It’s that time again!!! “What Do You Do on the First Day of Class?”

As part of the TPP relaunch, here’s some helpful stuff for the start of the academic year!

Teaching Prof in Progress

If you’re a school geek like me — not to mention if you’re a parent — the first day of school is a magical time.

But for us teachers, it can also be a nerve-wracking time… there are a number of goals we have for kicking off our class in the right way: establishing our own persona, introducing the course in a way that whets the students’ appetites, establishing clear expectations, and establishing a welcoming and warm yet serious classroom environment. [Maryellen Weimer blogged a short yet dead-useful summary of goals and tips last year in the Teaching Professor.] Yeah, yeah, we introduce the syllabus, but what then?

Just in time, Josh Boldt at the University of Georgia shares a great idea — both for building a welcoming classroom culture and for helping you learn names and faces! — in Vitae. Boldt also gives a shout-out…

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Make a great first impression… with your syllabus!

As part of the TPP relaunch, here’s some helpful stuff for the start of the academic year!

Teaching Prof in Progress

The old cliche reminds us that we never get a second chance to make a first impression. So true.

This is particularly true for the first day of class, and that all-important document that goes along with it: the syllabus. Sure, the syllabus fulfills some specific course information and management functions. But it can also play a crucial part in how you come across as a teacher, and how your course is framed and received by students.

Just in time for your last-minute syllabus completion crunch, here’s an oldie-but-goodie post on theTeaching Professor Blog by Maryellen Weimer. There’s good stuff here to consider in order to help your syllabus help you make an effective first impression — and maintain it as long as students continue to use the syllabus in your course.

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AUGUST 24, 2011

What Does Your Syllabus Say About You and Your Course?

By: Maryellen…

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Resolve to reflect on teaching in 2015!

The New Year often brings with it an invitation to reflect on past actions and future prospects. We make resolutions aimed at self-improvement for the year ahead (for me, it’s getting back on my exercise regimen, doing more recreational reading, and blogging more regularly!). Introspective reflection can also be a vital component of successful teaching.

In Reflective Teaching and Learning, Jennifer Harrison explains the roots of “reflective practice” in John Dewey’s examination of though and problem solving in the classic 1910 volume How We Think: “Dewey’s view was that reflective action stems from the need to solve a problem and involves ‘the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it’” (Harrison 9, citation omitted).  Harrison continues to explain that reflective practice can be considered as occurring at three levels, each succeeding level being less instinctual than the previous:

  1. technical reflection: examining events and action to determine what worked and what didn’t, and why;
  2. practical reflection: examining “the interpretative assumptions you are making in your work” (Harrison 8);
  3. critical reflection: examining “the ethical and political dimensions of educational goals and the consensus about their ends” (Harrison 8).

While each level is important, the second — practical reflection — is what draws me to blog this New Year.

As I have worked with colleagues in interpreting their student evaluation data from the IDEA Center Student Evaluations instrument we use at Augustana, one of the matters we discuss is the selection of learning objectives that is central to the process. IDEA SRIs focus on student reports of progress on specific learning objectives selected as “essential” or “important” by the instructor. So, the instructor’s selection of priority objectives is obviously crucial. There are a couple of areas in the summary report to which I draw their attention: the reported progress on their selected objectives, of course, and also the raw data on objectives they did not select. If the scores on selected objectives is lower than expected, and/or the scores on unselected objectives is higher, at least one important question for practical reflection arises: Are the objectives you’ve selected really the focus of your teaching practice? Or is there a disconnect between your assumptions about teaching goals and your actual practice in the classroom? For instance, you may hold firmly to the notion that Objective #8, “developing skill in expressing oneself orally or in writing,” is important to your class. But do you actually spend time and energy instructing in this skill area in the class? Do your assignments clearly reflect and articulate that learning objective? If not, there may be a disconnect between what you believe or intend in teaching and your actual action in the classroom.

These three components of teaching practice — beliefs, intentions, and actions — are at the heart of the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI), a free self-assessment instrument developed by Daniel D. Pratt and Associates based on extensive research into teaching beliefs, intentions and actions. The TPI is a 45-item survey that analyzes these three dimensions across five key teaching perspectives:

  • transmission: “Effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter”;
  • apprenticeship:  “Effective teaching is a process of socializing students into new behavioral norms and ways of working”;
  • developmental:  “Effective teaching must be planned and conducted ‘from the learner’s point of view'”;
  • nurturing: “Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart, not the head”;
  • social reform: “Effective teaching seeks to change society in substantive ways” (Pratt and Collins 2001-2014).

