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Self-Study of Teaching with a Critical Friend as a SoTL Project
Leslie Bradbury, Appalachian State University Tracy Smith, Appalachian State University At the beginning of a semester, one of us (Leslie) approached the other (Tracy) with a request to invest in a serious inquiry about scholarly teaching. After discussing the goals for the project, we decided that self-study was an appropriate methodology for our work. In self-study, teachers systematically examine their practice with the specific purpose of improving their teaching (LaBoskey, 2004). A vital component of self-study is to engage a critical friend to reflect, analyze, and examine multiple perspectives. In our case, Leslie conducted the self-study, and Tracy was the critical friend. The process was iterative in that the critical friend did not merely “sign off” at the end; instead, we used critical conversations throughout data collection and analysis. Leslie wanted to examine what she could learn about herself as a science teacher educator. Tracy brought experience in curriculum and instructional design and clinical supervision to her role as critical friend. Each day that Leslie taught the designated course, she set aside time in the evening to record what happened during the class along with her reflection about it. The following provides the headings, purposes, and an example from each entry in our communication: 1. Plan, by Leslie: Leslie recorded her plan for the class, including announcements, activities, and assessments. The information was copied directly from Leslie’s daily plan for the class. Example: Review questions for Large Scale Weather Probes. 2. Self-Study Reflection, by Leslie: Leslie recalled what happened during the class relative to the item in the plan. She might discuss a particular student’s response or how class went, generally. Sometimes she wrote that there wasn’t time to get to a particular activity or that she rearranged the activities due to circumstances such as student interest in a specific topic. Example of Reflection by Leslie: “After I noted in my last reflection that I needed to be more selective in choosing students to answer rather than accepting whole class responses, we went and did the two multiple choice questions as whole class responses again. Yikes. I was happy to see though that students were talking in their table groups about the correct answers, especially for the question that asked them to forecast the weather.” 3. Colleague response: Tracy wrote responses to Leslie’s reflections, sometimes citing relevant research, sometimes offering a resource, question, or teaching idea. Example of Response by Tracy: “Is the small group talking “learning” or assessing learning, not that they are completely separate, but again, this keeps coming up as something that concerns you?” 4. Implications for practice: Tracy or Leslie recorded ideas for possible changes in the course. Tracy sometimes added suggestions based on her own teaching experience or ideas from literature. Example by Tracy: “It is helpful to know that you use the announcements time as ‘morning meeting.’ I get that and clearly see how important community building is to you - and that’s supported in the literature as well. Are you familiar with CoI, the Communities of Inquiry model? I think you’d really like it.” 5. Implications for research: Tracy or Leslie recorded ideas related to their research together. Example by Leslie: “I am wondering if flexibility is one [research theme]. I feel like I am constantly beating myself up over timing, but that maybe I don’t give myself enough credit for trying to adjust to meeting the students where they are on a given day.” Significant Lessons about Successful Co-Investigation Trust and Safe Relationship: Leslie noted that detailing what happens in class might have left her feeling vulnerable, so it was essential to engage in this work with someone she trusted deeply. She needed to honestly represent what happened and not present her teaching or thinking in a way that made it seem better than it was. Otherwise, she felt she would lose the opportunity to grow from the process. Commitment to Recording After Each Class It is vitally important to record one’s thoughts the day that class occurred. With this time frame, it is much easier to recall in detail. Leslie remembered specific language she and the students had used as well as her thoughts and feelings. In one instance, Leslie indicated she waited until the next morning to complete her response, and she struggled to remember details of key events. Commitment to Responding Regularly Leslie eagerly anticipated reading Tracy’s feedback and comments. The tone of their writing changed over the course of the semester and became more personal. Leslie wrote her reflections with Tracy as the audience and was excited to see the ideas in Tracy’s response. Regular Face-to-Face Meetings Leslie found monthly meetings valuable in the reflective process. Though she wrote reflections after each class, there were issues that she wanted to discuss with Tracy in person. They needed a face-to-face exchange to explore issues in more depth than was possible in written reflections. Because they had read each other’s comments prior to each meeting, they came together with a list of topics to discuss. Meetings were focused and productive because they began from the shared experience of reading the written reflections. Conclusion Leslie learned that she is true to her core beliefs about teaching science. She indicated she is developing positive, caring relationships with students and modeling the type of instruction she wants them to use once they have their classrooms. However, Leslie did note areas for improvement. She missed opportunities to make her thinking and decision-making as a teacher explicit for the students. She noted a need to be more consistent in using student assessment data to drive instruction. As a critical friend in this process, Tracy valued the experience of being the audience for her colleague. Tracy noted Leslie was not conducting her reflection in a vacuum; rather, Leslie wrote to Tracy. Tracy also values Leslie’s motivation to become an even more excellent teacher. Though we have both participated and led professional development related to teaching and learning, we understand that excellent teaching is not an endpoint. In the safety of a trusting professional relationship, we found that the self-study/critical friend model was an excursion worthy of our energy and not just a destination to be achieved. Discussion Questions: 1. How might co-investigation or self-study be a useful tool to examine or improve your teaching? Who would be your best co-investigators? Colleagues? Students? 2. If you were to use a co-investigation model, what aspects of your teaching would you most like to examine? 3. What concerns might you have in implementing a co-investigation model the way done by Tracy and Leslie? Citations and Recommended Readings: David Kember , Tak-Shing Ha , Bick-Har Lam , April Lee , Sandra NG , Louisa Yan & Jessie C.K. Yum (1997) The diverse role of the critical friend in supporting educational action research projects, Educational Action Research, 5(3), 463-481, DOI: 10.1080/09650799700200036 LaBoskey, V.K. (2004). The methodology of self-study and its theoretical underpinnings. In J.J. Loughran, M.L. Hamilton, V.K. LaBoskey, & T. Russell (Eds.). International handbook of self-study of teaching and teacher education practices (pp. 817-869). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Smith, T. W., & Bradbury, L. U. (2019). Wiser together: Sustaining teaching excellence with a self-study/critical friend. To Improve the Academy, 38(1), 18–32.
Grading as Instruction: Designing for Practice
Barry Sharpe Western Governors University There is much discussion about and research supporting the importance of formative assessments for student learning (Fisher & Bandy, 2019). I worry, however, that in practice, some formative assessments end up functioning more like summative assessments for students. For example, when faculty provide students with practice exercises with guided feedback, but students, still operating with an evaluation-focused mindset, may simply retake the exercises until they get an acceptable score, without regard to the intended practice and feedback. Inadvertently, faculty may also reinforce student fears about all forms of assessment by what we do and do not say concerning our assessments. In other words, despite the best efforts of faculty, the focus of grading may remain on the marking or measuring of student performance and interfere with opportunities for students to pause, reflect, and act on their learning. When this happens, students may miss opportunities for learning supported by practice, mistakes, and reflection. A possible check against the tendency to conflate formative and summative assessments is to think about grading as instruction and a component, not just a measure, of student learning. To make grading a component of learning, I have tried to focus on the context for feedback (Darby & Lang, 2019) and consider how to make practice the most prominent feature of the student experience in my courses. Practice with Scaffolding When students tackle assignments in a course for the first time, they often experience anxiety because of confronting something new. Having students confront novelty can be an important component of creating desirable difficulties to support curiosity and learning (Bye, 2011). Too much novelty, however, may increase intrinsic cognitive load (Zakrajsek, 2019) and impede learning (Eyler, 2018). It is difficult for students to learn if they are anxious about or fearful of assignments. To strike the novelty balance, I approach each week in a course as preparation for a final assessment (Darby & Lang, 2019). For example, practice for the final assessment is now the central design principle for my Business Ethics course. Weekly assignments function as preparation for the final assessment, an Ethics Case Analysis. The assignments are similar in form – students identify ethical issues in scenarios and develop arguments based on the ethical issues identified in those scenarios (see Table 1). Table 1 Similar Instructions as Practice Students receive regular feedback on these assignments from peers and me to help prepare for the final assessment. Through repeated attempts at issue identification and the development of arguments, students should go into the final assessment with a clearer idea of what to expect (i.e., the format of the final assessment will not be novel). Evaluation of the Discussion and Peer Response posts employ a rubric similar to the one used to score the final evaluation (i.e., the framework for evaluation will also be familiar). The key competencies embedded in the rubric (identify ethical issues, apply ethical perspectives, and practice ethical reasoning) guide students throughout the course and across assignments. The rubric also helps students settle expectations, place feedback in context, and practice for the final assessment. Table 2 illustrates the similar format for these assignments. For this Discussion Prompt (DP) assignment, students must take on the role of a member of the risk management team for a company that makes flushable wipes. For this Ethics Case Analysis (ECA) assignment, students take on the role of the Chief Ethics Officer for a company that makes self-driving cars. In the DP assignment, specific questions guide the work for students. In the ECA prompt, students have more freedom to respond to and operate within the scenario. The questions for the DP are part of the structured practice. The more open-ended scenario of the ECA provides the space for students to demonstrate competency concerning key learning objectives (identify, apply, and practice). Table 2 Similar Prompts as Practice In addition to helping students prepare for the final assessment, the DP assignments provide students with regular practice in making connections