“Learning and development is a social, collaborative activity.” –Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)
Many of us would agree that students learn best when they interact with others in a supportive environment. This is true for traditional classrooms and virtual classrooms, in offices and in casual settings. We can influence these interactions in how we craft the learning environment, how we talk and how we work with students. The way in which we, as instructors, structure the classroom community can help to stimulate social interactions and create a safe place for students to learn. There is a critical need to support students through interactions that are accepting, nurturing and encouraging.
Here is a quick read about supportive classrooms to whet your appetite: Building a Nurturing and Supportive Environment for All Students by Matthew Lynch.
Spend some time at the site, Getting Results: A Professional Development Course for Community College Educators. This free-online course contains six modules covering topics such classroom community, adult learners in the classroom and student diversity. There are videos and ideas to try in your classroom.
The choices we make in the classroom have the potential to deeply impact students and their choices. Charles Blow talks about how his life was changed by one thoughtful professor in his New York Times piece entitled, In College, Nurturing Matters.
Some things you can do to set the mood in the first couple of weeks:
- Play fun name games and ways to introduce students.
- Notice and encourage groups or individual students who are contributing to class, taking risks, supporting one another, and demonstrating effort.
- Survey students about their goals for the class, then share these goals anonymously with the class.
- Create team-based activities or group activities that allow each student to have a vital role.
- Use small groups or pairs learning so students can learn to work with each other and see the value in different perspectives and experiences.
- Assign students to teach material throughout the semester.
- Give students the opportunity to make choices on assignments and projects.
- Include lecture notes or other materials on your Moodle course site each week.
- Create practice quizzes that increase confidence in text taking and increase preparation.
- Welcome students to class each day and ask about their lives!
The beginning of the semester can be a busy time and questions often arise about teaching and college resources. This list of links and reminders is a starting point for your semester at GCC, but can also help you plan for important activities and deadlines.
♦ Prepare your syllabus.
♦ Print the GCC Academic Calendar with holidays, professional dates and student deadlines: Consult the activities calendar for faculty and staff http://www.gcc.mass.edu/staff/#
♦ Check course materials with the bookstore to make sure they are correct.
♦ Use your GCC email for all correspondence to students and colleagues. Mobile access instructions.
♦ Verify the days and times of the class you are teaching along with the classroom using at MyGCC.
♦ Download your class roster for the first day of that class from MyGCC. Check back for roster updates until the end of add/drop. Contact any wait list students if there will be room in the class.
♦ Take student contact information such as daytime & evening phone and GCC & personal email can help you reach students outside of class. If you need to cancel class for any reason, use MyGCC to alert students.
♦ Confirm your roster within the first weeks of class through MyGCC. This is critical for financial aid.
♦ Get to know student resources at GCC:
♦ The Testing Center is available for make-up exams as well as testing needs for students with accommodations. More information.
♦ Complete Early Progress Reports for any students who are having difficulty in your class. This can be related to behavioral issues, low grades or attendance problems. More information about EPRs available here.
♦ Have students complete the course evaluations on or before the last day of class. It can be helpful to get evaluations finished before the last class to avoid stress and missed evaluations due to weather cancellations. Choose a student volunteer to help administer the evaluations and return them to the division office. For more about evaluations see the faculty handbook.
♦ Submit Final Grades. Please get your grades submitted on time using MyGCC.
Please let us know what additional links and resources need to be added to the list. Email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a fundamental difference between praise and encouragement. This is a distinction to keep in mind as we wrap up the semester and provide students with feedback on their learning. We want our students to reflect on their learning in ways that move them toward their next goal—we need to do that, too.
We live in a “great job” world where students have become accustomed to hearing praise. It is, to some people’s thinking, cheap and easy to handout. Encouragement, on the other hand, takes more time and effort to dole out. The results of praise and those of encouragement differ greatly. Praise can signal that the job is over and we can sit back and admire the results. Encouragement lets us know that we are still working and that the job is not finished.
Think about your student as a runner. If you yell out “Well done” before the end of the race, the runner might get the idea that s/he is done and can rest. But, if you yell “Keep it up—your getting there”, the runner is bolstered by the support and keeps moving.
Encouragement can have the effect of keeping a desired behavior going. That can be attending class, being active in discussions or submitting work on time. It also communicates expectations, standards and models behavior for others.
Here are some resources to get you started:
Let’s Discuss Class Discussions
Whether we teach online or in-person, we know the value that stimulating classroom discussions can have on student learning. It is an opportunity for students to practice concepts, get clarification and apply new ideas. Getting discussions started and maintaining momentum can be a challenge. We might also have a core group of students who are vocal and others who sit back and watch. Leading classroom discussions is a dynamic art–the challenges, tools and students are always changing.
