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I am not a skilled athlete, but I have watched enough sporting events to know that the fundamentals are essential to both player and team success. Coaches can often be heard repeating such maxims as “keep your eye on the ball,” “follow through,” and “hold your position.” Faculty development has its own set of fundamentals. More than 20 years ago, I co-authored a grant establishing the faculty development center at the University of Central Arkansas. Over the years, I have served as faculty coordinator, co-director, and director. My experiences may benefit others who are working in the field or plan to in the future. Here are five fundamentals for designing and delivering effective faculty development:

  1. Begin with a clear vision. Almost every authority on leadership will mention the importance of creating a mental picture of your ideal future (i.e., a vision). As a starting point identify your core values. What ideals are most important to you and your institution? How do you see your role as a faculty developer (e.g., mentor, encourager, change agent, etc.)? What do you want faculty development to look and feel like on your campus? Gather input from center staff as well as your constituents. Incorporate these ideas into a brief, descriptive statement. This vision can then serve as a guide for future decisions and actions. (Note: Be sure to check for alignment with your institution’s mission.)
  2. Maintain the right perspective. In my session at the recent Teaching Professor Conference, I included a cell phone survey regarding effective faculty development. The most-missed survey question revealed that many faculty developers participating in the workshop viewed faculty development from a remedial perspective. This is a less than effective stance. Faculty who take advantage of professional development activities must not be seen as deficient. Rather than approaching faculty development as a way to “fix” designated faculty, recognize its potential to boost the instructional vitality of all faculty. When you see learning to teach as a lifelong process involving continual improvement, you are less inclined to take a remedial view of faculty development. The right perspective is one that is grounded in growth; it focuses on improving student learning, serves all campus faculty, and includes a variety of programs and services. No one group or type of individual is singled out. (Additional guidance: Weimer’s 2010 book, Inspired college teaching: A career-long resource for professional growth is an excellent resource to orient you toward the desired perspective.)
  3. Network. A major dimension of providing meaningful faculty development rests on having effective campus relationships. Opportunities to cultivate relationships exist in multiple forms (e.g., face-to-face encounters, phone calls, emails, and handwritten notes). As faculty developers, you can extend your network by attending campus events, even those in which you are initially uninterested. At these receptions, presentations, and meetings, listen to what is on the minds of faculty. Additionally, networking provides the ideal opportunity to partner with other campus offices and services. By working with other campus units, such as disability support, student services, and veteran affairs, you will be able to provide programming that connects faculty to other valuable campus resources.

When it comes to communicating with campus faculty, department chairs are a vital conduit for channeling information, and their support often yields active encouragement of the benefits of faculty development. Capitalize not only on the networks you establish but also search out those “go-to” folks on campus. Find the informal leaders who advocate for and model excellence in teaching. Regularly invite these individuals to become involved in faculty development activities.

  1. Be responsive and take the initiative. Working in the area of faculty development is primarily a service. Keep in mind the need to listen to faculty concerns, using these concerns to guide programming. Be proactive in responding to faculty needs instead of waiting to be directed to do so. For example, a few years ago I noted that several faculty members in different departments had mentioned peer observation of teaching as something they desired. I then designed the Teaching Observation Program and invited all faculty to participate. As a faculty developer, you need to create initiatives unique to your particular context and based on specific faculty needs. Be alert for instructional innovations and determine how best your center can support campus implementation.
  2. Exhibit integrity. Credibility is critical to effective faculty development. Campus faculty must see you as someone whom they can trust and depend on. As a leader in faculty development, you must renew your commitment to maintain confidentiality, follow through with promises, and do what best serves faculty and promotes student learning. Neither your personal agenda nor pet peeves should influence your planning actions. You must genuinely keep the best interests of faculty and students as your focus, while at the same time communicating honestly with administrators by sharing issues and feedback.

As you strive to offer quality faculty development, your initiatives will sometimes miss the mark. But if you return to these five fundamentals, and remember to always give faculty (and students) your best effort, you’ll always be on a winning team. Resource: Weimer, M. (2010). Inspired college teaching: A career-long resource for professional growth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Dr. Patty Phelps is a professor in the Department of Teaching & Learning at the University of Central Arkansas. Having entered phased retirement, she no longer formally serves in faculty development.