and mindfully engaging with course materials. Table 3 provides an example. Table 3 Discussion Prompt/Making Connections Consider how and where you would place and discuss Mary Gentile’s “Building an Ethical Culture” in chapter 9 (Managing and Controlling Ethics Programs) of our text. Things to consider in your response could include the following: location in chapter, explanation of choice, ease of transition, and how a discussion of this video would add to the reader’s experience and the authors’ argument. In this assignment, students exercise agency by selecting portions of assigned course materials to explore and build knowledge by explaining connections among those course materials. Active involvement in creating connections for themselves prepares students for similar work on the final assessment (e.g., identifying ethical issues). Practice for Failure When we lower the stakes for assignments and emphasize the role of practice in our courses, we demonstrate to students the importance of failure for learning (Eyler, 2018). Structuring assignments so that students experience them as practice for a final assessment prepares them to see the value of failure. Grading practices that reinforce the importance of failure for learning make it even more likely that students will experience failure as part of learning (Zakrajsek, 2019). For my Business Ethics course, I grade assignments using a best-of format (i.e., dropping the lowest scores after students submit more than the minimum required for the assignment). Here is how I introduce the best-of format for assignments in my syllabus: “The best-of format is designed to provide opportunities for practice, mistakes, reflection, and improvement as part of the overall assessment for the course.” Table 4 provides additional details about what this looks like for students in the course. Table 4 Best-Of Format for Assignments Because practice is not the only design principle relevant for this course, I continue to experiment with the minimum-maximum range to balance the importance of practice with other considerations (e.g., consistent student engagement with course materials throughout the semester). In the end, the specific best-of number is less important than the message sent to students: repeated attempts on similar assignments mean that you can learn because of failure. Conclusion The value of formative feedback is recognized in the literature; however, in practice it can be difficult to get student buy in. This post offers suggestions faculty may adopt to increase the chances that students will benefit from feedback attached to a grade. Scaffolded assignments designed for practice (e.g., similar instructions, similar rubrics, and shared learning objectives) and grading practices that support students learning from failure (e.g., best-of format for grading) foreground the context for feedback and invite students to act on the feedback in evaluation. Discussion Questions 1. Describe a formative assessment used in your course? To what extent does this function as a summative assessment for students? How do you keep formative assessments from becoming summative assessments? 2. How do you provide students with opportunities to practice failure? In doing this, how do you help them to overcome the negative stigma that often accompanies failure? 3. How can you (or how do you) scaffold assignments for students? Select one assignment and describe any current scaffolding with respect to the assignment and how additional scaffolding (or some scaffolding) could be added. 4. Pick one of your courses. What is the most important design principle for that course? References Bye, J. K. (2011, May 5). Desirable Difficulties in the Classroom. Psychology Today. Retrieved 3/3/2021 from Darby, F. & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Eyler, J.R. (2018). How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press. Fisher, M. R., Jr., & Bandy, J. (2019). Assessing Student Learning. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved 3/3/2021 from Zakrajsek, T. (2019, October 25). Cognitive Load: A Fundamental Key to Student Learning. The Scholarly Teacher. Retrieved 3/3/2021 from
10 In the Moment Responses for Addressing Micro and Macroaggressions in the Classroom
Chavella Pittman Dominican University It’s unexpected. Your inner voice says, “Uh-oh. Say what, now?” while your professional face draws up a little bit tighter around the corners of your eyes, your lips purse, and brow furrows. You may question for a moment, is everybody seeing or hearing this? Yep. Everyone in class saw it or heard it. At the front of the room, you feel all eyes are on you. What’s your next move? Many faculty admit their minds go blank or that they are stunned into silence when student incivility, micro/macro aggressions, discrimination, etc., occur in the classroom. It’s more commonplace than you think. Research reveals most faculty (~50%+) are “not prepared to deal with diversity-related conflict in their own classrooms” (Stolzenberg, et. al., 2019). Nevertheless, faculty must address these moments given their negative impact on student learning and even more so for BIPOC students (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010). The purpose of this post is to provide faculty with example responses to be used as a foundation for creating and personalizing classroom management of student incivility. Keep in mind, this work requires advance planning (e.g., learning about incivility, developing a proactive strategy) before incidents occur and follow-up actions when an incident occurs (e.g., recognizing incivility; practicing your intervention strategies). Much attention has been given to the need for faculty to intentionally foster and develop community. Likewise, we should intentionally develop an anticipatory action plan to navigate pivotal moments when classroom community is threatened by incivility. Addressing such incidents is not an impossible task, but it is more difficult the less prepared you are. To get faculty thinking about what they might say to respond to troubling classroom moments, here are a few sample responses that they could use immediately and in the moment: 10 Sample Responses Turn Into a Discussion or Learning Moment 1. What does our course material say about what was just said? Possible follow-up: How might our course material address these comments? How might scholars in this field respond? How has/might the course content explain this statement? 2. What is the logical extension of what was just said? Possible follow-up: If we extrapolate from what was just said, what else could be assumed? What other ideas might be connected to that statement? What does our course material say about this? 3. You seem to be having a strong emotional reaction to the course material. I am giving you an opportunity to pause and recover before we proceed. Possible follow-up: Use this time to think about why that might be the case. We can discuss that reason in the context of learning and mastering the course material. Tell the student to stop/behavior not allowed. 4. Your behavior violates the disruptive behavior/student code of conduct/ground rules/etc. policy and will not be allowed in this classroom. Possible follow-up: Remind and reiterate to the student of the next steps of the policy. For example, this is a formal warning, and if this behavior continues, the next step will be to involve the Dean of Students. 5. A raised voice, personal attacks, and language that targets/stereotypes or is aggressive towards any group are not tolerated in this classroom. Possible follow-up: The options for those who engage in such behaviors are removal from the class session, course, or the university since disruptions to the classroom environment and student learning cannot and will not be allowed. Remind of classroom goals & expectations. 6. You do not have to agree with the course material. However, you do have to demonstrate that you understand and can communicate the disciplinary perspective presented in this course’s material. 7. This classroom is a place where we can discuss and interrogate ideas; however, we do so with respect and in the context of the course material. 8. Free speech is allowed as all students are encouraged to respectfully share their perspectives and ideas as a part of the process of learning the course material. Possible follow-up: As this is a course and classroom in a college setting, ideas and perspectives must be articulated in a manner consistent with the behavior expectations of the classroom/university and which furthers students’ mastery of the presented course material. (Begin to) Recover if you didn’t address the uncivil or “Uh Oh/Sigh/Say What Now” moment immediately, or you made the problematic statement. 9. Ten minutes ago/Yesterday/Last week, a statement was made in class that I did not address at that time but want to do so now. Possible follow-up: I want to return to it now because it is important for me to affirm and uphold the behavior expectations and/or learning objectives of this course. Specifically, a student said/did “_______”. This is not in line with the behavior expectations or learning objectives of this course and thus will not be allowed. In the future, I will do my best to address similar incidents more immediately. 10. I apologize for saying/doing “________”. Possible follow-up: What I said/did was not in line with the behavior expectations or learning objectives of our course because I _________ (e.g., stereotyped a group). In the future, I will be more mindful and reflective about my statements/behaviors in an effort to maintain the learning environment of our classroom. Faculty are encouraged to edit these starter statements to fit their “voice”, preferred tone, and pedagogy. The next step is to then practice, practice, and practice by saying them aloud. Of course, how faculty respond depends on the context of their institution, course, pedagogy, the incident itself, their identities, and other related factors. The point is that if faculty have an idea of what they might say and practice doing so, it should better equip and prepare them to act—more immediately--when troublesome classroom moments arise (Avery, Richeson, Hebl, & Ambady, 2009). And this type of increased faculty classroom management will help improve the learning environment for students and BIPOC students in particular (Hurtado, Alvarez, Guillermo-Wann, Cuellar, & Arellano, 2012). Discussion questions: 1. Do you feel prepared to deal with diversity-related conflict in your classroom/learning environment? 2. How does ignoring incivility in your own classroom create or maintain a hostile classroom climate for BIPOC students? and for BIPOC faculty colleagues in their classrooms? 3. What have you learned from reading the above sample scripts for addressing student incivility & other “Uh oh/Sigh/Say what now” classroom moments? What will you share with others from this piece? When & how will you hold yourself accountable for doing so? References Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W, DiPietro, D., Lovett, M. C. & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass. Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces. The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators, 135-150. Sterling, VA: Stylus. Avery, D. R., Richeson, J. A., Hebl, M. R., & Ambady, N. (2009). It does not have to be uncomfortable: The role of behavioral scripts in Black–White interracial interactions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(6), 1382. Hurtado, S., Alvarez, C. L., Guillermo-Wann, C., Cuellar, M., & Arellano, L. (2012). A model for diverse learning environments: The scholarship on creating and assessing conditions for student success. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 27, 41-122 Stolzenberg, E. B., Eagan, M. K., Zimmerman, H. B., Berdan Lozano, J., Cesar-Davis, N. M., Aragon, M. C., & Rios-Aguilar, C. (2019). Undergraduate teaching faculty: The HERI Faculty Survey 2016–2017. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.
