to overcoming that frustration. It’s not unusual for instructors and students to have widely different perceptions of instructor presence during the same course.
For instructors who may be teaching multiple courses and spending large blocks of time answering student email, the time spent on their courses makes them feel fully present and fully engaged. To students, however, who may be looking for interaction from the instructor on the course discussion boards, it may seem the instructor is “barely there” because there is little trace of him or her in the course.
How would your students rate your instructor presence on a continuum from “barely there” to “fully present”? If there’s a difference between your students’ perception and your perception of your instructor presence, you can improve your presence with some simple strategies.
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When people hear I’m a professor of reading at a local community college, I’m often met with some variation of, “Really? You teach reading…in college?”
The assumption implied, of course, is that college students should already know how to read, that reading as a focus of study belongs in the elementary classroom. For most people reading this article, the fact that students struggle with collegiate-level text is not revelatory. Indeed, the office-doorway concerns swapped amongst faculty are confirmed by various reports, such as the one cited in the U.S. Department of Education’s recent review of developmental education, which noted that approximately 40% of first-year community college students enrolled in at least one developmental course in the 2011-2012 year (2017).
Based on my classroom observations, students, to their detriment, also embrace the notion that reading should be taught, learned, and left in the primary grades. While such deficit-mindedness stunts academic progress, by teaching students to reframe reading as the complex, problem-solving process that it is, one that demands ever-developing cognitive strategies (Frankel, Becker, Rowe, & Pearson, 2016), instructors can facilitate more productive engagement with text, whether in stand-alone reading courses or embedded in disciplinary courses.
Below are three precepts that foster a more productive approach along with a variety of supporting classroom applications.
The Reader has a Voice (or, Reading is Dialogic)
Developing readers tend to relegate themselves as tacit receptacles of information, rather than accept a text’s invitation to a back-and-forth dialogue. As an inextricable thread in the dynamic weave of text, the reader has a voice, and it matters.
A tangible way for students to enter the textual conversation is through annotating. Although annotations range from highly structured to free-floating, the mere requirement that students write down something in response to an assigned text implies they have something to offer. When teaching annotation, I remind students to periodically “Stop-Think-Jot,” that is, record their thoughts while reading either on a separate reading log or on the text itself. To focus attention on the reader’s voice, I tell them that the photocopied articles they’ve been given in class are identical, but when turned in, they should look unique because each student will have engaged the text in a personal way. Additionally, the classic dialectical or double-entry journal in which equal space is allotted to writer and reader also demonstrates the conversational nature of reading. Lastly, Billy Collins’ quirky poem Marginalia features various types of readers and their annotations, providing a discussion-starter that emphasizes reader voice (Fletcher, 2015).
Reading Involves Revision (or, Reading is Recursive)
Students hold the impression that good readers move through text beginning-to-middle-to-end, arriving at understanding. Yet, while decoding is linear, comprehension is cyclical; it is incremental, leveled, and nuanced. Similar to the writing process wherein revision is a natural, expected stage, reading, too, involves revising initial and partial understandings to incorporate a fuller perspective of the text upon subsequent readings. Viewing the reading process as recursive allows students to embrace ambiguity, freeing them to continue exploring the text, developing and amending their comprehension.
Directed re-readings, with a pause for reflection between readings, illustrate the depths of text that can be plumbed. Poetry, with riches of meaning packaged syntactically tight, lends itself especially well to this kind of cyclical textual-mining; however, dense or complex informational text similarly offers more of itself upon repeated readings. For example, students can be assigned to record only questions of a text on a first read, and then to record possible answers on subsequent readings. Alternatively, students can return to and elaborate on original annotations to push deeper into the text.
The Reader Needs a Circle (or, Reading is Communal)
The traditional view of reading as a solitary endeavor is certainly limiting. Alternatively, when students come to view reading as a team effort, pressure to arrive at the exact right interpretation is removed and the burden of nuanced comprehension is shared across multiple shoulders. The social aspect of reading is featured as foundational to the Reading Apprenticeship initiative gaining traction on community college campuses (WestEd 2014).