This article was originally published on Faculty Focus on July 18, 2016

© Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

The post Five Fundamentals of Faculty Development appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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How much instructional advice have you heard over the years? How often when you talk about an instructional issue are you given advice, whether you ask for it or not? Let’s say you’re a new teacher or you’re teaching a class you haven’t taught before or something unexpected happens in your class; if you’d like some advice, all you need to do is ask. Anybody who’s spent any time in the classroom seemingly has the right to offer advice. And if you’d rather read advice, there’s still plenty offered in the pedagogical literature, to say nothing of blogs and other social media sources.

Some of the advice offered by colleagues and in articles is excellent. Most of us can recite the good and wise things we’ve learned from fellow teachers. But not all instructional advice is equally good, and it’s not always easy to separate the good advice from advice that is decidedly ho-hum or just plain not very good. The problem is that really bad advice can be delivered articulately and with great conviction. So when a colleague offers advice or you read an article that tells you what you should do about some instructional issue, here are some criteria you can use to consider the merits of what’s being offered.

First, the advice should always be preceded or followed by some sort of discussion of why you should be doing whatever is being suggested. In the pedagogical domain (as opposed to the parental one), it isn’t good enough to say here’s how you do it and you do it this way because I said so or because that’s how I do it. There needs to be some sort of educational rationale behind what somebody is telling you to do. “Don’t use take-home exams.” Why not? “Don’t let students call you by your first name.” Why not? “Don’t give in to demands for extra credit.” Why not? The assumptions on which the advice is based need to be revealed so they can be considered and assessed.

Second, the advice needs to be laid up against what you think you know and have experienced in class. That doesn’t mean you have a corner on truth. You can believe some things about teaching and learning that simply aren’t true, but advice that flies in the face of what you believe and what regularly happens in your class should be questioned. There is something to be said about trusting your gut; at the same time there’s something to be said for not trusting it completely.

Third, how does the advice square with the evidence? For teachers who don’t read much educational research or pedagogical literature, where the weight of the evidence falls isn’t always known. Reading more, even a bit more, helps a lot with that issue. The fact of the matter is that virtually every aspect of teaching and learning has been studied, and most aspects have been studied at length. Classroom practice could easily be evidence based if teachers knew the evidence and were willing to act on it. But even without a thorough knowledge of what’s known, you can (and should) ask those offering advice if there’s research or evidence that stands behind what they’re recommending. If they can’t cite any, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any, but it does mean that the advice isn’t being offered in light of it. Moreover, those not all that conversant with the evidence can certainly ask those who are or those who might know where to look for the evidence. Advice and opinions ought to be regularly considered in light of the evidence.

Finally, if you’ve gotten some advice that kind of makes sense but you’re still not totally convinced, run it past a colleague you trust. “Somebody told me I should …” or “I read in this article that teachers should … and I’d be really interested to know what you think about that.” You may have a colleague whom you trust, one who is a dear friend and fellow researcher, but that doesn’t mean that that colleague is pedagogically sophisticated. So run your instructional quandaries past those colleagues whose teaching you know to be good and whose insights about pedagogy you have found to be wise.

I think all of us ought to be a bit more careful about offering advice, particularly the definitive here’s-exactly-how-you-do-that kind of instructional advice. If something works well for us, that doesn’t guarantee it’s going to work equally well when another teacher who teaches a different subject and larger classes tries to use it. Making suggestions, proposing alternatives, exploring options, and asking questions is a better way of helping someone who looks like he or she might want or need advice.

Reprinted from Is it good advice? The Teaching Professor, 27.4 (2013): 4. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

The post Giving and Receiving Instructional Advice appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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While college and university faculty are paid to teach, we are often hired because of our scholarship. We are evaluated in the hiring process by the strength of our publications and conference presentations. Therefore, it makes sense that most of us in academia allow scholarship to drive our teaching. Yet the need to focus on scholarship also results in a common complaint that teaching interferes with our time for research. I believe that if we creatively reconsider the relationship between teaching and scholarship we can improve both. I argue that teaching is an undervalued resource that can directly enhance our scholarship—and not just the scholarship of teaching and learning.

As a doctoral student at an R-1 university that valued teaching more than many institutions there was still a strict divide between the work done in the classroom and scholarship. If there was any acknowledged relationship between the two it was one of interference—teaching gets in the way of scholarship. But the reality was that I had to teach to finance my graduate education. Teaching was a job. It was a necessity, and it was understood that it might slow my progress toward degree completion.