Rethinking our Relationship with Grading: An Invitation to Reflect and Make the Time
Megan Pietruszewski Clemson University Grading is not most instructors' favorite part of teaching. It can feel easy to postpone grading when lesson planning and responding to student emails seem more urgent, perhaps even more so in online modalities. However, we know that grading and providing feedback (although the two are not synonymous) can help students learn. As Linda Nilson (1998) says in Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors, "Grading is a task you may view with dread and disdain, but it provides essential feedback to your students on their performance and to you on your teaching effectiveness" (p. 195). The following tips are an invitation for instructors to investigate our relationship with grading further and, hopefully, find a little more peace and regularity to our grading practice to help foster student learning. Tip 1: Schedule Grading Time Just Like Scheduled Writing Time, Virtual Office Hours, and Other Meetings Many prolific academics suggest carving out dedicated writing time. Nilson (1998) recommends providing feedback as quickly to students as possible, explaining, "students can't learn from your feedback on a piece of work they've long forgotten" (p. 200). Likewise, Glenn and Goldthwaite (2014) point out the importance in returning student projects as quickly as possible. Consider setting grading deadlines for yourself like authors face manuscript deadlines. Try returning student papers within a week or two, and consider telling students when they can expect feedback; they're probably curious, and it can hold you accountable. You may also try to find a grading companion. Schedule a grading session with a colleague. You could meet over Zoom to check in, set goals, and reconnect at the end of the session (similar to an online writing group). Something about knowing someone else is showing up to grade can help build accountability and motivation. Tip 2: Start an E-Book of Feedback Consider the assignment's larger goals and start compiling common comments you write on student projects into this document. Two key considerations: make sure these comments center around the assignment's learning goals and specific to the individual student. I teach writing classes, so I have template comments about organization, audience connection, genre conventions, and more. Along with using rubrics, you can use these comments to clarify rubric criteria and add additional resources. Put these comments into one large electronic document to quickly search. The key here is to individualize comments to the student, as when comments appear to be "rubber-stamped" from one student project to the next, the student may find the feedback less helpful and harder to interpret (Sommer, 1982, p. 152). Another benefit of compiling these feedback comments is that it allows instructors to study our grading comments when paired with an inquisitive mindset. We can learn throughout the process, as the earlier quote from Nilson (1998) shows: "Grading is a task you may view with dread and disdain, but it provides essential feedback to your students on their performance and to you on your teaching effectiveness" (p. 195). For instance, if students struggle with paragraph organization, it's a cue for me to re-evaluate the unit and see if there were enough resources on paragraphing. If not, it's an opportunity to build this instruction into future units throughout the semester and subsequent semesters. Developing these templates of feedback is not only reactive (i.e., responding to student work) but reflective and proactive (i.e., how can we study our teaching and make improvements for the future?). Tip 3: Consider the Project's Goals in the Context of the Course, and Go in with a "Feedback Plan." There's not a one-size-fits-all approach to giving feedback. Each assignment may require different feedback, and we should provide feedback with an intentional plan. What is the purpose of this feedback on this assignment? For example, a draft will require different feedback than a final paper (Sommers, 1982). Not every draft may require detailed, annotated comments; drafts may need a reader response where we are "registering questions, reflecting befuddlement, and noting places where we are puzzled about the meaning of the text" (Sommers, 1982, p. 155). Commenting heavily on commas or topic sentences may not be the best use of time if, in a draft, we want students to consider the main argument, organization, and use of evidence: these aren't finalized in a draft. However, if students need to learn proper paraphrasing and citation rules that scaffold into future assignments, we should comment on these skills because students will apply them to future projects. What do students need to learn from this project? What are the most important things they need feedback on right now? We can ask these questions with an eye toward future projects and go into grading sessions with a plan. Tip 4: Learn About Grading and Providing Effective Feedback Instructors may provide feedback the same way we saw our professors provide feedback, but our grading and feedback training shouldn't end in graduate school. We can explore the literature on grading and providing feedback in our specific disciplines. Writing studies is fortunate to have scholars who have studied grading and feedback practices (see some of the references listed in this article). For example, although written many years ago, Larson (1966) has a very good explanation for an approach for grading student essays: without making notes, first read the paper quickly to understand the topic and note the strengths and weaknesses; reread the paper again more slowly to make marginal comments which focus on paragraph-level concerns; and finally, reread the paper again to write an end comment about how the paper has met the "substantive, structural, and stylistic problems posed on the assignment" (p. 154). Instructors can make note in their class list of a student's strengths and weaknesses on an assignment to track improvements over the semester. One pivotal article that changed my understanding of feedback is Grant Wiggins (2012), "Seven Keys to Effective Feedback." This is a helpful article to start with and discuss with colleagues. Tip 5: Explore and Practice Mindfulness Most of us have probably heard about "mindfulness." Mindfulness is an interesting concept to explore around grading because it asks us to intentionally stay in the present moment and "also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them" (The Greater Good Science Center, n.d.). Mindfulness has been connected to faculty writing productivity (Boice, 2000). What would it look like to show up to grading rooted in the present moment and with less judgment of our thoughts when attention wavers? There are many mindfulness resources freely available. A good starting point is the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Timely grading and effective feedback facilitate learning. Organization, time management, and mindfulness reframe the task of grading from an obligatory necessity to a purposeful activity focused on advancing student learning. Discussion Questions 1. What is your current attitude or mindset towards grading? What’s the most challenging part, and what's the easiest? Why might this be? 2. How were you trained (or how did you learn) to grade and provide feedback to students? If you had to make a list of “best practices,” what would they be? 3. Explore the scholarly literature surrounding grading or feedback (maybe specifically in your discipline). How has your understanding of feedback changed? What can you apply to your own grading routines? References Boice, R. (2000). Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus. Allyn & Bacon. Glenn, C., & Goldthwaite, M. (2014). The St. Martin’s Guide to Teaching Writing (7th Ed). Bedford/St. Martin’s. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. (n.d.). What Is Mindfulness? The Greater Good Science Center. Larson, R. L. (1966). Training New Teachers of Composition in the Writing of Comments on Themes. College Composition and Communication, 17(3), 152–155. JSTOR. Nilson, L. (1998). Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Anker Publishing Company, Inc. Sommers, N. (1982). Responding to Student Writing. College Composition and Communication, 33, 148–156. Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10–16.
