Stimulating Discussions

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.

 

 

Facing Mid-semester Doldrums with new Ideas

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….

Fall Semester at GCC: Welcome back!

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.

Syllabus help:

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 sheldonl@gcc.mass.edu.

Have a great semester!

The end of another academic year!

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.

 

 

5th Annual New England Conference for Student Success at UMass

Teaching for Student Success

The demand for technological competencies is expanding in higher education. From blended and fully on-line classes, to flipped classes, MOOCs and SPOCs, instructors have a variety of options to consider. As the impact of technology increases, however, it also invites us to reconsider past and current practices.
How do we know what really works to enhance student learning while maximizing accessibility and affordability in higher education? Which technologies are demonstrated to be effective? Are recently identified “high impact practices” consistent with technology-based course designs? How should our student affairs and student services programs respond to the evolving needs of today’s students? Since student learning is our goal, what kinds of assessments reveal where and how that learning takes place, both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

Technology also comes in many forms—from cutting-edge learning analytics platforms to face-to-face discussion. The multi-modal nature of technology invites us to investigate the underlying reasons for the instructional decisions that we make in and beyond the classroom. Are there particular strategies and approaches that work nearly universally? Should anyone only “stand and deliver?” What are some of the supplemental programs and services that enable students to get the most benefit from what goes on in a course, and, in particular in the classroom? Is advising also a teaching process that could be informed by effective instruction techniques? Should we be trying to ensure that best practices are used in all courses and in all instructional formats? Inherent in the answers to these, and similar questions, is the likelihood that some approaches are more valuable for some students than for others.

To encourage exploration of the diverse answers to these questions, this conference will provide opportunities for participants to learn about and share various strategies in teaching and learning that appear to have the most positive impact on student learning.  Participants – tenured professors, contingent faculty, and student affairs staff alike – will discuss how we can encourage and support each other to learn about different strategies, to focus on student learning, to experiment with different course designs and to adopt and retain best practices.

8:00 – 9:00 am Registration and Continental Breakfast, UMass Amherst Campus Center Concourse
9:00 – 9:45 am Welcome
10:00 – 11:15 am Invited Addresses and Concurrent Sessions, Campus Center Lower Level and 9th Floor
11:30 – 12:45 pm Keynote Address, Campus Center Auditorium
Dr. Mary Deane Sorcinelli
12:45 – 1:30 pm Lunch, Campus Center Auditorium
Dessert will be available on the Campus Center Concourse
1:45 – 3:00 pm Invited Addresses and Concurrent Sessions, Campus Center Lower Level and 9th Floor
3:15 – 3:45 pm Conference Wrap-up, Campus Center Auditorium
3:45 – 4:30 pm Wine and Cheese Social, Campus Center Concourse, Lower Level
Come follow up with presenters, and catch up with colleagues

*Schedule is preliminary and subject to change. 

Keynote Speaker

Mary Deane Sorcinelli is a well-known researcher in the areas of academic careers, faculty professional development, and higher education teaching and learning. She has written more than 100 articles, book chapters, and books in a wide range of sources. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she founded the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development (CTFD). The Center supports the professional development of UMass faculty across all career stages and disciplines with a wide range of programs and resources focused on teaching, mentoring, scholarly writing, career advancement, and work/life balance.  Under her direction, the CTFD has promoted instructional and faculty development innovations that have been recognized with a range of national awards and externally funded grants.

In 2013, Sorcinelli was named the inaugural Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Mount Holyoke’s Weissman Center for Leadership. She was honored with the University of Massachusetts’ 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award and the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from Massachusetts/ACE Network of Women Leaders in Higher Education.  In 2006, she was awarded the Bob Pierleoni Spirit of POD (Professional and Organizational Development) Award for outstanding lifetime achievement and leadership in the enhancement of teaching and learning.  She also served as president and executive board member of the POD Network (2000–2004) and as senior scholar to the American Association for Higher Education.

Sorcinelli has provided faculty development teaching and consultations in international settings that include Canada, China, Egypt, England, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan.

She holds a B.A. in English from Westfield State University, an M.A. in English from Mount Holyoke College and an ED.D in Educational Policy from UMass Amherst.

