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:
It is never to early to be thinking about how you will grow and learn this academic year. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in the start of classes that we forget to make plans to attend on campus events or submit proposals and attend conferences in the region. Here is a handy list of excellent professional development events for you to mark on your calendar. Money is often available to help defray costs of travel and registration. These events are also on the Teaching and Learning schedule.
PD on and Off campus 2014-2015
As we start making plans for our classes and our students, we have to admire how much has changed in a few short months. During the summer GCC has been thriving, growing and moving in exciting directions. The commitment to students, staff, faculty and the community remains strong, but the tools that allow us to create and foster success have expanded and deepened.
For instance, you have probably noticed the new look of the GCC website—these changes make the site more mobile-friendly. There are new technology and moodle resources to help students and faculty. Plus there are new posts and links at the Teaching and Learning site to help solve problems, see common challenges in new ways and support the vital work that happens at GCC.
But perhaps most importantly, we have new students and many returning students who will be new to each of us. They will look to us to nurture, support and encourage their educational goals. While each of us has our own tried and true methods, the best teachers and staff are those who are looking to improve, innovate and take risks. Now is the ideal time to try something new…. and there are resources to help do that! Read about the moment that Eric Mazur’s teaching changed dramatically.
The start of the semester is exciting—full of transitions and fresh starts. This is the time to “hook” students and get them interested in your class and the work they will do! Take a look at 101 ideas for the First Three weeks of Class.
General Tips and Ideas:
Also available on the Teaching and Learning website are ideas for working with diverse populations, motivating students, designing courses and assignments, etc. You can use the search tool or the menu on the right hand side of the site. If there are resources you have to share or ideas for additional resources, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great semester!
Here we are in the last week of classes and starting final exams. While it is easy to let off the accelerator a little bit, this is the time to put all our efforts into the final lap around the track. Role model the behaviors and attitudes that you want to see from your students–help them carry their natural momentum to the end of the academic year. With final exams fast approaching, we need our students to stay focused and committed to learning.
The last day of class is a time to praise students and show them how far they have come in a few short months. Everyone deserves and needs a pat on the back! Read what some faculty do to end the semester on a high note and ideas for the last day of class and think about how you can adapt these ideas to fit your students, discipline and teaching style.
Think about incorporating some new review techniques into final exam preparation. Show students that getting ready for the final exam can be fun and productive.
Share these studying tips and techniques with your students. They can help this semester and in the future! Encourage study groups and ways of connecting that might make this time of year less stressful.
Once the grades are calculated and entered, it is easy to out the semester to bed and forget about our own learning. We have all learned so much this semester, from our students and our colleagues—reflect on this learning. Review your syllabus from the semester and decide NOW what worked well and what needs revision. The postmortem should include assessment of how well you believe students met learning objectives and course competencies. Your assessment will give you a head start on next semester.
Believe it or not, the end of the semester is the ideal time to think about course design and re-design. You are in a position to take advantage of your recent teaching experience, feedback from students and new ideas that have emerged during the past months.
One of the goals for your work on course development might be to include more Quantitative Reasoning and Critical Thinking activities. The development of these skills helps students to be strong consumers of information, do better in coursework (now and in the future) and be prepared to meet workplace demands. If you are unsure where to start, consider attending the AMCOA Region 1 Faculty Workshop right here at GCC on June 5th. Stipends are available and lunch will be provided. Register here.
At this workshop you will learn the fundamentals of creating assignments that grow reasoning and thinking skills in your discipline and across disciplines. Just as important, you will be able to assess these skills and your students’ progress toward learning goals.
If you cannot attend the workshop, you might use the resources provided by the Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center for teaching to examine effective teaching approaches. There are ideas about how to craft learning objectives and assignments that will help students achieve these objectives.
For more on Critical Thinking in the Classroom, review resources on the T & L site.
For more on Quantitative Reasoning, visit the Brown University Center for Teaching.
It has been a long winter—the cold and dark days affect motivation and commitment to academics. This is true for students and if we are honest, it is true for faculty and staff. At midpoint of the spring semester, there is a certain level of fatigue that needs to be addressed.
First, let’s tackle students:
For a theoretical orientation to motivation and science of motivating learners, look here.
Although this link is to the Geoscience Department at Carlton College, the information here about motivating students is applicable to any department and any population of students. Take a look at how faculty behaviors can directly impact student motivation. You make a huge difference in your classroom!
Not to be outdone, Vanderbilt University examines the types of motivation students possess and how we can tap into these in ways that encourage success and GRIT when the going gets tough.
Now, let’s address the needs of faculty and staff. If you feel like your “get-up-and go” got up and went, then this link is for you:
Perhaps, there is a 12-step program for motivation, but maybe 7 steps are all you really need. Or maybe 8 steps are better.
Like researchers, many of us who work with students often hypothesize about what it takes for students to be successful in college. Why and how do some students overcome adversity when others collapse under the weight of these challenges? And, perhaps more importantly, what can we do to foster the skills and resilience that college requires? Angela Lee Duckworth says it comes down to grit. Images of John Wayne may come to mind with good reason—true grit may be rare, but it is out there for us to discover and develop.
Ted Talk: Angela Lee Duckworth with a introduction to grit and what it means.
She has also written an excellent journal article on grit and the ability to reach long term goals.
Her work is so potentially important in education and our approach to student struggle that the Chronicle of Higher Education has focused on her work.
In Feb 2013, the Department of Education released a draft report on Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century.
This report includes interesting strategies to foster a sense of stick-to-it-ness in our students and why it is deemed to be so important for creating students who have the ability to reach long term goals.
Explore ideas for your classroom here.
With all the talented teachers and staff at GCC, we know there is wealth of information and best practices to share. From policies to assignments, building rapport and creating classroom communities…we want to hear about what works and how you make your class and interactions with students stronger. Please share your expertise!
Every tip, trick or idea you share will be an entry into the T & L site raffle for the month of March. We will be giving away practical and much sought after prizes like vouchers for the café and gift cards for the bookstore every week. Don’t miss out!
Use the form provided at the T & L site or at this link http://www.gcc.mass.edu/professional-development/faculty-staff-best-practices/. Keep your entry to 150 words or less. We’ll post the entries on the site according to category along with your name and department—you’ll be famous before you know it!
There are other ways besides our contest to share your expertise. Consider presenting at a conference. Last month’s T & L post dealt with how to write a conference proposal and tips for getting it accepted (you can access this post from the left hand menu or using the search tool at the site). Attending a conference and bringing back new ideas and fresh perspectives to share with your colleagues and our students is valuable to the GCC community. Plus, there is professional development money available to help cover costs–just contact Judi Greene-Corvee for more information.