10 Reasons Higher Education is One of the Most Challenging Careers
Terry Doyle Learner-Centered Teaching Consultants Faculty in higher education know that teaching at the post-secondary level is extremely challenging. During a pandemic, teaching is even more challenging. But we, as a group, face the challenge before us time and again. The purpose of this blog is not to tell others that our careers are more difficult than theirs but rather to take a moment and acknowledge all that we overcome to do our jobs. A collective pat on our own backs for the work we do as we reflect on how challenging college and university teaching really is. The Career Addict website lists the 30 most challenging occupations globally (Zambas, J., January 21, 2021). “Teacher” made the list at number 12. As listed, this is listing is for k-12 teachers, but college and university faculty face many of the same challenges in the classroom. Zambas (2021) recognizes “dealing” with a variety of personalities and disruptive students, but there is so much more. I believe it is essential to recognize that educators' roles and demands are both challenging and rewarding. Below are ten reasons why undergraduate college teaching is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. And also, one of the most important. 1. Faculty Teach More than Content College undergraduate teaching is about helping students become well-educated, contributing members of society capable of working professionally or prepared to advance their education further. Soft Skills, Hard Skills, and Wholistic Teaching: Skills—include reading, writing, speaking, listening, collaborating, cooperating, presenting, and performing. Behaviors—include those associated with personal growth, professional goals, volunteerism, civic engagement, and human to human interaction. Content—competency in disciplinary subject matter as well as support coursework. Thinking—including critical thinking, reasoning, problem-solving, and thinking as a member of the profession (e.g., think like a nurse, bench scientist, or engineer). Comprehensive teaching requires extraordinary planning, evaluation, and mentoring, requiring both time and effort. 2. All Learning is Interconnected A successful teacher knows it is vital to activate prior knowledge and connect current content to each student's background knowledge. Danielle McNamara and colleagues (2014) describe four significant aspects of learning: attention, intelligence, hard work, and prior knowledge. Of these, prior knowledge was by far the most important. Teachers must figure out what background knowledge the students possess and what is lacking before introducing novel information. Teachers develop ways to fill in missing background knowledge as a means to optimize the classroom for learning. This process of assessing prior knowledge and filling in background knowledge has become more crucial as colleges accept students from diverse backgrounds and represent multiple academic readiness levels. Many of these students may not arrive with the background knowledge and skill set needed for academic success. Investing in students as individuals rather than simply a cohort makes teaching a challenging job. 3. Faculty Have Little Control Over Many Aspects that Impact Learning For example, teachers have no control over the learner's home environment, work ethic, commitment, or attendance. Faculty cannot control whether the learner is physically fit for learning. Learning is optimized when the learner practices self-care such as proper sleep, regular exercise, and good nutrition/hydration. There are dozens of crucial behaviors for academic success that we as faculty can't directly control. 4. Faculty Cannot "Make" Students Learn Consider how the following confounds limit opportunities for learning to occur. Most learning happens outside the classroom through studying and application. Dedicating time for practice with new material forms more permanent memories— reading, thinking, reflecting, observing, and writing. The desire to learn is a personal choice the student makes each day. Factors influencing student's appetite for learning are beyond the faculty member's control (e.g., student's emotional state, interest, the importance of the material, the relevance of the material, home life, and stress level). Student background, foundational knowledge, and past successes influence potential learning. Previous schooling, mindset, and life experiences all have a significant impact on how the students view their current learning situation, and as a result, how well they learn. 5. Time to Teach is Limited A three-credit-hour per week college class engages the student learner just over 5% of their time each week. That is all the time teachers have to explain complex, difficult-to-understand concepts and ideas, discuss these ideas, take questions about these ideas, administrate the course/class activities, and evaluate what learning has taken place. 6. Learning is a Social-Emotional Experience Most learning outside of formal schooling happens in a community context—with friends, family, church, teams, clubs, organizations, etc. (Bransford, 2000). It isn't easy to effectively create a classroom community. It takes skill, time, interest, risk, and commitment to do well. 7. Teachers Teach the Whole Person, Not a Subject Area Helping learners to unlearn behaviors, concepts, ideas, and beliefs that are in error is exceptionally challenging and can be even more difficult than teaching students something new (Starbuck, 1996). The neural networks that students formed from ages 0-18 can be robust and not readily open to new ideas and beliefs. Addressing the affective domain is necessary but not necessarily easy! 8. Diverse Learners The wide range of the learners' abilities, learning preferences, and levels of motivation in any given classroom makes providing learning opportunities to all students difficult and, in some cases, nearly impossible to do well. Add to this that there are likely to be dozens, if not hundreds, of students in the classroom. Can you think of any other profession where the professional sees 30, 40, or 200 clients, patience, or customers at the same time? 9. Technology as a Tool for Learning or a Distraction from Learning Most college students have grown up in a sense-luscious, media-based culture. Cell phones are a dominant feature of their daily lives. Deciding to either incorporate cell phones and smart devices into the learning process or prevent them from interfering in the learning process is just one more challenge that college teacher faces. Compound this with the fast-paced changes in popular culture that affect students' interests, knowledge base, and behavior. The rapidity of change impacting learning and learning outcomes contributes to making college teaching taxing. 10. Preconceived Expectations of Learning When first-year college students arrive on campus or in their first online course, they bring with them over a decade of neuronal networks established for what they think school/learning/teaching should be. If college teaching and learning does not align with a student's preconceived expectations, a student finds the learning environment unfamiliar, unpleasant, and difficult. This disconnect makes teaching harder for faculty and difficult for learners. In particular, faculty who incorporate new instructional methods in harmony with research on how the human brain learns may find students resistant to the pedagogical approach. Many times, faculty implementing new pedagogical approaches receive lower ratings from students. Concluding Thoughts All in all, teaching is a noble occupation that has inherent risks and challenges. Not many other careers hold a single person accountable for the success of the "company" when that individual has little control over the "making of the product" it is producing. This post provides only a few of the attributes within higher education that make teaching daunting. That said, although teaching is inherently challenging, it is also intrinsically rewarding. I leave you with what I have told hundreds of groups of teachers I have had the privilege to work with over the past 30 years. College teachers are miracle workers. The fact that you help to get students through to graduation, ready to face the challenges of the world of work or graduate school, is a great accomplishment given everything that works against you. The fact that every occupation and profession requires education means what you do shapes everything. Although it is easy to focus on fatigue and negative aspects of being a college faculty member, create time to realize you do what few in our society can do, and it makes all the difference. Discussion Questions 1. Think back to early in your career, perhaps even the first course you taught. If you have not yet taught, think about the first course you may find yourself teaching. What would you consider to be the biggest challenge for you to overcome? What are two or three ways you did, or hope to, address that challenge? 2. From the list in this blog, which of these challenges do you see as a pervasive challenge that makes teaching at present challenging for you every time you teach? How might this challenge be addressed, either by faculty members or higher education policies? What new challenges might arise with such a change (caution: policy change is tricky, if you fix one thing it often creates a difference challenge)? 3. What do you find most rewarding about teaching? Describe a specific student or specific teaching event that made you proud to be a teacher and perhaps gave you a bit of strength to face some of the challenges noted? References Bransford, J. et.al. (2000). How People Learn Brain, Mind, Experience and School. Washington DC: National Academy Press. McNamara, D. S., Kintsch, E., Songer, N. B., & Kintsch, W. (2014). Are good texts always better? Interactions of text coherence, background knowledge, and levels of understanding in learning from text. Cognition and instruction, 14 (1), 1-43. Medina, J. (April 2008). Brain Rules 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Edmonds, WA: Pear Press. Starbuck, W. (1996). Unlearning Ineffective or Obsolete Technologies International Journal of Technology Management, 11: 725-737 Zambas, J. (January 19, 2021). Retrieved on April 8, 2021 from:
Assigning Roles to Increase the Effectiveness of Group Work
Karen De Meyst, Miami University Jonathan Grenier, Miami University Although group assignments have many benefits, instructors may encounter a wide variety of problems. Common problems include students not contributing to the project, one student dominating the group, or students having different expectations about group performance and workload (Burke, 2011). In this article, we suggest assigning roles to group members to mitigate these problems, thereby increasing team effectiveness and efficiency. Assigning Roles to Group Members Most studies on the use of group roles focus on settings where students have to work together for in-class activities. The literature suggests multiple benefits of this practice for outside-of-class group work. Specifically, studies on in-class group activities find increased participation, less freeriding, increased knowledge acquisition, and reduced student distraction (Cohn, 1999; Coggeshall, 2010; Hirshfield & Chachra, 2015; Schellens, et al. 2005; Shimazoe & Aldrich, 2010). To test the effectiveness of this approach for larger, outside-of-class group projects, we implemented it in an accounting course. Implementation Specifically, we tested this approach in an upper-level undergraduate accounting course at Miami University. For this course, students had to complete four group projects. The instructor assigned students to groups of five or six students at the start of the semester, and groups remained the same throughout the semester. In addition, the instructor explained that for each group project, students would have to assign roles among group members. The list of roles included a manager as the leader of the group, a planner responsible for planning meetings and sending reminders, an editing specialist, a technology specialist, a checker responsible for knowing and verifying compliance with the assignment requirements, and two questioners who were required to play the devil's advocate. Given that there were seven roles in total and that all roles had to be fulfilled for each project, if a group had less than seven members in the group, students would have to take on two roles. Further, students had to take on a different role for each project. In this way, they developed multiple skills. This also reduced the risk that one student would dominate the group (Cottell & Millis, 1992; Rosser, 1998). As students assigned roles among themselves, students could start in roles they found most comfortable and maximize group members' strengths (Andrist 2015). It was also important to hold students accountable for the roles they fulfilled (TTC, 2018). Thus, students had to communicate to the instructor the