To be honest, it probably did slow my progress, but it also crystalized for me my choice of profession. It was through teaching that sociology seeped into my blood. While my time to completion was longer than expected due to a heavy teaching load, other peers in my cohort drifted away from graduate school—several of whom were on full scholarships and didn’t have the burden (or should I say privilege?) of teaching.

My first teaching position, as an adjunct lecturer at Saint Mary’s College of California, a liberal arts Catholic college where I am still on the faculty today, carried with it a teaching load of seven courses a year—three in the fall, three in the spring, and one in the January Term.

The January Term at Saint Mary’s is a four-week semester in which faculty are encouraged to teach intensive, rigorous, and creative non-disciplinary courses in innovative ways. We are encouraged to push the boundaries of our disciplinary expertise and to experiment with new pedagogies. Faculty are free to travel with their students, to go on field trips, and to utilize the large blocks of class time in often unconventional ways. The students and the faculty focus on only one course for the month. Students choose January Term classes not based on their major, but upon what they find interesting. January Term is a time for exploration and unexpected discoveries for both faculty and students.

Because I was hired just a week before course proposals for the January Term were due, the dean suggested that it was too late for me to put together an application. She proposed to draw up my contract for six classes, not seven. Having just finished graduate school, I had never experienced a full-time salary. I was eager to get paid for that seventh course. I quickly got up to speed on the spirit of January Term and put together a proposal. Teaching that course changed the direction of my scholarly career.

In considering what to teach that January, I challenged myself to think outside the box. I knew how to teach a traditional survey course on the sociology of education, but that wasn’t taking advantage of the rich opportunity of January Term. I decided to start with what I knew (the sociology of education) and to learn alongside the students as we built upon that foundation in creative ways. For my first January Term class we explored the ways in which education is understood in the popular culture by analyzing representations of education in Hollywood films. I was not a sociologist of culture, but I became one in the classroom. The students and I enjoyed the process of discovery as we creatively applied the sociology of education literature to Hollywood’s image of high schools. That class, “Hollywood Goes to High School,” inspired me to pursue a new research agenda that has resulted in several publications, most notably the book Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture (the second edition was published in March).

This research deviated significantly from the trajectory I was on coming out of graduate school. Perhaps I would have accomplished just as much by pursuing the next phase of my dissertation research. However, the path my scholarship took is much more meaningful to me today than my dissertation research ever was. It is meaningful not only because scholars in a variety of disciplines cite my work or because other teachers find the book useful in the classroom, but because it grew organically out of my teaching.

Thanks to the innovative and exciting January Term program at Saint Mary’s there is now a synergy between my scholarship and teaching. This synergy is particularly exciting at a liberal arts college where teaching and research are valued equally in the rank and tenure process. I am not saying that regular-semester teaching can’t inspire scholarship in the same way. It certainly can and does. However, the January Term experience provides faculty a unique opportunity to focus on one question for the whole month. By having the freedom to take a chance in the classroom—to teach outside the box—allows faculty the opportunity to explore alongside students a potentially new area of research, to learn a new literature, and to experiment with new pedagogies.

I’ve since taught outside the box with other January Term classes. I’ve explored in depth with students the social experience of music, the social construction of natural disasters, the significance of the railroad in American culture, and the multiple meanings that California has in the popular imagination. Some of this teaching has contributed to my scholarship and some has resulted in a dead-end. In all cases, however, my January Term teaching has sparked my imagination and taught students that the quest for knowledge begins, but does not end, within the confines of the classroom.

Robert C. Bulman is a professor of sociology at Saint Mary’s College of California.

This article was originally published on Faculty Focus on April 10, 2015

The post How Teaching Can Inform Scholarship appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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A checklist is absolutely essential to moving a face-to-face course online. Not only does it help the instructor conceptualize their course in an online environment, it helps the instructional designer see what needs to be done. Here is a simple guide to preparing to move your courses online.

Topics to consider

Course length/timeframe

Most courses run the length of a semester, but this does not always translate directly to an online format. For instance, you may have 30 minutes of instruction in a course session followed by class activity and homework. Students are then given activities and readings to do outside of class that support the lecture. By contrast, in an online course, the “lecture” need not be the center of instruction, but more of a means to guide students to the concepts they will learn through other material. In my online business courses, I like to first provide students with relevant practical materials to dive in and see the concepts in action. I then use my lecture as a way to wrap-up and highlight what was learned in the module.

