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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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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Don’t just write a teaching philosophy… paint a picture.

Writing a thoughtful and compelling statement of teaching philosophy is hard. It’s crucially important, and not merely for securing a faculty position, or making your case in a faculty review for tenure, promotion or merit. The process of self-reflection and articulation is an important exercise we all need to revisit periodically in order to (re-)discover the core of what’s important to us in our pedagogy and the outcomes we want for our students. But such self-examination can be awkward — where do I start? How much is it OK to toot my own horn? And more fundamentally, how do I put the basic instincts I have about what’s important to me into words that aren’t broad, abstract platitudes?  How do I get past “I want my students to be independent learners” and “active learning is important” and “I’m a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage?” (Those cliches may be true for us, but they’re deflating to write and tedious to read.)

The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis has a wonderful set of resources for helping one compose a teaching philosophy statement, including links to lots more online resources.  Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has a useful site on writing a teaching philosophy statement, providing some simple but powerful question prompts to drive your philosophical invention, as well as a helpful video featuring Susan Yager, who frequently teaches in ISU’s Preparing Future Faculty Program:

But what the Wash U and Iowa State sites might not provide as clearly is a sense of the core of a really unique, definitive teaching philosophy: the concrete texture and experiential detail of your classroom, described in ways that help the reader get a vibrant sense of what it’s like for your students and for you as the teacher.

Here’s where Mary Anne Lewis from Ohio Wesleyan University comes in. In her recent post on Vitae (an essential blog site to follow if you’re on the job hunt, or even just interested in ongoing faculty development at your current place of employment), Lewis describes how she discovered the notion of a teaching philosophy as a “self-portrait,” and in doing so rediscovered and was able to articulate her personal joys of teaching and learning.

Be sure to check out the original post on Vitae — at the end is Lewis’ own teaching philosophy statement in an embedded document file… and it’s really worth the read!

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October 3, 2014

Image: sketch of Albert Camus, by Petr Vorel

Just two years ago, I was in the same position that many of you are in now, namely on the academic job market. The fall semester is under way and, in addition to dissertation work and teaching obligations, you have to write and revise some dense documents for your job applications. Those documents, far from conversational in tone, have to represent your past five to eight (or more) years of academic work in a clear, compelling, articulate, elegant way that demonstrates your unique contributions to your field. And you should have finished your other dissertation chapter. And your dishes are dirty. And you have run out of socks.

I found crafting a “statement of teaching philosophy” particularly elusive. What is it exactly, I wondered, and how does one write such a statement? Should the tone be philosophical, practical, entertaining, or some combination of all three?

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Want to encourage participation? Give ’em a mulligan!

Sometimes, in order to reap the greatest rewards, we need to take a risk. Of course, the problem is that risks are risky, and the prospect of failure looms, which we usually don’t perceive as rewarding. If only we had the opportunity for a do-over…

[Check out this short film when you have some time… it’s charming.]

Our students are frequently faced with the opportunity for productive risk — particularly when it comes to in-class discussion. We know that active engagement in the classroom is positively associated with learning gains (Tinto, 1997), and in-class participation is an important component of student engagement (Handelsman et al.,  2005).  For the Millennial students currently in our classrooms, class discussions can be a powerful way to leverage some of their generational traits for learning (e.g., their desire for an active learning environment and their egalitarian belief that all voices should be heard); however, other traits (e.g., their sensitivity to criticism) can make them risk-averse when it comes to the prospect of ‘being wrong’ in the classroom (Roehling et al., 2011).

Our Millennials also crave achievement and can be consumer-oriented when it comes to the cost-benefit analysis of their personal efforts in the learning department. That’s where the innovative advice of Jefferson College’s Lisa Pavia-Higel, recently published in Faculty Focus, comes in.  She suggests that we can stimulate student participation in class discussions by leveraging the current wave of “gamification” of the learning experience (i.e., strategies that “focus[] on what games do for brain processes and tr[y] to bring that into the learning environment”).  In brief: offering “mulligan” credits to apply in subsequent exams can both incentivize active class participation and reduce student test anxiety at the same time.