Any teacher will have varying levels of all five perspectives; some will be dominant, some recessive, and the levels may well change over time based on changes in knowledge, experience… and reflection!  I took the TPI last fall — here’s how it shook out:

Klien_TPI_results_Oct_2014

Developmental  teaching reached above the upper line, indicating a dominant perspective. Apprenticeship, Nurturing, and Social Reform all fall below the lower line, indicating recessive perspectives. Overall, the results in the 30s suggest that these perspectives are held moderately. The emphasis on developmental teaching makes sense to me, although I note a bit of a disconnect between my intentions and my actions — something I’ve been pondering about my practice since I took this survey. I was a bit surprised that the three recessive perspectives were at these levels, considering the emphasis on disciplinary analysis of communication as political and social agency that I (think I?) stress in my classes. More fodder for reflection!

The TPI doesn’t assume that some perspectives are “better” than others. And it’s not a perfect instrument, to be sure. Rather, the results provide one lens for practical reflection: what assumptions about teaching drive your practice at a given time? And is there any disconnect between what you believe, what you intend, and/or how you act as a teacher?

So, as we move into 2015, let’s take the opportunity to reflect on the work we do, and resolve to be more reflective practitioners in order to match our actions to our intentions and serve our students well.

For more resources on reflective practice, check out the following:

Happy New Year!

 

Work Cited

Harrison, Jennifer. “Professional Development and the Reflective Practitioner.” In Sue Dymoke and Jennifer Harrison (Eds.), Reflective Teaching and Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008. 7-44. Print.

 

Student evaluation day need not live in infamy

Yesterday, December 7, 2014 — an anniversary for a date which will live in infamy. 73 years ago the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

More recently, many of my colleagues at Augustana (on a trimester calendar) felt suddenly and deliberately attacked by pen and paper missives of the Empire of Their Students.  All too soon, those of you on semester calendars will have your own students complete the dreaded SRIs (student ratings of instruction), and immediately start speculating on whether or not that surly, detached kid in the back row will nuke you as you anticipate he will.

Student course evaluations can be a valuable source of information — not just as summative assessment for department chairs and T&P committees who evaluate your work as a teacher, but as formative assessment for you, the teacher, who can use the data you receive to reflect on your classes, locate your current strengths and revise and tweak where you can. But all the positive data in the world, any collection of bright and shiny open-response affirmations from students can be overshadowed by the one or two negative responses that invariably turn up like bad pennies. All too often it is the this “bring on the rage, bring on the funk” moment of reading student course evaluations that keeps us from engaging them with open-minded inquiry as education professionals.

After a brief hiatus, APP is back with what is hopefully a timely chunk of advice! Isis Artze-Vega, an educational developer from Florida International University, provides a healthy perspective and valuable tips for engaging your SRI responses productively in the latest Faculty Focus. The day you get your summary report and completed forms need not live in infamy… indeed, it may be the first day of the rest of your continuing improvement as a teacher.

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DECEMBER 8, 2014

Cruel Student Comments: Seven Ways to Soothe the Sting

By: in Faculty Evaluation

Reading students’ comments on official end-of-term evaluations—or worse, online at sites like RateMyProfessors.com—can be depressing, often even demoralizing. So it’s understandable that some faculty look only at the quantitative ratings; others skim the written section; and many others have vowed to never again read the public online comments. It’s simply too painful.

How else might you respond? Here are seven suggestions for soothing the sting from even the most hurtful student comments:

1. Analyze the data. First, look for outliers: anomalous negative views. In research, we would exclude them from our analyses, so you should do the same for uniquely mean-spirited or outlandish comments.

Next, find the ratio of positive to negative comments to get an overall picture of student impressions. Better yet, categorize remarks: Are students responding negatively to your assignments? The course readings? A particular behavior? Identifying themes will help you determine whether they warrant a response. If multitudes of students note that they didn’t know what was expected of them or that you were disorganized, you’ll want to reflect on the area(s) identified. What might have given students that impression? And what steps might you take to improve or to alter their perception?

The recent New York Times piece “Dealing with Digital Cruelty” offers additional ideas for responding to mean-spirited online comments. Some of those suggestions are woven into numbers 2-5 below.

2. Resist the lure of the negative. “Just as our attention naturally gravitates to loud noises and motion, our minds glom on to negative feedback,” the article explains, adding that we also remember negative comments more vividly. This finding itself is comforting. If we catch ourselves dwelling on students’ negative feedback, we can consider: Am I focusing on this because it’s “louder,” or because it’s a legitimate concern? If it’s the latter, revisit the ideas in suggestions 1 and 3. Otherwise, skip to 4 and 5 below.

3. “Let your critics be your gurus,” suggests the New York Times piece. It explains we often brood over negative comments because we suspect they may contain an element of truth. Rider University psychology professor John Suler advises us to “treat them as an opportunity.” Ask yourself, “Why does it bother you? What insecurities are being activated in you?” “It’s easy to feel emotionally attacked,” adds Bob Pozen, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School and senior research fellow at the Brookings Institute, “but that doesn’t mean your critics don’t have a point.”