To foster collaborative interpretation, I have begun incorporating a 15-minute “text huddle” in my classes. Students are presented with a brief text and three standing questions borrowed and adapted from Schulten’s What’s Going on in This Poem? (2016): What do you see? What in the text shows you that? What else do you notice? The questions could easily be adapted for non-literary text, for example, swapping “see” and “notice” for “learn” and “discover.” Students read the text aloud, pausing at designated spots to discuss the questions. Each group then shares highlights of their discussion with the class. The entire huddle is conducted verbally, ensuring that ideas and interpretations are easily revised, simultaneously reinforcing the collaborative and revisionary nature of reading.
By challenging students’ assumptions regarding reading in their college courses and reframing the process according to the three precepts, instructors empower students to find their reader’s voice, practice reading revision, and participate in a community of readers.
Sarah Hawes is a professor of reading at Modesto Junior College in Modesto, California.
Fletcher, J. (2015). Teaching arguments: Rhetorical comprehension, critique, and response. Portland, MN: Stenhouse Publishers.
Frankel, K. K., Becker, B. L., Rowe, M. W., & Pearson, P. D. (2016). From “What is reading?” to What is literacy?. Journal of Education, 196(3), 7-17.
Technology has enabled a boom in online education. No longer does location dictate where students can take classes and/or where instructors can teach. While this increased flexibility is appealing to many, it can also lead to feelings of disconnect and isolation (Dolan, 2011). As educational leaders, we want to be able to connect with the instructors who are teaching in our programs. As faculty, we want to be included in professional development opportunities and conversations about curriculum with our peers. But how can this be accomplished when people are not available at the same time or located in the same place? Well, by using technology.
Research has shown that interactions with peers promotes faculty engagement (McKenna, Johnson, Yoder, Guerra, & Pimmel, 2016). Faculty learning communities (FLC) have become very popular in recent years. FLCs focus on improving teaching and learning practice through collaboration and community building (Cox, 2001). Usually, FLCs are face-to-face meetings hosted at a physical location at a specific date and time. We understand the benefit of this type of experience. However, we recognize online instructors will likely find it difficult to participate in a traditional FLC. So, we set out to integrate FLC principles to provide our faculty, living and working all over the globe, a similar experience.
Recently, our Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence took the plunge and offered a Virtual Faculty Learning Community (V-FLC) for instructors at our Worldwide Campus. The first experience was open only to adjunct instructors teaching online. The experience was asynchronous, lasted eight weeks, and focused on best practices for online teaching and learning. Within our Learning Management System, faculty led and participated in discussions around the topics that were of interest to them. Most topics focused on teaching practices and ways to enhance the online experience. However, other topics bridged the gap between teaching online and general best teaching practices. Faculty discussed supporting student writing across content areas, academic integrity, and time management. In addition to their comments about best practices, they also shared articles, tools, books, and websites that they found useful. While the sharing of best practices and resources was beneficial, the largest trend was around building relationships. The instructors who participated in this V-FLC enjoyed connecting with others, were thankful for the opportunity, and found it worthwhile.
We have seen great success in this faculty development offering; however, a V-FLC has various applications. It can be used within departments, between programs, or even with student groups. This can provide a collaborative opportunity when participants are in the same place, but not available at the same time. It can also be used to forge inter-university collaborations or make connections within a committee. The asynchronous component allows for flexibility, but the focused topics and regular engagement provides a feeling of belonging and connectedness.
To help others get started with a V-FLC, we developed a framework. This framework outlines 12 steps to develop, implement, and evaluate your own virtual experience. Please check out our Virtual Faculty Learning Community Implementation Framework on our Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cox, M. D. (2001). Faculty learning communities: Change agents for transforming institutions into learning organizations. To Improve the Academy, 19, 69-93.
Dolan, V. L. (2011). The isolation of online adjunct faculty and its impact on their performance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(2), 62-77.
McKenna, A. F., Johnson, A. M., Yoder, B., Guerra, R. C. C., & Pimmel, R. (2016). Evaluating virtual communities of practice for faculty development. The Journal of Faculty Development, 30(1), 31-39.
Angela Atwell, M.Ed., is a faculty development instructor at the Rothwell Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence at Embry – Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). Cristina Cottom, Ed.S., is the research specialist for the Rothwell CTLE team. Lisa Martino, Ph.D., is a faculty development instructor at the Rothwell Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE-W), Daytona Beach, Fla. Sara Ombres, M.S., is the Director for the Rothwell Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) at Embry-Riddle Worldwide.