Course objectives

In many cases, there are fewer course objectives for online courses, in that material is chunked to keep students from becoming overwhelmed. Review current course objectives and make a note of which topics contain the most and the least number of objectives. Also, make a note of which topics/modules/sessions contain objectives that are often difficult for your students.

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The post A Checklist for Moving Your Course Online appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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“I’m sorry to bother you, but…” was the opening line of every email I received in the first week of this semester. This line was usually followed by nothing that would actually bother me: a question about the week’s materials, a link to an interesting resource, a discussion about a potential research topic, and the like. This was all despite my many attempts to ensure that students did not feel like they were imposing whenever they contacted me: a pre-semester introductory email, a video welcoming them to the course, my biography and teaching philosophy, virtual office hours, and multiple reminders about my contact information. Yet, with all of my entreaties to reach out, I was still dealing with the real issues of isolation, fear, and frustration that results in students leaving their online courses. To combat these feelings, professors—myself included—have to deliberately, consistently, and relentlessly work to build student-faculty and student-student relationships in online courses.

As educators, we know that building community in the online environment increases the likelihood of student success. Finding ways to concretize something as ephemeral as “a sense of belonging” can be difficult; however, here are five places where you can start:

  1. Make yourself available. As the professor, you are the touchstone of your online course community, which means you need to model citizenship in your course. Upload a photo and provide instructions for students to do the same. Personalize your course wherever you are able by using original video announcements, overviews, and lectures. Establish the tone of the community through class correspondence, discussion board replies, and assessment feedback. Often, this also requires you to give students some of yourself (an anecdote about your weekend or a link to something you found interesting). When students are comfortable with you, they are more comfortable learning, participating, and sharing in the learning environment.
  2. Create a communication plan. Communication is essential to any relationship, and before you ask students to put themselves out there, you have to show them that it’s safe to do so. Before the start of a semester, create a calendar of when you will reach out to each student individually. After the first week, reintroduce yourself and let them know that you’re available to them. Before and after midterms are great opportunities for confidence-boasting. And before finals is a good time to remind them that your door (or inbox!) is always open. These communications reinforce the importance of individual attention and personalized education.
  3. Encourage interaction. Classroom interactions happen by proximity in the brick-and-mortar classroom, but in the online classroom, you have to be more deliberate about student-student and student-faculty exchanges happen. “In” the classroom, you can use synchronous sessions, communal discussion boards, group projects, student presentations, wikis, and peer review groups. “Out” of the classroom, you can help create study groups and establish crowd-sourced notes. Like all interactions, these should be meaningful, relevant, and theorized to avoid confusion or resentment that can sometimes result from group interactions. When done successfully, however, these interactions create not only a community of learners but can also become lasting friendships.
  4. Build “outside class” spaces. Unlike the brick-and-mortar classroom, online classrooms can feel all encompassing, lacking the traditional space and time borders that demarcate the classroom. This often means that there is no “before” or “after” class when much of community-building often occurs. In an online course, you have to consciously build in these “outside” spaces that are free from content delivery and assessment. Make “water cooler” or “café” discussion boards where the class can talk about current events and common interests. Create a social media page for the class where ideas can be shared. Watch a virtual event together and discuss it afterwards. Deliberately creating social moments acknowledges this fundamental aspect of education.
  5. Bring the outside in. Paradoxically, online courses can also feel compartmentalized and isolated from the wider campus community. In our courses, we need to remind students that they are a part of large campus culture. Post announcements about events happening on campus. Assign attendance at webinars and live-streaming events for course credit. Encourage them to take part in campus organizations that are especially friendly to distance and continuing education student. Explain how to access student support and resources. As possible the only touchstones to campus, faculty members have to be ambassadors for the college community.

Being deliberate, consistent, and relentless, we can build communities in our online courses that help students to connect with not only with the course materials, but with one another. And by working to create these relationships, we can turn “I’m sorry to bother you” emails into “I’m glad I have someone to reach out to.”