roles assigned for each project. Although all group members received the same grade for the group projects, the instructor knew who was responsible if the group failed to meet a requirement. Overall, the instructor emphasized that all group members remained responsible for the submission content and group roles related to the coordination of the work. Student Reactions To examine the effectiveness of assigning roles to group members, we compared students' survey responses, peer evaluations, and the quality of students' submissions in the section of the course in which this approach was implemented to two other sections of the same course without assigned roles. Overall, the survey measured students' perceptions of group dynamics and team performance. Although perceptions of group dynamics did not seem to be affected by assigning roles, results indicated that perceptions of team performance were higher when students assigned roles. Specifically, students perceived the group as better organized, and team members were better at following through on decisions and action items. These differences were statistically significant. Students were also asked to describe in the survey what they enjoyed and what they did not enjoy about the group work in the course. Although not asked for it specifically, different students shared their opinions about the requirement to assign group roles. One student who appreciated this intervention formulated it as follows: "It allowed us to distribute work according to our strengths and helps build communications skills". Other students enjoyed that the roles changed from one project to another, noticed more effective communication and cooperation, and argued that it helped them to hold themselves accountable for their decisions as a group. Interestingly, a few students were less positive. For example, one student argued that the requirement to assign roles in an upper-level undergraduate course felt immature and unnecessary. Another student suggested that it would be better if roles did not have to change for every project so that students could stay with roles they were good at. Further, students had to complete peer evaluations for each of their group members. The peer evaluation questionnaires contained three items related to team effectiveness. Averages on these items were consistently higher in the section where students had to assign group roles, but not always significantly higher. The instructor also subjectively assessed the quality of the submissions. Although there did not seem to be any differences between the quality of the content of the group projects, it was clear that students worked better together as groups as (a) formal requirements were better met, (b) there was increased consistency between the different parts of the group work and also (c) the writing was better. Considerations Overall, we found assigning roles to group members can be a good way to improve group work and team effectiveness. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and different adaptations are possible, depending on the specific characteristics and learning objectives of your group project. Here are some final considerations to keep in mind when implementing this approach: 1) Before implementing this approach, it is important to reflect on how beneficial this approach could be for your specific course. What are the problems you are currently experiencing? How could this approach increase the effectiveness of your group projects? 2) Instructors may want to consider their students and the level of their course in the curriculum. Some students may appreciate that assigning group roles helps coordinate the work. In contrast, students with a more independent attitude – especially at higher levels in the curriculum – may experience this additional formal requirement as unnecessary. 3) It is important to craft your list of roles carefully based on your group projects' specific characteristics and learning objectives. Some roles discussed above may not be relevant for your projects, while you may think of other roles that could make a difference in your course. 4) Will the instructor assign roles to group members, or should group members assign roles among themselves? While there are benefits to each approach, this decision should depend on the approach that best fits the learning objectives. 5) Should roles change during the semester, or can students stay with the same role for different projects? Although the requirement to rotate roles, as discussed above, has its own benefits, it may be a good idea to allow students to stay with the same role such that the group optimally benefits from students' strengths. 6) How will you hold students accountable for the roles fulfilled? Will there be a grade component related to role fulfillment, or will all group members receive the same grade? Discussion Questions 1) What are some problems you are experiencing when assigning group work? How could the practice of assigning group roles mitigate these problems? 2) What are specific roles that students need to fulfill when completing group projects for your course? Which roles are most important? 3) How could assigning roles to group members help students meet the learning objectives of your group projects? Which modifications would you have to make for this approach to best fulfill your needs? References Andrist, P. (2015). Team roles and responsibilities. In: Green River College: Campus Reflection Field Guide – Reflective Techniques to Encourage Student Learning: Background and Examples. Seattle, WA. Burke, A. (2011). Group work: How to use groups effectively. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 11(2), 87-95. Coggeshall, B. (2010). Assigning individual roles and its effect on the cooperative learning setting. Working paper, St. John Fisher College. Cohn, C. (1999). Cooperative learning in a macroeconomics course. College Teaching, 47(2), 51-55. Cottell, P., & Millis, B. (1992). Cooperative learning in Accounting. Journal of Accounting Education, 10, 95-111. Hirshfield, L., & Chachra, D. (2015). Task choice, group dynamics and learning goals: Understanding student activities in teams. 2015 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference: Launching a New Vision in Engineering Education Proceedings, 1-5. Rosser, S. (1998). Group work in science, engineering, and mathematics: Consequences of ignoring gender and race. College Teaching, 46(3): 82-88. Schellens, T, Van Keer, H., & Valcke, M. (2005). The impact of role assignment on knowledge construction in asynchronous discussion groups: A multilevel analysis. Small Group Research, 36(6), 704-745. Shimazoe, J., & Aldrich, H. (2010). Group work can be gratifying: Understanding and overcoming resistance to cooperative learning. College Teaching, 58, 52-57. TTC (The Teaching Center Washington University in Saint Louis). (2018). Using roles in group work. Retrieved from:
Finding Value in the Mid-semester Review of Teaching: Insights from Faculty
Anthony Blash, Belmont University Beverly Schneller, Kentucky State University Many faculty members find value in receiving feedback on teaching effectiveness from their students during the semester. Since 1992, Belmont University’s Teaching Center has offered faculty members the opportunity to have a Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID) completed as a mid-semester review of teaching. Using survey data and responses from participants as both reviewers and review subjects, we advocate for a Mid-semester Student Review of Teaching (MSRT) that includes the SGID as part of a more inclusive process. Changing the Culture of Evaluation End-of-course student evaluations remain one of the most frequently used systems to gain feedback on teaching effectiveness. Unfortunately, a shared perception among many faculty and students is that end of course evaluation is remote and nearly meaningless from the moment the instrument is opened, either in class or online (for the examination of whether online forms improve response rates see Estelami 2015 and O’Neal-Hixson, et al. 2017). In fact, Stark (2013) claimed that comparing average scores among faculty across schools and programs using “omnibus questions . . . should be avoided entirely.” He continues, “Moreover, we argue that student evaluations of teaching should be only a piece of a much richer assessment of teaching, rather than a focal point.” Weimer (2016) said, “We also need to rewrite the end of course ratings story,” which will require faculty to lead the way in actively re-evaluating how their main work as a professor is assessed by their peers and the stakeholders who are depending upon them. For, as the author of a Queen’s College (CUNY) blog posting observed midterm course evaluations are “by you, for you” (2012) because they allow the faculty member, in their College model, to create their own survey questions, use the results collaboratively to improve the students’ perceptions if not the actual learning experiences before the term is out, and to “get feedback before it is too late for you to do anything about it.” 360 Evaluations as a Proposed New Norm As a starting point to increase the value of faculty performance reviews, we suggest considering elements of the 360-degree evaluations system commonly used in business and industry. In Human Resources, the 360-degree evaluation is a comprehensive performance review system in which evaluation of job performance includes detailed input from employees across the spectrum of the business or a leaders’ direct (and, at times, indirect) reports. For faculty members, the 360- performance review may include structured evaluative components from colleagues, direct reports, students, and stakeholders. The point is to collect data from multiple voices that reflect different sites of engagement with the subject. As the results of peer and student evaluations of faculty often determine merit, promotion, tenure, reemployment, and perhaps even the ability to apply for grants or other enrichment opportunities, we asked ourselves if it might be that faculty would prefer to have the SGID process and resulting evaluation incorporated formally into the review process on our campus. Based on surveying our campus faculty who have participated in the MSRT, we believe that the investment of time in this process is worthwhile and would come to be a valued way to address faculty concerns and augment data from standard student evaluations. Given current resistance among both faculty and students to the current SET process, the MSRT would be a way to bring more parity and useful data into the continuous improvement of teaching conversations. SoTL Findings We conducted a SoTL project to identify whether faculty feel the MSRT should be incorporated into a 360-informed review of teaching. The review would formalize the relationship between peer review, SET, and the mid-semester review of teaching. The scope of our IRB-approved research conducted in fall 2017 centered on the participating faculty’s perceptions of, and satisfaction with, the current MSRT process as coordinated by our campus’ Teaching Center. Faculty recruited by the Teaching Center served as participants in the study and met at least one of the following two criteria within the past 5 years for inclusion in our survey: (1) received an MSRT or (2) performed the MSRT for another faculty member. To preserve anonymity, the Teaching Center staff sent a group email including a link to a Qualtrics® survey to all faculty who had participated in an MSRT within the years of the study, 2011-2016. Faculty members were able to respond uniquely to reflect whether they had been a reviewer or were reviewed. Three reminders to participate were emailed, and the survey was open for seven weeks. The Qualtrics survey consisted primarily of qualitative items. We developed the questions based on team discussions and feedback from other faculty and students. Through this survey, we wanted to know: 1. If the faculty felt that the MSRT had any value to them as part of the CIT process. 2. If rank and tenure had any effect on how faculty perceived and valued the MSRT. 3. If longevity within the profession had any effect on how faculty perceived and valued the MSRT. 4. The timing of the decision to engage in the review process as a subject or as a peer-reviewer. 