This strategy, an alternative approach to both “participation grades” and “extra credit,” has the tantalizing possibility of encouraging otherwise risk-averse students to put themselves out there in the classroom, where we want them to engage.  It also fosters the active and welcoming environment for participation Millennials crave.

So… consider going out and buying some stickers???

Handelsman, M.M., Briggs, W.L., Sullivan, N., and Towler, A. (2005). A measure of college student course engagement. The Journal of Education Research, 98(3), 184-192.

Roehling, P.V., Vander Kooi, T.L., Dykema, S., Quisenberry, B, and  Vandlen, C. (2011). Engaging the millennial generation in class discussions. College Teaching, 59, 1-6.

Tinto, V. (1997). Classrooms as communities: Exploring the educational character of student persistenceJournal of Higher Education, 68(6), 599-623.

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AUGUST 18, 2014

Using “Mulligans” to Enhance Student Participation and Reduce Test Anxiety

By: in Teaching and Learning

When I speak with other professors who work extensively in the classroom, we often find that we share many of the same challenges. Students’ lack of classroom participation in discussion and test anxiety are two of the most common. Many professors try to mitigate these issues through two time-honored pedagogical tactics: a participation grade and extra credit questions on tests. While both tactics can be effective, by applying concepts from gamification research I found a way to both enhance classroom participation and reduce test anxiety with one simple technique.

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Give your students the gift of unplugging!

So, the academic term has just started. How many students have you found texting in your class already? Or checking e-mail, doing social media, or hitting the Candy Crush?

Most of us, to our chagrin, have encountered this hassle frequently — and a recent study in the Journal of Media Education reveals that the number of students who admit to using their phone during class time for non-class stuff exceeds 90%! We also have a good sense that the student defense of “multitasking” is largely bunk; study after study reveals that student multitasking with phones or computers while engaged in class or studying results in degraded academic performance.  But the lure of the digital distraction is pervasive, as many (most?) of us can attest if we’re being honest with ourselves (who here hasn’t gotten through at least part of a long meeting without a furtive phone check or two… or more?).

Louise Katz from Columbia State Community College may have found an answer, at least for her students. While some chafe at the idea of providing rewards for behavior students should be performing anyway, Katz argues in the Chronicle that a well-executed extra credit assignment might yield some valuable lessons for the digital addicts in our classrooms. So consider giving your students the gift of unplugged class periods! Some of them just might thank you for it.

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Today’s Lesson: Life in the Classroom Before Cellphones

Although I had taught for more than 20 years, I didn’t realize that I had forgotten what it was like to teach in a classroom without cellphones until I came up with a plan to relive those halcyon days. It was near the end of the semester, and I offered one point of extra credit per class period for my psychology students who turned off their cellphones before class and put them on the front desk.

I was sure that no students would part with their phones for such a meager offering. Wrong: Virtually all my students did. They even said they loved the idea, so the next semester I offered all my classes the same deal for the entire semester, and participation continued unabated. In fact, much to my surprise, after the first few days, when I walked into my classes all the cellphones were already on the table in the front of the room.

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

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 to Augustana’s own David Gooblar, who provides tips on this subject and much, much more on his Pedagogy Unbound website (which you should check out ASAP).

Enjoy that first day!

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Image: Oregon State U. Special Collections & Archives.

August 21, 2014

A huge proportion of Vitae members identify themselves either as graduate students or faculty members—which means that a pretty significant number of people here will be teaching at least one section this semester. And of course for every section taught, there’s always a first day of class.

So I thought it might be fun to come up with some ideas for first-day lesson plans. David Gooblar has compiled an excellent database of teaching resources here at Vitae and at his website Pedagogy Unbound. We’ve also just created a new Teaching Tips group where teachers—beginners and veterans—can share more tips and ideas. Consider this post the beginning of that discussion.

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