4. Find counter-evidence. When you encounter a negative comment, look for (or recall) comments that contradict it—whether positive feedback from other students or a colleague. “Disputing to yourself what was [written]” can make “harsh comments… feel less potent” (Rosembloom, 2014).

5. Dwell on the positive ones. Because “it takes more time for positive experiences to become lodged in our long-term memory,” (Rosembloom, 2014) we should devote at least as much time to students’ positive comments as their negative ones. Plus, remembering your teaching strengths can motivate you to continue exhibiting the trait or design your courses a certain way. These positive sentiments, often heart-warming and gratifying, will also help you maintain a positive outlook toward students.

The New York Times article proposes another strategy, in the brief article segment about student evaluations. Psychology professor James O. Pawelski jokes that “bars would make a killing if at the end of each semester they offered ‘professor happy hours’ where teachers could bring their evaluations and pass the negative ones around.” He cautions that “Nobody should be alone when they’re reading these things.” That advice leads us to our next tip.

6. Read them with a friend. Whether a departmental colleague, relative, or a trusted center for teaching and learning staff member, a more objective party can help you make sense of or notice the absurdity of the comments because they’re not as personally invested in them.

7. Be proactive, especially if these comments will be the primary data used in decisions about your hiring, re-hiring, promotion, etc. In this case, revisit suggestion 1 above. If you don’t conduct this analysis yourself, you’ll be at the mercy of whomever is charged with your evaluation—and they probably won’t be as thorough. They too may focus on negative comments or outliers. Also, take the time to provide explanations about any off-the-wall student complaints, so that your reviewers don’t draw their own conclusions.

Ultimately, all parties involved—particularly academic leaders—should remember that, important as they are, student comments offer only one perspective on teaching. Thorough evaluation of teaching effectiveness requires that each of us reflect on our practices, examine artifacts from our courses (assignments, syllabi, etc.), and look closely at what our students know and can do upon completion of our courses. The proof, after all, is in the pudding.

Reference:
Rosenbloom, S. (2014, August 24). Dealing with digital cruelty. The New York Times.

Dr. Isis Artze-Vega, associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Florida International University.

– See more at: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/faculty-evaluation/cruel-student-comments-seven-ways-soothe-sting/?ET=facultyfocus:e168:335619a:&st=email#sthash.k6XaIXfk.dpuf

Have your students read your teaching philosophy? Get on the bus!

When we last left our heroes, they were discovering how “painting a portrait” of one’s classroom experiences with concrete details and reflective discussion can help craft a teaching philosophy statement that is attractive to job search committees and useful for faculty review portfolios.  But have you considered sharing your teaching philosophy with your students?

A friend of mine at Augie has often done this as part of an exercise at the start of the course with her students: she shares her teaching philosophy, which vividly uses the metaphor of the ’90s educational children’s TV program The Magic School Bus to describe her thoughts about ideal teaching and learning. Well, she’s like that.

She then asks students to draft a brief “philosophy of learning” statement, which gets students (most of them for the first time) to do some reflective metacognition on how and why they tend to approach learning the way that they do.

A research study brief published in the new (free!) online Faculty Development Today newsletter discusses a pilot approach to sharing teaching philosophy statements with students and assessing their end-of-course responses. The results are intriguing: this move can not only provide you with helpful feedback on your teaching, but also might encourage a greater sense of classroom community for students!  It’s worth checking out.  Maybe you’ll end up showing your students the inside of your magic school bus and take them for a spin!

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6 Reasons to Use Student-Directed Teaching Strategies

Faculty members traditionally develop a teaching philosophy statement (TPS) as part of the job application process, for tenure reviews, or to encourage reflection. In a study published in the Journal of Faculty Development, we propose an alternative approach—to develop the TPS with students as the primary target audience, distribute it to students at the beginning of a course, and collect evaluative data from students about its accuracy at the end of the course. Data were reported from three faculty members who used this student-directed TPS approach. The study revealed implications for faculty development and for the creation and use of teaching philosophies.

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“Desirable Difficulties”, Part 2 (or a retroactive Part 1?)

Not much to add from yesterday’s post, except to point you toward another great discussion of the pedagogical opportunities provided by “desirable difficulties.” This time, David Gooblar, blogger for Pedagogy Unbound (and an instructor at Augustana College, yesssss!) provides some additional details for the kinds of moves you can make to provide opportunities for students to develop their storage memory for deeper learning. So, if you haven’t read Maryellen Weimer’s piece on desirable difficulties that I reblogged yesterday, great!  Read this one first, and then check out how Weimer recommends approaches to approaching student buy-in for a teaching approach that causes students to struggle (productively) on purpose.