5. The overall faculty satisfaction with the MSRT. Data Analysis and Results A total of 27 faculty responded to the survey: 17 reviewer responses and 10 from faculty who had been reviewed. The survey results were compiled using the Qualtrics® system and software specifically designed for qualitative data analysis (i.e., NVivo®). Potential themes (or nodes) were uncovered by the NVivo® software application using a word-cloud-word-count (WordArt.com) for each of the survey questions. Quantitative data was analyzed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS®) software. To test if the faculty felt that the MSRT had any value to them as part of the CIT process, the researchers asked Question #3 (For reviewers only, to what extent were your expectations met), Question #6 (upon what do you believe the MSRT had an impact), and Question #16 (the satisfaction rating of the MSRT process on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the most satisfied). The data from qualitative questions 3 and 6 were analyzed using the Qualtrics® System. Quotations from those reviewers who answered Question #3 can be found in the table below and are mostly positive: Conclusion and Recommendations Our research into the reception and perceived value of the MSRT demonstrated that faculty found it useful and transformative in the traditional instructional setting. The MSRT provided insights in graduate and undergraduate courses and was not limited in functionality to a specific field or type of course. However, peer review of teaching methods has been effected by COVID-19, as many faculty found teaching fully online challenging and yielding mixed results in student learning outcomes (Lau, et al., 2020). This creates an opportunity to migrate the MSRT into the online platform and expand the usefulness of peer review beyond individual instructor evaluations into program review, comparative pedagogies, and assessment of instructional effectiveness across content delivery methods. Discussion Questions: 1. How are student evaluations of teaching conducted at your college or university? How do students and faculty feel about that process? 2. Does your institution currently offer a mid-semester review of teaching? If so, how is it perceived by faculty at your institution? If not, how do you think it would be received by faculty at your institution? 3. How might evaluative feedback from students be different (and similar) from that of faculty? References Estelami, H. (2015). The effects of survey timing on student evaluation of teaching measures obtained using online surveys. Journal of Marketing Education, 37(1), 54-64. Lau, P. N., Chua, Y.T., Teow, Y., & Xue, X. (2020). Implementing alternative assessment strategies in chemistry amidst COVID-19: Tensions and reflections. Education Sciences, 10(11), 323. O’Neal- Hixson, K., Long, J., & Brock, M. (2017). The eSGID process: How to improve teaching and learning in online graduate courses. Journal of Effective Teaching, 17(2), 45-57. A mid-semester COURSE EVALUATION: By you, for you. (October 11, 2012). Retrieved March 8, 2021, from Stark, P. (October 14, 2013). Do student evaluations measure teaching effectiveness? Retrieved March 8, 2021. Weimer, M. E. (June 15, 2016). Benefits of talking with students about mid-course evaluations. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
Inclusivity Begins with Overcoming Bias
Spencer Benson Education Innovations International Consulting One of the joys and challenges of being a university teacher is that our classes (traditional, hybrid, and virtual) are composed of students with diverse abilities, different cultural backgrounds, histories, perspectives, and biases. Diversity includes race, ethnic and cultural origins, social-economic status, gender, neurological processing, first-generation student, sexual orientation, etc. Many underrepresented minorities students (URMs) have a combination of these attributes. Unfortunately, the diversity within the student population is rarely mirrored among faculty, further marginalizing URM students. Improving faculty diversity is necessary for many reasons, including having diverse community yields increased productivity, creativity, innovation, better problem solving, and more effective learning (Handelmann & Fine, 2010). Achieving faculty diversity is ultimately dependent upon ensuring that the academic opportunities necessary to become future faculty are equally available and promoted to all students. In addition, it is important for universities, departments, and faculty to prioritize inclusive teaching and mentoring that capitalizes and celebrates diversity. Recent events in the United States and abroad underscore the need for increased awareness, understanding, and valuing the importance of inclusivity. In so doing, we become better prepared to address long-standing issues concerning diversity within the higher education academy and society at large that has historically favored and perpetuated white male advantages. Within the United States, student body demographics are changing. For many institutions, white students' plurality is now less than the combined plurality of non-white (African American, Latinx, Asian, Native American, and International) students. Current student diversity provides the opportunity to meet the challenge of changing the academe to be more representative of the students' diversity. But without more inclusive approaches to teaching and mentoring, students from underrepresented groups are unlikely to persist. This is especially true among the STEM disciplines where URMs are disproportionately lost from the pipeline (Estrada, M. et al. (2016), NSF (2019). Both being an inclusive university and adopting inclusive teaching go beyond being fair and equitable. Inclusivity requires purposely and actively fostering a community where all voices can be heard, shared, respected, and honored. Additionally, it includes creating and establishing learning spaces where all can develop a sense of belonging. As educators, we like to believe that our teaching and classes are inclusive. However, the evidence, demographics, and student stories indicate too often they are not. At times bias is overt, but often the bias is due to the implicit (unconscious) biases everyone has. Implicit biases result from our upbringing, culturalization, cultural and social norms, and how we see and perceive the world, past and present, through personal experiences and the various media. These biases often manifest toward individuals who are perceived as different based on class, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, age, disability, physical traits, etc. Unlike prejudice, racism, and other explicit biases where an individual knowingly acts in a demeaning, unfair, or harmful manner, implicit biases are often unknown, unseen, and difficult to change. Although implicit biases can be overridden, unfortunately, they cannot be overwritten. We cannot uncouple our implicit biases, but we can become more aware and diligent in recognizing what they are. We can use this information to make more conscious, informed decisions and actions regarding our behaviors and how we view and treat others. In turn, it will transform how others perceive our actions. In addition to working diligently to mitigate the impact of implicit biases, one can do many small things to increase awareness and facilitate the development of a community of belonging and fairness. For example, a department that declared their department a "No Criticism Zone" and agreed to refrain from saying negative things about students transformed the way students thought about math and facilitated a sense of belonging both among students and faculty (Johnson & Elliot, 2020). On an individual level, we need to be mindful that small things that may seem inconsequential to us may have detrimental impacts on others. Numerous articles and resources are readily available detailing best practices for creating more inclusive environments for students. Small things that can help to foster a sense of belonging and inclusiveness include the following: being intentional in selecting course content that reflects diverse people and voices, ensuring that resources and materials reflect individuals from underrepresented groups, sharing gender pronouns, learning preferred names and asking students to correct mispronunciations, having students do a short online biographic sketch, using small group learning, giving students agency in assessments and grading, and using mid-term and end-of-term student surveys. In today's hybrid and Zoom imposed teaching, small things become more important as many students experience isolation and decreased sense of belonging. This disengagement is more likely when course delivery relies on the overuse of videos or listening to asynchronous presentations (passive teaching) cover content. Online and hybrid courses can be more engaging when implementing strategies such as: use of chat, breakout rooms, having students report out, and asking students to either turn on their video or post a profile picture when speaking. Strategies noted in this article contribute to creating a learning space where students can interact, engage in active learning, have a voice, and develop a sense of belonging even when they are physically remote. The single small thing that may be most important and useful is to become aware of our own biases and then change our default behavior to one that is more inclusive. Three things you can do to become more informed about your own biases and be a more inclusive educator: 1. Become more informed about implicit bias and identify your own biases: 2. Explore ways to be more inclusive in your teaching: 3. Implement inclusive teaching practices Discussion Questions 1) What biases have you experienced as a teacher or student? 2) Describe how an instructor might identify their implicit biases and mitigate the impact on how they teach, mentor, assess, or evaluate students? 3) What have you experienced in higher education that, in your opinion, creates a more inclusive learning environment? References Cited Johnson, A., & Elliott, S. (2020). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: A Model To Guide Cultural Transformation in STEM Departments. Journal of microbiology & biology education, 21(1), 21.1.35. Handelsmann, J. & Fine, E. (2010) Benefits and Challenges of Diversity in Academic Settings, Estrada, M. et al. (2017) Improving Underrepresented Minority Student Persistence in STEM CBE—Life Sciences Education 2016 15:3 National Science Foundation (NCSES) (2019) Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering
Personal and Professional Health When Teaching Online: A Six Faceted Approach
William H. Robertson University of Texas at El Paso At times, teaching is a solitary profession, especially when it comes to making lesson plans, grading, mastering technology, and planning active learning strategies to use in the classroom. When you move to a fully online format, the sense of separation can be even more pronounced as you look for ways to establish community and increase your faculty presence online. Such separation can often lead to an increase in time spent on each class and with each student, which may increase your stress and impact other important areas, including your research, your service, and of course, your home life. For myself, I have found that if I have a framework that helps me to achieve a balance between my teaching online and my personal and professional life outside of teaching online, I am a much more productive and happier person. A modification of the six facets of understanding, a framework from Wiggins and McTighe (2005), provides a framework adapted to help maintain personal and professional health when teaching online. Explanation The first of the six facets of understanding, explanation, involves centering on the big ideas of why and how something takes place. In teaching online, explanation applies to focusing on the types of interactions present within the online environment. In an instructional design sense, it is an alignment of three critical interactions that center the learner: student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-teacher. The interaction of these three spheres promotes the ideas of explanation by emphasizing making sense of the big ideas in the class and then communicating and articulating their understanding to peers, the instructor, and themselves. This process reinforces the educator’s role as a facilitator within a student-centered technology-enhanced teaching methodology regarding personal and professional health. Interpretation The main idea of interpretation as it applies to teaching online is to have several ways of communicating content that integrates stories and discussions, allowing individuals to wrestle with meaning and context. In teaching online, it is important to remember that everyone comes to the online environment with different experiences in terms of depth and breadth of navigating and synthesizing content. An important goal here is to remove boundaries that limit the expectations of groups of individuals and limit one another. The goal is to establish a healthy and safe learning environment where multiple opportunities exist to share experiences and learn from one another. For the online teacher, allowing for choice in assignments and allowing for open-ended prompts can provide platforms for differing opinions to be heard and to be supported with research and personal experience. Application The ability to turn ideas into actions has a direct impact on the health of the online teacher. In other words, it is essential to understand that as new problems arise, which they inevitably will, it becomes an opportunity to exhibit