Must have skills: Quantitative Reasoning & Critical Thinking

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.

 

Spring Semester: Let’s Get Started!

What an electrifying time of year— a new year and the start of a new semester! The next two weeks are sure to be filled with excitement and questions. Don’t worry! There are many resources to help you be successful in the classroom, with your advisees and colleagues.

Maybe you are teaching a new course or contemplating changes to an existing class. To design your course and overcome common teaching challenges look to Honolulu Community College for articles and useful tips. From first day success to course design, they have it all.  For those teaching a new course, the Step by Step: Planning a College Course can help take your course from concept to a fully-designed course efficiently. Allow yourself plenty of time at each steps to consider what you want students to learning and how to achieve those learning goals in ways that are stimulating and engaging.

You might be wondering how to be better organized and more efficient. Part of teaching is materials management…what to do with all the papers and course materials?! Saving materials from one semester to the next can plunge our offices into chaos. Get a handle on all the detritus of teaching without stress using these helpful tips from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Saving paper and materials is only part of the task…saving time and being efficient is also key.

Perhaps you are considering how to communicate better with your advisees and help them be more successful in their courses. The advisor-advisee relationship is often strengthened through clear communication and enhanced listening skills. Monmouth Community College offers some simple, yet effective tools to help you grow your academic relationships and be a better advisor.  Understanding our role as an advisor can help us to make the most of each interaction with students and be their advocate, mentor, motivating force and cheerleader.

Wrapping up the Semester

At the end of the semester we are often preoccupied with crossing the finish line and getting grades submitted. We may overlook opportunities to wrap up the semester in a meaningful way for both our students and ourselves.  Faculty struggle over what has been left out and how to make sense of all the ground that has been covered from day one until now. By providing course closure and acknowledging student learning, we can promote a sense of achievement and recognize next steps in the learning process.

The last day of class is a time to praise students, examine teaching effectiveness and plan for the future–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.

 

 

Creating a Rubric: The why and how…

Creating an effective rubric can seem daunting, but is well worth the effort and will save time grading. Grading rubrics are valuable tools for both instructors and students not only for grading purposes, but also as a tool to communicate expectations about skills and information mastery.

Sharing student learning goals and how these will be measured helps students to understand your assessment strategies. Rubrics also describe the importance of individual grading items and can emphasize learning priorities for students. Rubrics help students meet learning objectives and actually do better on assignments. It is a measure of respect we provide to students about how they will be assessed—they are less likely to be caught off guard.

Many resources exist for rubric construction, but most start with learning objectives for each lesson that are clear, specific and measurable. Once we know what students need to learn and how they are going to accomplish it, we can look at how to assess their progress and how to weight each learning goal in terms of relative importance.

This link to Carnegie Mellon University provides a strong induction to using rubrics and examples of rubrics for assignments, projects, presentations and more.

This primer on creating rubrics offers a simple how-to for creating a rubric. How to Create a Grading Rubric

MA is now designated as a Leap State which means that the AACU Value Rubrics are important for measuring program level student outcomes. Look at this resource for more information on Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE).

For examples of rubrics for assessing different types of learning, multiple disciplines and skills, look at Stephen F Austin State University, Association for the Assessment in Higher Education or the University of West Florida.

If you have interest in sharing a rubric you use any an assignment, please do. Send them to sheldonl@gcc.mass.edu and they can be added to the T & L site.

The Flipped Classroom: What it is, how to do it and what to expect

The Flipped Classroom is a teaching approach that moves lectures outside of the classroom to allow classroom time to be spent in more dynamic learning activities. Before arriving to class, students often watch recorded video lectures and read through lecture materials, complete a basic assessment to ensure they have understood basic concepts. They then arrive in the classroom ready to engage with their peers in discussions and other student-centered learning activities.

Overview: Watch one instructors approach in her YouTube video

The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Cons

Flipping A Class: A How-to Guide for Beginners

This teaching strategy seems to be gaining momentum because it gets results. Shaking up tried and true teaching methods can be controversial and this approach is not for everyone, but for some teachers and students, it is breathing new life into the learning experience. Read more from the NYTimes on the Flipped Classroom.