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Full_full_11132013-pedagogyunbound

September 10, 2014

Browse the Pedagogy Unbound archives or share more teaching tips in our new group.

Last spring, a new study showed that students who took notes in longhand did substantially better on conceptual questions than those who took notes on a laptop. The results were, perhaps, not that surprising—until you consider that the laptops in the study had Internet access disabled.

It wasn’t that the laptop note-takers were more distracted. That may indeed be a valid concern with personal technology in the classroom, but it was not what Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California at Los Angeles set out to measure. Rather, their study suggests there are real differences between the utility of taking notes by hand and on a computer.

When students take notes on a laptop, the study concluded, the ease of data entry makes them more likely to transcribe everything the professor is saying. Students who take notes in longhand, in contrast, cannot write fast enough to get everything down and so must be selective. It is precisely that process—of summarizing, thinking about what’s most important, predicting what might be useful down the road—that helps those who take notes on paper. Students who use laptops end up with neater, more easily searchable notes, but they may be denying themselves the opportunity to do the upfront processing that is a crucial factor, it seems, in long-term retention of class material.

The study’s results illustrate an example of what UCLA cognitive psychologist Robert Bjork has termed “desirable difficulties”–learning tasks that make students’ brains work a little bit harder in the name of better long-term memory. Our brains don’t function like audio recorders, saving everything we perceive. Instead, memories are cemented through frequent neural activity, and repeated encoding and retrieval processes. That’s what underlies the so-called “testing effect,” which I wrote about back in February. When we give our students frequent tests on important material, we force them to work to recall information. It is that mental work that makes for better long-term retention of whatever it is we want students to retain.

All of which means we should be giving our students frequent tests and quizzes on facts and concepts we want them to remember, and providing opportunities for students to do the mental work that will serve them down the line.

I suppose we could ban laptops from our classrooms to encourage longhand note-taking, though there are good reasons why such a policy may be unwise. But how else can we introduce desirable difficulties into our classrooms? I’ve summarized a few ways below, taken from the work of Bjork and his wife, Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, also a UCLA professor of psychology:

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“Desirable difficulties?” Try telling that to students…

"This teacher is getting on my last nerve..."
In the John Hughes ’80s classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, we see why Ferris ditches school: his history teacher (played with deadpan brilliance by Ben Stein) stymies, bores and infuriates a classroom full of students through a mind-numbingly repetitive and monotone lecture, punctuated with the worst attempts at coaxing student involvement ever.  Ironically, we know that students in the early stages of their college education actually prefer to receive information passively, served up by teachers with expertise. This is largely due to their less-developed stage of learning, and increasingly aggravated by public high school teaching that is designed to move through required content quickly and efficiently. However, to move students to higher orders of thinking and learning — application, critical analysis, creative synthesis — we need to get them to take more ownership of their learning process. Which is hard — especially when students are first faced with this demand in areas of study new to them.

As you might be aware, the benefits of student struggle in the learning process has a sound basis in cognitive psychology. Robert Bjork of UCLA, who studies processes of learning and forgetting, distinguishes between “retrieval memory,” or the easy, immediate accessibility of information, and “storage memory,” or the longer-term ability to retain and recall information. Since the latter is the product of deeper learning, the objective becomes facilitating learning that boosts storage strength as well as retrieval strength. Bjork’s research developed the concept of “desirable difficulties,” beneficial struggles in the learning process that can result in deeper learning.

For instance, pedagogical moves such as frequent quizzes and tests, active problem-solving, and varying the locations where learning takes place are examples of desirable difficulties that prior research links to effective learning.

Of course, as the video statement from Bjork above points out (did you skip it??? go ahead, watch it… I’ll wait…), there is a bit of a dilemma here: students enjoy a rapid, easy improvement in performance (due to the triggering of retrieval memory), but the slower, more troublesome learning process that actually leads to optimal learning can be frustrating to students.

The Teaching Professor Blog‘s Maryellen Weimer discusses how we might respond to this dilemma: how do we help students get beyond “teach me, and make it easy!” to accept the desirable difficulties of student-driven learning? In brief, the way we frame these experiences for students is key to their success.

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SEPTEMBER 10, 2014

“She Didn’t Teach. We Had to Learn it Ourselves.”

By: in Teaching Professor Blog

Yesterday I got an email from a faculty member who had just received her spring semester student ratings (yes, in August, but that’s a topic for another post). She’d gotten one of those blistering student comments. “This teacher should not be paid. We had to teach ourselves in this course.” I remember another faculty member telling me about similar feedback, which was followed later with a comment about how the course “really made me think.”

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