critical thinking. It is the teacher’s responsibility to model and integrate activities and experiences that require an ability to analyze and synthesize information, evaluate the possibilities moving forward, and invoke new solutions that need a creative approach and solution. By weaving carefully selected and designed problems that develop proficiency in problem-solving and reinforce self-directed learning, the online teacher provides students with the ability to retain facts through critical thinking by working through problems logically and making connections to the real world. Practically, this means being clear, concise, and thoughtful in your online communication through email, discussion posts, and class materials. Perspective Perspective implies looking at an issue from various viewpoints, and understanding how implications impact various people, not just a single group or individual. Keeping your perspective when teaching online is very important, as it is in life in general. The value of seeing options and opinions outside of your own is often more difficult when teaching online than in person. The interactions are distant and can be out of sync with your present situation. Without perspective, you can also feel that everything that happens is highly urgent and crucial, and if you live in that quadrant, you are likely to burn out quickly. Take the time to stay flexible, organize yourself, and schedule your day in small to-do lists. Then you may find that although most everything is important, not everything is urgent, especially in an asynchronous learning environment. Empathy Empathy is an ability to take a walk in someone else’s shoes, or in other words, to understand another person’s emotional situation and unique way of viewing the world. Most teachers who are successful have a large degree of empathy in their teaching and living in general. Having empathy implies that you need to be others-centered and to take the time to get to know your students and their situations. From discussion boards with introductions to video reflections, you can add to your classes' richness by providing choice to students and flexibility to add their own culture, agency, and beliefs into their classroom products. For the online teacher, a good approach is to follow the 10 steps to decreasing teaching depression. Step 1 – Do something nice for one of your students. Steps 2-10, repeat Step 1 with other students. Self-Knowledge Self-knowledge implies wisdom and understanding. As content experts, faculty must overcome their self-immersion within their academic discipline to make it open for others who may be encountering course content for the first time. To achieve this perspective requires self-reflection and an ability to regulate oneself for the betterment of others. For the online teacher's personal and professional health, it is good to regularly take time for reflection and engage in activities that increase your mindfulness, such as yoga. Remember, your personal and professional health is physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental. You need to ensure that you address these areas as you see appropriate, resulting in your being a more present teacher online. It is about redeeming the time and ensuring that you are not just living in your mind, but you are objective about gaining insights into your profession and applying these lessons in your teaching and life. Finally, to bring it full circle with Wiggins and McTighe (2005), use a backward planning approach to your classes and your teaching. First, set your goals and then identify the steps you need to take to reach them. Be sure to allow for progress over time and have accountability partners who will keep you in good shape. Hopefully, the six facets of understanding can become organizing principles to ensure personal and professional health for you when teaching online. Discussion Questions: 1. Which facet most closely aligns with a strength you exhibit when teaching at present? Explain your approach to addressing the chosen facet 2. Do you feel that you have typically left out any of these facets in your perspectives of teaching? Identify and explain one facet that you perceive would be helpful for you to develop more perspective and understanding with respect to your teaching. 3. Overall, how are you best addressing your personal and professional health when teaching online? In your explanation, draw from six facets noted above. References: Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2014). Improve curriculum, assessment, and instruction using the Understanding by Design® Framework. ASCD Professional Learning Services. Retrieved December 23, 2020 from
Using the Kubler-Ross Change Curve to Appreciate Professional Growth
Janina Tosic Institute of Natural Sciences of the HS Ruhr West, Germany When I went to my office to pick up my monitor and docking station on the 17th of March, 2020, I had a complete break-down. Walking amongst the empty buildings and outdoor spaces to the parking lot with my huge backpack full of ALL my teaching stuff I would need for the semester, I was in shock: I realized I would not SEE my students for the rest of the year. I would not be able to hug them, share their successes, and support them when they struggle. I realized that the COVID-19 pandemic would severely impact me as a Science lecturer at a small German University. Looking back, I now see that getting to where I am at present can be described well by the Kübler-Ross change curve. In the late 1960s, inspired by her work with terminally ill patients, Kübler-Ross (1969) postulated that individuals who experience grief through loss go through five emotional stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kübler-Ross (2014) noted later in her life that these stages do not have to happen in order and stated that not all individuals experience each stage. That said, these stages are a helpful way to help individuals better understand that others share these stages when they experience grief and that there is eventually an end to the sorrow. Recently, the Kübler-Ross stages of grief have been used as a foundation to form the Kübler-Ross Change Curve ( The change curve includes seven stages individuals often go through when faced with a significant change in their life, as in the graph below. After feeling shocked and in denial, I had some awful days. I was frustrated and depressed by the reality of being out of touch with my colleagues and my students. But with time, something started to happen. I became inspired by wonderful teachers from all over the world who shared their thoughts and ideas on social media. That lead to experimentation. I came up with my version of the viral syllabus by Brandon L. Bayne. This tool gave me an early frame of reference that I still come back to daily. I use it to get into the right mindset each morning to make sure I prioritize the right things, stay humane, and understanding even though I might be frustrated or depressed myself. It reminds me of my purpose and responsibility as a teacher in this unusual situation BEFORE I get in touch with my students. Most importantly, none of us have chosen to be in this situation. Let's not take it out on our colleagues, our leaders, our administrators, or our students. I decided that I, and we, need to make sure to connect and support each other – as human beings. Planning my semester, I also decided to integrate what I learned from emergency remote teaching and combined it with what I had known about onsite teaching. I wanted to prioritize sensible solutions over "that's what I always do," trust over academic rigor, flexibility, and understanding over following the rules. It was clear from the get-go that I could not teach the same course online that I taught f2f for two years now. As I prepared to teach the next semester online once again, I reduced the learning outcomes for the whole course and the weekly sessions. I also decided that all teaching would be done asynchronously due to my students' access problems. I started a WhatsApp group for immediate questions – a complete first to share my private phone number with students. I also changed my language and became very informal, using first names and the German "du" instead of the more formal "Sie" in combination with the last names I usually use. Before the semester started, I was prepared to set up another emergency online semester. I am not an expert on online learning, and I have deliberately decided that I would not try to become one right now. Based on my decisions, I learned how to screencast videos using Powerpoint and my iPad. I learned how to edit these videos and upload them to Youtube to reduce the amount of data uploaded to our Moodle LMS. I found a solution for my slow WiFi, so the video upload would not take up hours each week by asking my students whether they knew of a cheap and flexible phone contract – of course, they did! A week before our semester was to start, I had the first two weeks of videos and material prepared, so I took a week off and tried to calm myself down by working in the garden and spending time with my husband. About three weeks into the Fall semester, I moved into the phases to experiment, decide, and integrate. I am at home doing what I love doing! Following are a few things I learned about myself as the emergency remote semester continued. Building an online community Building trust, listening with care, and responding with understanding are the most important things. I used informal language, and I acknowledged that we have a life outside of teaching and learning. On the first day of the semester, I integrated what I knew about community and the remote situation we faced. I asked my students to introduce themselves with three # on WhatsApp. So much positivity came from this small activity. We have fitness lovers, foodies, musicians, artists, dog walkers, frequent travelers, mechanics, and all kinds of other people in our course! I also acknowledged Ramadan's start and asked students to share what this time normally means to them and what it means now. Importance of communication Communication takes a lot of time, but it is the extra mile to feel strongly connected and build a community. I included tons of ways to receive feedback from my students – both anonymously and during personal contact (WhatsApp group and 1:1 chats during video office hours). The Role of Leadership As a teacher, I needed to make many decisions in a very uncertain time. I communicated that "we will make it! We will get through this together!" Reassuring students is particularly important for those who are vulnerable and dependent on me as a teacher. I made the most challenging decision thinkable for a "traditional" STEM teacher. For my Physics and Chemistry 101 course for engineering students (~150 students), I canceled the final exam and introduced weekly portfolios' as alternative assessments. These contain a reflection part that I hope will help students keep a diary of these strange times and reflect on their feelings and experiences. The answers also help me understand how my students were handling the pandemic. In the first week, I asked what their learning situation was. These reflections accounted for 10% of their grade and signaled the importance of their mental state. If I were braver to break with traditions, I probably would have ramped this 10% up to 30% – but I wasn't. Further, 30% is accounted for by a weekly Chemistry question and 60% by a Physics problem. Conclusion The first stages of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis were not easy, but later stages led to amazing outcomes. I understand everybody has gone, and is going, through the experience of teaching and learning during this pandemic differently, and I expect that some of my students are still in the thick of it. Others might not experience these feelings at all. That is why compassion is what guides me. We don't know what their lives are like right now. Let's be kind to each other and ourselves. I am proud of the strong sense of community and connectedness I feel with my students during this unusual semester. I am also proud of trusting in myself – even though I am still quite new to teaching – to disrupt the way I taught the past semester and do things VERY differently from the traditional way of teaching at my institute. Reflection Questions: 1. With respect to the Kübler-Ross Change Curve, what stages have you experienced? 2. What do you think you will be able to do better after COVID-19 restrictions as compared to the way you taught pre-COVID? 3. How might you help a faculty member to move from the stage of “depression” to the stage of “experimentation?” If you have made this move, explain what you did that would be considered experimentation. References Kübler-Ross E (1969). On Death and Dying. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-04015-9. Kübler-Ross E, Kessler D (2014). On grief & grieving : finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York: Scribner. ISBN 9781476775555. OCLC 863077888.