Here are some common challenges faculty face in discussions with some helpful resources:
♦ Getting students off the stage:
We have to work constructively with these eager students who may intimidate others with their ideas and enthusiasm. We don’t want to shut he student down, but instead help channel their participation.
♦ Get students off the sidelines:
Students may be quiet in class for a variety of reasons–fear, lack of preparation, etc. Understanding the reason may help find an appropriate solution for moving the student forward.
♦ Writing useful and engaging discussion questions:
We might be able to have spontaneous discussions in class–especially for topics that engender passion. But, discussion questions which help students achieve course competencies can also be prepared in advance.
♦ A special note about online classes and the value of discussions:
Discussions take on a heightened level of importance in many online classes. Discussion activities can help students feel connected to their classmates and instructor. Students often report higher levels of engagement with the material and the course itself. Ultimately, these feelings may lead to greater motivation and course success. This short article from Jennifer Freeman at UT TeleCampus, Using Discussions in Online Courses: The Importance of Interactivity, gives online discussions their due and provides practical ideas instructors.
It is not just military service that sets student veterans apart from their classmates. According to a 2013 American Council on Education report, they are often the first members of their family to attend college and are often about a decade older than other students. They tend to study harder and are driven to succeed, but feel less engaged and connected to campus life.
The good news in this study is that many veterans feel supported by their institutions. This support is found at every level—from the financial aid process and registration and the classroom. As faculty and staff, we need to find ways to ensure that veterans have the tools and skills they need to walk their educational path. But, there are challenges as you will read in this article from military.com. Misconceptions about veterans abound, do a reality check at NEA Ten Things You Should Know about Working with Today’s Student Veterans.
Cultivating a sense of belonging on campus can be helpful. So, how might we get started?
Here are some ideas:
- Ask if a student in interested in sharing his/her experiences rather than singling someone out in class discussions
- If a student veteran seems to be struggling, talk with him or her
- Know the resources that are available, this includes VetNet, but also the services that are available to all GCC students, both traditional and online
- Remember that sometimes active duty students need flexibility with due dates—be accommodating when possible
- Introduce them to organizations and activities on campus. Review tips for Getting Student Veterans off the Sidelines for some ideas
- Capitalize on each veteran’s strength and determination to help reach educational goals
The VetNet resource center is a must-stop for veterans on campus—it is the place to get certified for educational benefits, meet other vets and find support for challenges. Advisors can learn how to meet the needs of this population from the NACADA: Advising Student Veterans.
Perhaps one of the best all around sites for learning about student veterans is the American Council on Education: Supporting Student Veterans. The articles and resources here are directed at all members of the educational community. You will find information on helping make the transition from soldier to student and much more.
At the mid-semester point, we can start to see and feel fatigue setting in for both our students and ourselves. Finding that spark of creativity and enthusiasm can bring our classes to life and give us the energy to finish the semester as strong as we began. It can be as simple as new discussion starters, innovative ways to structure assignments or useful encouragement for students.
Working from the experience and practice of other faculty is often helpful. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte has compiled an impressive list of Best Practices in College Teaching that looks at the kinds of challenges we all face.
- The Thoughtful Questions section is full of stimulating one-liners for those times when there is a lag in the discussion. These can also be used for critical thinking about course material and concepts.
- Use the Rewarding Learner Participation section to help move discussions forward in ways that simple praise doesn’t often do.
This is just a fraction of what this link has to offer!
You are sure to find your own favorite new ideas to try. Our challenge to you is try one new idea during your next class. Write it into your lesson plan for the day. Then chose another and another….
The League for Innovation National Conference will be held this year March 8-11 in Boston. The conference website is located at the following link: http://www.league.org/innovations/. A review of previous conferences also accessible from this link will help give you an idea of the scope of this annual national conference focused on community colleges.
We have set aside a pool of college and STEM grant funds in order to support sending a team of 6 from GCC to this conference. We are now accepting applications from GCC employees interested in participating in this conference. Selected participants will be expected to participate in two follow up activities:
1) participate in a brown bag discussion in late April to share their experiences and information, and
2) facilitate a 1 hour workshop during the fall 2105 semester sharing how they have applied something learned from the conference.
Our budget will cover six participants; however we might be able to stretch that budget if participants are able to stay with family/friends in the Boston area, thus reducing hotel costs. Also, since we are using STEM funds to support this activity, we will need to include at least 2 STEM faculty on the GCC team. Applications will be reviewed by Pete Sennett, Sher Hruska and Judi Greene-Corvee.