References

Bawa, P. (2016). Retention in online courses: exploring issues and solutions- a literature review. SAGE Open, 1-11. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244015621777

Donovan, J. (2015) The importance of building online learning communities. Colorado State University. http://blog.online.colostate.edu/blog/online-education/the-importance-of-building-online-learning-communities/

Erickson, A. & C. Neset. (2014) Building community and creating relevance in the online classroom. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/building-community-creating-relevance-online-classroom/

O’Malley, S. (2017) Professors share ideas for building community in online courses. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/07/26/ideas-building-online-community

Stone, K. (2016) Building community in online courses. American Association for Adult and Continuing Education. http://www.aaace.org/news/272788/Building-Community-in-Online-Courses.htm

Talbert, R. (2015) How student video presentations can build community in an online course. Wired Campus. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/how-student-video-presentations-can-build-community-in-an-online-course/57435

Williams, G. (2011) Use GoogleDocs for crowd-sourced notes. ProfHacker. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/use-googledocs-for-crowd-sourced-notes/31644

 

References Consulted

Angelino, L.M., Williams, F.K., & Natvig, D. (2007).  Strategies to engage online students and reduce attrition rates. The Journal of Educators Online, 4(2).

Covelli, B. J. (2017) Online discussion boards: The practice of building community for adult learners. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education. 65:2. 139-145.

Infande, A. (2013) A dozen strategies for improving online student retention. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/a-dozen-strategies-for-improving-online-student-retention/

Park, J., & Choi, H. (2009).  Factors influencing adult learners’ decision to drop out or persist in online learning.  Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 207-217.

Reed, A. (2015). Online student retention requires a collaborative approach. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/online-student-retention-requires-collaborative-approach/

 

Dr. Melissa Wehler serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences at Central Penn College. She has published on topics of teaching, pedagogy, and student success. Melissa co-manages the open educational resource, The Online Lecture Toolkit, developed to support the needs of educators who want to create effective online video content. She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

The post Five Ways to Build Community in Online Classrooms appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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In most courses with some sort of research writing assignment, there’s a strongly worded prohibition against using Wikipedia. IT’S NOT A RELIABLE SOURCE! And measured by academic standards, it’s not. But faculty members Frances Di Lauro and Rebecca Johinke at the University of Sydney see these prohibitions as a wasted learning opportunity. “In bringing Wikipedia into the classroom, discussing its strengths and weaknesses, and subsequently what constitutes research and peer review, we engage students in a dialogue about academic writing as a process and a product, while at the same time involving them in collaborative and participatory writing groups.” (p. 478)

Their well-referenced article describes various Wikipedia assignments used in an undergraduate writing course and a graduate course in magazines studies. It also contains a variety of information documenting that the Wikipedia of today is “a far more accurate storehouse of information than it was in its formative years. It now meets, if not surpasses, the accuracy of traditional specialist-built counterparts like Encyclopedia Britannica.” (p. 481) And that assertion is documented with research cited from Nature and other credible academic sources.

Wikipedia is a truly unique source. It’s gargantuan. By 2013, if assembled as a set of physical books, it would have totaled 15,930 volumes. According to Wikipedia Report Card, during the month of June 2015, 374,819,00 discrete visitors consulted articles in Wikipedia and that didn’t include articles accessed by via mobile apps. “The ‘epitome of crowdsourcing,’ Wikipedia is a unique encyclopedia that is peer-produced by a variety of users including ‘frequent and occasional contributors. . .specialists and generalists’ and a range of interdisciplinary scholars.” (p. 479-480)

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1. Study the knowledge base of teaching and learning.

You have chosen to teach in higher education because you are a subject-matter specialist with a tremendous knowledge of your discipline. As you enter or continue your career, there is another field of knowledge you need to know: teaching and learning. What we know about teaching and learning continues to grow dramatically. It includes developing effective instructional strategies, reaching today’s students, and teaching with technology. Where is this knowledge base? Books, articles in pedagogical periodicals, newsletters, conferences, and online resources provide ample help. Take advantage of your institution’s center for teaching and learning or other professional development resources.

2. Accept all who enter the classroom door.

Much has been written about underprepared students who enter college. Since more students attend college now than ever before, it is only rational that some are not as prepared as we might expect. Institutions are dealing with this issue, but instructors must do some rethinking about how they teach, in order to meet the needs of all learners in their classrooms. Ungraded pretests and interest inventories can be used to see what your students already know about the content you will be teaching next. Students in all classes need help learning how to learn the material. You may not have imagined that you would be teaching how to learn vocabulary in your college courses, but that may be just what your students need. Above all, students should not be berated if they don’t know things that weren’t taught in high school. Accept students where they are and help them to go forward. They need a college education!