The Perils of Interactive Learning
Christopher Richmann Baylor University I began a recent class on the history of Christianity with a brief writing exercise meant to help students retrieve basic information. I asked them to name and provide key details about information presented in online videos assigned as pre-class preparation. As I set the timer on my iPhone for two minutes and walked the room, I saw a few students feverishly and confidently write multiple words and phrases. More students wrote one or two words. Many students wrote nothing, attempting their best impression of a student-in-thought as I walked by. Of course, I was disappointed. The activity was a simple, straightforward exercise. It was, in the language of Bloom’s taxonomy, remembering, which is a lower-order cognitive task. But as disappointed as I was, I was not surprised, as research shows that most students don’t complete preparation assignments simply because they are assigned (Burchfield & Sappington, 2000). I also knew from looking at the data on our learning management system just before class that less than one-third of the students had watched the videos. I supposed not watching the videos was understandable, as it was only the second day of class, and I had not belabored my expectations on day one. Although I stuck with the writing exercise through the course to reinforce the need to come to class prepared, students did not benefit from it nearly as much as they would have had they watched the videos. What I had stumbled into is but one example of the possible perils of interactive learning. There are many good reasons to use interactive methods (which comes in many forms: discussion, problem-solving, writing exercises, debate, re-presentation of material in a new form, gaming, etc.). Through the last three decades of education research, a consensus has emerged that including interactive learning with lecturing results in more positive outcomes of helping students understand the material and a range of critical thinking skills than lectures alone. Classes with interactive learning are also as effective in helping students remember basic information as lectures alone (Freeman et al., 2014). Relatedly, including interactive learning is also positively related to students’ attitudes and motivation to learn. And yet, as my recent experience showed, interactive learning comes with certain potential perils that instructors must keep in mind. First, interactive learning does not work automatically. Student retention and comprehension of information will likely not improve simply by incorporating interactive learning techniques. To capitalize on the potentials of interactive learning, instructors should understand some of its theoretical groundings. Because interactive learning methods rely on prior knowledge, such tactics could waste time if students do not come to class prepared. Because correcting misconceptions and connecting new information to prior knowledge are vital to understanding, publicly polling students will not improve learning if they don’t discuss their reasoning before seeing the correct answer. Likewise, think-pair-share will be ineffective if instructors do not allow students enough time to think about a question (Andrews et al., 2011). Second, many students may resist interactive learning due to unfamiliarity with the methods, the greater effort expected of students, and the impression that peer interaction results in “the blind leading the blind.” Some research suggests that, in general, males, less experienced students, and more experienced students in larger classes prefer lecture to interactive learning (Owens et al., 2017; Messineo et al., 2007). In addition, many students feel they learn more through lectures, even when experimental conditions show that these students have learned more with interactive methods (Deslauriers et al., 2019). This deceptive “cognitive fluency” effect is especially pronounced when instructors deliver particularly smooth lectures, essentially deluding students into thinking they know something well merely because it sounds so clear and easy to understand when it is presented. These effects are compounded by the facts that novice learners are poor judges of their learning and that learners generally feel they learn less when learning is difficult (primarily because the feeling of mastery eludes them), when—within reason—the opposite is the case (Brown et al., 2014). Negative attitudes toward interactive learning may affect students’ attitudes, participation, evaluation of the course, and grades and learning. Finally, a focus on interactive learning may lead to neglect of lectures. In the rush of excitement to integrate evidence-based interactive learning, some instructors have stopped lecturing altogether. But this is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The lecture should not be pitted against interactive learning; instructors should appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of each. Although lecturing tends to be less effective for higher-order thinking, lectures can be effective for learning objectives related to memorizing terms, definitions, and concepts—particularly for novice learners (Bligh, 2000; Harrington & Zakrajsek, 2017). In some cases, lectures are the best way to provide necessary organization for material or display how an expert in the discipline solves problems. Through storytelling, drama, and relatable anecdotes, good lecturers also tap into the emotional dimensions of learning that interactive methods may miss (Cavanagh, 2015). These perils are not reasons to forgo interactive methods; the potential benefits for student learning are too great. To increase student preparation, create additional motivations for students—reading quizzes at the beginning of class, reflections turned in as they walk into class, participation points (it’s best to make these things low-stakes). To mitigate student resistance to interactive learning, instructors should be transparent with students, explaining that pedagogical decisions are based on helping students learn (Felder, 2001). Caution students that “feelings of learning” and learning are not the same and that some difficulties are desirable in the learning process. To avoid losing the benefits of lecture in a rush to explore interactive pedagogies, plan brief lectures that thoughtfully incorporate interactive elements, providing foundational knowledge that piques students’ interest. Finally, instructors should give themselves time to become adept at interactive methods and seek advice from (or observe the teaching of) instructors who use these methods effectively. Often, it takes a semester or two to become comfortable with a new teaching technique. Don’t be too quick to discard a teaching method just because it failed once or doesn’t feel natural. Discussion Questions: 1. What interactive learning methods have you used that did not go well? What do you think impeded success? 2. How might you be able to intersperse your lectures with brief interactive learning? 3. In what ways might you be contributing to student’s misleading “feelings of learning”? References: Andrews, T., Leonard, M., Colgrove, C., Kalinowski, S. (2011). Active learning not associated with student learning in a random sample of college biology courses. CBE Life Sciences Education, 10(4), 394–405. Bligh, D. A. (2000). What’s the use of lectures? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Brown, P. C., Roediger III, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. Burchfield, C., & Sappington, J. (2000). Compliance with Required Reading Assignments. Teaching of Psychology, 27(1), 58–60. Cavanagh, S. (2016). The spark of learning: energizing the college classroom with the science of emotion. Morgantown, West Virginia: West Virginia University Press. Deslauriers, L., Mccarty, L., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(39), 19251–19257. Felder, R. (2001). Hang in there: Dealing with student resistance to learner-centered teaching. Chemical Engineering Education, 43(2), 131-132. Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M.P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111(23), 8410-8415. Harrington, C., & Zakrajsek, T. (2017). Dynamic lecturing: research-based strategies to enhance lecture effectiveness. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus. Messineo, M., Gaither, G., Bott, J., & Ritchey, K. (2007). Inexperienced versus experienced students’ expectations for active learning in large classes. College Teaching, 55(3), 125-133. Owens, D.C., Sadler, T.D., Barlow, A.T. et al. (2017). Student Motivation from and Resistance to Active Learning Rooted in Essential Science Practices. Research in Science Education, 50, 253-277.
Top 10 Read Posts of 2020
As the end of the year comes to a close, we take this opportunity to be grateful, for our sponsors, contributors, authors, staff, and community of scholars - dedicated educators who truly are committed to improving student learning, professional development, and transformation. Catch up on posts you may have missed with these most read posts of the year. Continue to the bottom for links to each post! 10. Supporting Students Experiencing Remote Teaching and Learning 9. On Becoming a More Inclusive Educator 8. The Challenge of Choices When Teaching During COVID-19 7. Make Online Teaching Work for You! Small Strategies for Immediate Implementation 6. Fostering Online Student Success 5. Purposefully Incorporating Technology into the Classroom Using the SAMR Model 4. Alternatives to the Traditional Exam as Measures of Student Learning Outcomes 3. Strategies for Structuring Teaching from Home: Planning Your Way to an Effective Day 2. Authentic Teaching and Connected Learning in the Age of COVID-19 1.Completing a Face-To-Face Course Online Following A Campus Mandate