Please complete the application form below. The deadline for submitting an application has been extended to January 22. The team selection will be announced soon after so that participants may plan accordingly for their time away from campus for the four days in March.
If you have questions, please contact Judi Greene-Corvee email@example.com.
As professors and educational professionals, we are expected to be experts in our discipline, but may lack the skills and knowledge to help students who struggle with mental and emotional health issues. This is not a new concern, but studies show that the number of college students with both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental illness is increasing. Mental Health Awareness Week (Oct 5-11) at GCC has raised our consciousness of the issue and stimulated discussion about meeting the needs of all our students.
In 2011, The Wall Street Journal published a piece entitled, A Serious Illness or an Excuse? Looking at the issue of mental health and college students by Andrea Petersen This article highlights some of the common challenges for both students and faculty as they try to navigate these often stormy waters. Take a few minutes to read this article– you will gain a fresh perspective on what it is to be a student who is struggling.
If you think mental health issues are isolated or overstated, look through the National Alliance on Mental Health’s report, College Students Speak, A Survey Report on Mental Health. In essence, this organization has found a significant demonstrated need for support for college students face a variety of mental health issues such as depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety and PTSD. The report includes a section on what students should know and what faculty & support staff need to know.
While it might be somewhat easier to identify students who are struggling when we see them in person and work face-to-face, online students are often a different story. In Identifying and Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Online Students in Higher Education, Bonny Barr provides some common clues that students may need extra support. Just as valuable as her insights and research are, the links she provides at the conclusion of the article to mental health resources are ones to bookmark. Keep in mind that resources are available for online GCC students, just as they are for traditional students. Think about adding a link to the GCC Wellness Center to your online class.
Here at GCC, many faculty and staff have worked with students who are dealing with mental health issues in our classrooms and offices. Don’t go it alone. There are specific resources to help students create paths to learning and being a part of the GCC community.
If you struggle with writing exams, know that you are not alone. Constructing well-written, clear and meaningful exams can give any faculty pause. We strive to link learning and course objectives to the assessment while providing an accurate measure of learning and knowledge–not an easy task. We often know what to test, but getting at the heart of that in a meaningful and well-phrased, concise question is an art. Here are some resources to stimulate your thinking and exam prep.
In Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis (p. 362-365), the general strategies include:
- Focusing on learning outcomes and the learning to be assessed
- Viewing the test as a means of understanding students’ intellectual progress
- Concentrating n validity and reliability
- Using a variety of testing formats and question types
Indiana University in Bloomington’s How to Write Better Tests, A handbook for Improving Test Construction Skills offers a primer on all facets of testing and the pros and cons of different strategies. The handbook includes new ideas, such as the T/F—fill in the blank combination question and advice on scoring exams.
The Center for Instructional Development and Research is an important resource for writing any exam. Here you will find articles in critical target areas such as aligning exams with learning, writing exams, question types and grading.
Multiple choice exam questions:
Some teaching books that we really like here at GCC with information on assessments and writing strong test questions: (Copies of these books are available at the library.)
- Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis
- Effective Grading, A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College by Barbara E. Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson
By now you are getting to know your students and have an idea of who they are as learners. Perhaps you have already discussed accommodation agreements with specific students and you are looking for ways to ensure that each student achieves learning objectives and course competencies. One way to communicate with students is the Early Progress Report (EPR).
This fall the deadline for Early Progress Reports is October 27th at 2pm. But, there is no reason that you need to wait until then. Students may find it helpful to have these reports earlier. The sooner they understand the nature of the problem, the sooner they can make changes, discuss options for staying in the class, and perhaps most importantly, they can get the help they need to be successful in your course. Even more importantly, the more quickly struggling students are identified and receive academic support; the more likely they are to stay in college and achieve educational goals.
If you have an inkling that a student may be struggling, but are not be sure how to help, the EPR can set the stage for additional academic support. Use the ERP for students who are not making satisfactory progress in your course or who might be displaying behaviors what could lead to academic difficulty (i.e. tardiness or absenteeism).
In the early progress report, you can include information about:
- Course expectations (you might include excerpts from the syllabus)
- Detailed feedback about student work
- Suggestions about extra academic help (tutoring, use of class resources, etc)
- Ideas for improvement
- Your office hours and contact information
The ERP can create accountability. It encourages the student to take steps to remedy the situation and make improvements. It can also alert the student’s advisor about challenges the student is facing.
To help tailor your suggestions to students facing failure or academic difficulty here are some helpful links for resources at GCC: