CURRENT ARTICLE • May 24th Peer Review. Two colleagues chatting.

Peer Review Strategies that Keep the Focus on Better Teaching

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The peer review processes for promotion and tenure and for continuing appointment provide committees with what’s needed to make overall judgments about the quality of instruction. For teachers, however, peer reviews usually don’t contain the diagnostic, descriptive feedback they need to continue their growth and development in the classroom. The assessments are broad and in the interest of preserving collegial relationships, any negative comments lurk between the lines or in vague statements that can be interpreted variously.

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zombies in the classroom May 22

Six Classroom Elements Learned from Zombie Films

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College courses, like movies, can inspire, entertain, shock, or repulse. Instructors produce, direct, and star in a series of semester-long scenes, complete with audiences, critics, and awards. If your course could be equated to a movie genre, what would we be watching? Would we see a romantic comedy, focused on relationship-building and a predictable, subtle narrative? Perhaps it would be an action film – colorfully energetic, thrilling for some, and uncomfortable for others.  Current research on learning suggests you may want to consider plot elements in zombie films as you design your courses. Here’s why.


TA working with small group of students. May 19

Using a Flipped Classroom Approach and Just-in-Time Teaching to Engage Students

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Silvia Martins, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, faced a challenge in her introductory epidemiology course, Principles of Epidemiology. She found that students needed more time to process the weekly lecture material before attending the follow-up seminar sessions with teaching assistants (TAs).

As a recipient of the Provost’s Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery grant, Martins worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to develop a plan that would give students the opportunity to spend more time with lecture content as well as provide TAs with feedback on how students were absorbing the material. Over the course of several semesters Martins redesigned the course using the flipped classroom model and incorporated recorded video lectures and Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) techniques that promote the use of class time for more active learning.


Conference attendees May 17

Taking Time to Refresh, Recharge, and Recommit

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I continue to worry that we devalue the affective dimensions of teaching—the emotional energy it takes to keep delivering high-quality instruction.

Most faculty are on solid ground in terms of expertise. We know and, in most cases, love our content. We don’t get tired of it—oh, maybe we do a bit in those foundation courses, but the content isn’t what wears us down; it’s the daily grind, having to be there every class session, not just physically present but mentally and emotionally engaged as well. Good teaching requires more energy than we think it does.


students studying in class May 15

Using Metacognition to Reframe our Thinking about Learning Styles

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References to learning styles have become commonplace when faculty and students discuss learning experiences. Although learning styles seem to provide a useful explanation of why students perform differently on different tasks, there is a lack of methodologically sound research confirming their existence in the way they are most often described (Reiner & Willingham, 2010). In fact, most research suggests that people do not use one discrete style to learn new information but vary considerably in the methods they use to learn (Paschler, et al., 2009). Rather than relying on learning styles, focusing instead on metacognition can provide students with strategies that can be adapted and applied based on the learning environment and task. In this article, we briefly address the research on learning styles and metacognition and provide examples of activities to help students develop key metacognitive behaviors.


online course design checklist May 14

Checklist for Online Discussion Design and Facilitation

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1. Do you ask discussion questions that promote critical thinking?

2. Do you engage students in different types of discussion activities?

3. Do you clearly explain your expectations?

4. Do you provide exemplary and poor discussion post examples to students?

5. Do you handle desirable and undesirable discussion behaviors effectively?

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Four students talking May 11

Forming and Managing Effective Team-Based Learning Teams

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On the first day of class, when I'm introducing Team-Based Learning to my students, I often hear a few groans. I ask the students how many have been involved in team work or group work before. I ask the ones who have for some pros and cons. One of the most common “cons” is the problem of freeloaders in the team--students who will sit back and let the others do the work and who will receive the same grade as the rest, regardless of the effort that they have put forth.

Many students complain about the difficulty of finding time to get together with their team. That truly is a problem these days, when many of our students are working and/or have families. Unfortunately, the students who don’t have those kind of demands on their time often tend to blame the ones who do for being unable to make it to the meetings.

My students have also observed that cliques tend to form in the classroom and frequently within their team. They may have found that some students on the team are overly assertive and forceful in their opinions, while many are much less assertive and opinionated but just as likely to have correct answers.

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time to evaluate May 11

A Solution to the Free Rider Problem in Group Activities

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Group activities are an excellent way to improve student learning in an online course. But they invariably raise the free-rider problem—the student who does not contribute his or her fair share of the effort. This is particularly bothersome to students when there is one group grade for all members of a group. While there is a real-world value to giving a group grade since many activities in life are evaluated on a team basis, there is an issue of fairness in the students’ minds. This leaves the faculty member with the unenviable choice of using a group grade and having to deal with student complaints about free riders, or using an individual grade and being unable to accurately distinguish one student’s contribution from another. Kadriye O. Lewis, professor of Pediatrics at the UKMC School of Medicine, came up with a solution by creating an “Intra-Group Member Peer and Self-Evaluation” to assess individual performance.

Dr. Lewis uses a variety of small group activities in her classes that involve one or two weeks of work each, with the results posted to a discussion board area for class deliberation. Groups are scrambled every few weeks in order to give students a chance to work with others. At the end of each group activity, all group members fill out an evaluation on every other group member’s participation. Each student answers a variety of questions about the other students on a traditional Likert scale from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. The topics include:

  • Keeping abreast of group progress
  • Sharing ideas
  • Completing tasks on time
  • Attending meetings
  • Demonstrating respect for others
  • Contributing to group discussions

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professor in front of large class May 10

Student Rights and the Role of Faculty

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I remember the first time I tackled the controversial subject of students as customers. It was in an in-house newsletter, well before the advent of the Internet and e-mail. Even so, I had numerous phone calls, memos, encounters on campus, and discussions about it in every activity the teaching center sponsored for the next year. I hadn’t even taken a side; I had simply listed arguments for both sides. But, as far as the faculty were concerned then and pretty much since, there aren’t two sides. Students are not customers. Tuition dollars do not buy grades. Education does not come with a money-back guarantee. And students don’t get to choose what they learn—well, they do, but if they don’t choose to learn what we require, the consequences are costly.