3. Plan for instructional management.

For decades, college instructors never thought of classroom management as something they had to plan, but times have changed and today’s college students need to know what’s happening. Posting a visual outline of what will be done during the class helps students follow the lesson and stay on task. Various aspects of teaching, such as distributing papers, taking attendance, and making time for students to ask questions, need to be part of course planning. Put policies in the syllabus about attendance, disturbances, cell phones, etc., and then review those policies with students. You set the tone of the class, and management procedures are needed.

4. Teach with a variety of strategies.

Study the literature and learn about approaches such as learner-centered teaching, guided inquiry, active learning, lecture, group work, and online discussion. Use what works best given your content and your students’ learning needs. The best advice is to be visual, followed by keeping students actively thinking, writing, comparing, and applying new knowledge. Students learn more easily when they’ve been given the rationale for what they are learning, and when they understand why the teacher has chosen certain instructional methods and learning activities.

5. Use assessment to inform students of their achievement.

Today’s students are used to checking their grades online so they know where they stand at any given time in the semester. Grading policies need to be clear and grading scales easy to use. Share your grading policy in writing on the syllabus and then show exactly how it works after the first big exam, paper, or assignment. Remind students that assessment is more than the assigning of a grade. Assessment helps them to understand their achievement and helps teachers meet their needs.

6. Keep the passion.

It is very easy to become disheartened by student complaints, lack of administrative support, budget cuts, and job insecurity. However, what is it that drew you to your discipline originally? For most of us, it was a true passion for the subject, a desire to learn all about it, and a further desire to then share that knowledge. In higher education, we have opportunities to learn, research, teach, and shape the future of our disciplines and influence the larger world through our disciplines. Successful college teachers recognize that many of today’s college students have learning needs. Taking actions like these helps them to meet those challenges successfully.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, 27.7 (2013): 5. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

The post Six Things That Make College Teachers Successful appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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Most student rating instruments include a question related to the feedback provided by the instructor. It may ask whether it was constructive, actionable, delivered in a timely manner, or some combination of these characteristics. Most teachers are conscientious about giving students feedback. Because they devote so much time and effort to providing it, they are often disappointed and frustrated when students don’t rate the quality of the feedback very positively.

That’s what was happening in the faculties of arts and social sciences and of law at the University of New South Wales. The question on their student rating form asked students whether they were given helpful feedback on how they were doing in the course. “Members of the staff [faculty] whose courses have been rated lower on feedback than on other factors have been puzzled as to just what it was that they would have to do in order to score really well on the feedback question.” (p. 50)

Article author Shirley V.  Scott conducted a series of focus group conversations with students in these two programs. Her approach was direct. She gave students a copy of the question from the student rating form, asked them to think of a course they were enrolled in now and a course they had already completed, and rate both on the feedback question. Then she asked them to reflect and write about what aspects of those courses shaped their answer to the feedback question. “What were you thinking of when you decided how to rate that course?” (p. 51)

Her follow-up question is an excellent one, likely to generate answers that help the teacher and the students. When deciding how to rate an aspect of instruction, students read the item, and then events, actions, experiences, behaviors, and feelings rush through the mind. Without much conscious integration, they coalesce into a score. Thinking about them explicitly clarifies the rationale behind the score for both the student and teacher.

In this case, the written responses and a follow-up discussion were used to formulate a definition for feedback, although it was clear that not all students were defining it the same way. About a third of them thought of feedback exclusively in terms of the teacher’s response to assignments. The rest of the students defined it more broadly, including features like the teacher’s nonverbal responses.

Both perspectives were incorporated in the definition: feedback is what students use to gauge throughout the course how well they are doing in terms of the knowledge, understanding, and skills that will be used to determine their overall grade in the course. (p. 52) Author Scott believes this understanding of feedback explains why an abundance of teacher feedback still may not result in a high score on the rating item. If some comments on a paper are positive, some negative, and some neutral, that’s good feedback, but from the student perspective it may not clarify how they are doing in the course.

This need to know “how am I doing?” more or less continually may be a feature of this generation of students. It could also be indicative of learners not confident or able to self-assess. They can’t decide how they’re doing, are afraid their assessment is incorrect, or may believe that what they think doesn’t matter, since their understanding of how they’re doing doesn’t count. Author Scott Shirely recommends helping these students by giving them exemplars so they have a better understanding of what they’re aiming to achieve.

Feedback doesn’t have an agreed-upon definition among scholars, among those who teach, or, as this analysis shows, among students. What was discovered here is specific to students and faculty in two programs at one institution. The most valuable part of the analysis is the approach used to discover what students were thinking when they came up with a particular rating score. It’s a technique that could easily become an activity in any course, and it seems like a useful way to gain insight about scores on any evaluation item where the student rating isn’t what was expected or doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Reference: Scott, S.V., (2014). Practicing what we preach: Towards a student-centered definition of feedback. Teaching in Higher Education, 19 (1), 49-57.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, 30.1 (2016): 8. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

The post “What Were You Thinking of When You Decided on That Rating?” appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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Establishing a healthy learning environment is key to teaching. But opportunities for making personal connections and relationships with students are greatly reduced in online classes. Thus, online instructors need to make a special effort to foster relationships in their online courses.

Start class with a live meeting

I always begin my classes with a live Adobe Connect meeting. I use my webcam, which allows students see my face, hear my voice, and have an opportunity to get to know me as person. I share a little about my life, including the seven-year-old child I have who will occasionally (supposedly accidentally) pop his head in during the middle of class.

Prior to that meeting, I have students post a little about themselves (including a picture) in a discussion board in our LMS. This lets me use that information to make connections with students in the meeting. For example, I mentioned that a student’s superintendent had been my principal in one of my first administrative positions.

In addition to providing my background, I review the course assignments and explain them in greater detail. I often set up polls in Adobe Connect to determine what time students prefer to meet, if a specific activity was beneficial, if they are interested in learning more about a topic, etc. Students appreciate the opportunity to get to know the professor, ask questions about the course structure, and learn from the questions of others. These live meetings are recorded, and those unable to attend are able to watch the recording when it is convenient for them.

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The post Ways to Improve Relationships in Online Classes appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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Those of us who teach in professional programs have some unique instructional challenges. Certainly, like everyone else, we have content that students need to learn—and, like everyone else, we have too much content and struggle to get through it all. We’re also alike in that we want our students to develop lifelong learning skills, such as problem-solving and critical thinking. And yet, on top of this, all students in professional programs have skills related to the profession that they must truly master—a matter complicated by the fact that whether it’s a culinary program, welding, woodworking, occupational therapy, social work, or computer repair, most students begin these programs having none or very few of these skills. Moreover, unlike many of the more traditional academic majors, in our programs we are also expected to teach students how to act like professionals in our fields. And finally, the reputation of our programs depends on how well our students perform in all of these areas, as measured by a certifying exam that students must pass in order to work in the profession. Indeed, professional education has its challenges which those of us teaching in the programs along with the rest of the academic community need to regularly consider.

I’ll use my own program to further explore what makes teaching in professional programs at once challenging and rewarding. For decades, I have taught in a Faculty of Nursing at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Our undergraduate students come to us with high grade point averages, or if they are transferring into our After Degree program (meaning they have a degree in another discipline, such as science, and then take our two-year program to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing), their grades need to be competitive.  In the undergraduate program, students take theory and clinical courses and the theory courses are approved by the university.  The nursing regulatory body determines the exact number of hours students spend in each clinical area. After completion of the program, students write a North American examination before they can enter nursing practice.  Because most of our students must work part time to pay escalating tuition costs, they become experts at time management. To say it more directly, nothing is easy for students in our programs or in other regulated programs at the University of Alberta, and I suspect that is true of professional programs offered elsewhere.

Preparing students to be professionals in a regulated discipline means they must have foundational knowledge in their discipline, plus courses in related areas such as ethics, legal issues, history of the field as well as current trends and issues. In many fields, the content of the curriculum is closely monitored by those in the field or by professional boards or associations who prescribe what graduates should know and be able to do. Those of us teaching in a professional area, do not have as much curricular freedom as other faculty do. We have a responsibility to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed in the profession.

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The post The Privilege and Challenges of Teaching in Professional Programs appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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