Skip to content

Category: Professional Development

Opportunities and resources related to professional development for faculty

Incorporating Metacognition Practices Mid-Quarter

Image result for metacognition definition

At a recent conference on departmental support of evidence-based teaching practices in Biology (PULSE), I picked up two Metacognition techniques to bring into my classrooms. These seemed so powerful and, honestly, easy to implement, that I did it the following week.

This first idea stems from work that Ricky Dooley (new colleague in Biology) developed with Scott Freeman and others at the University of Washington. In my majors’ Biology class, I have weekly quizzes over the past week’s material.  Standard in-class quizzes, mostly multiple choice (taken with iClickers) with a short answer question here and there. Student performance was mixed, and when we went over the correct answers, many students had “ah-ha” moments when ideas began to click.

Of course, these ah-ha moments were a few moments too late to help on that particular quiz. What I’ve begun doing is flipping that around. First off, I’ve moved this quiz completely onto Canvas. And rather than the usual 10 questions/10 points, they are now 20 questions, still worth 10 points. The first question is the usual question I would ask (although I’ve added more short-answer questions, reflecting questions I will ask on the exams.). This first question (and all of the odd-numbered questions) are worth zero points, so there’s no risk to the student to do their best from their memory (no reason to cheat). The second question (all of the even-numbered questions) is the same question, followed by how I would answer the question. This question then asks the student if they think they got it right, wrong, or somewhere in between. If they didn’t get it right, I ask them 1) explain why they got it wrong, 2) what the right answer is, and 3) why is the right answer correct. This question is worth 1 point, and I grade it based upon how they’ve reflected on their work. Sometimes, within their summary explanations, students will still not fully understand the material. Here, it’s very easy for me to jump in (while grading) and help them individually. An additional benefit is that these quizzes, with the addition of more short-answer questions, more closely resembles the question types I have on my midterms.

The first time I did this (in the 5th week of this quarter), my last question asked the students their opinion on this new style of testing. With the exception of the one student who was already doing exceptionally well, feedback was very positive. They appreciated the ability to correct themselves, and feel that they better understand the material. Their explanations seemed genuine to me, so I’m hopeful that they’ll perform better on our midterms.Image result for metacognition

The second idea I implemented I borrowed from another biology colleague, Hillary Kemp. This I’ve done with my non-majors Cellular Biology course, one that is typically tough for many students, as they begin their path towards an allied health degree.  Exam performance on my short-answer questions is always spotty (lots of higher-order Bloom’s Taxonomy questions).  Usually I would go over the correct answer with the class, in the hopes that they’d do better on the final. Now, rather than go over those answers, I give them their marked-up short-answer sections back, and let them correct their answers for partial credit. I stress that in their corrections I’m looking for them to explain why they got it wrong, and why the correct answer is correct. This is worth just enough to eliminate the need to curve the exam (essentially, they’re working to “earn” the curved points). In my large class (n=48), results were mixed. Many students clearly explained why they got it wrong and understand why the correct answer is correct. However, others just put down correct answers or, worse, Googled the answer and put down technically correct answers, well above the level of our course. Again, I awarded points based upon their explanations rather than the correctness of their answers. I think this exam reflection is helping those students who genuinely want to do well in class, as opposed to those who are maybe not too sure about this degree path. I’m hopeful that performance on our comprehensive final will show improvement because of this reflection exercise.

This post was generously contributed by Jeff Fennell, who teaches in the Biology department at Everett Community College.

Leave a Comment

Why you should appear (at least sometimes) in your course videos

First, a shameless plug: EvCC instructor Joe Graber and I will be teaming up to offer a one-hour workshop on October 3 on using the EvCC lightboard, built by a team of engineering faculty, to create engaging and effective instructional videos. If you haven’t already done so, mark your calendar!

With videos on my mind recently, and with this being a time of the year when many faculty are creating new videos to share with their students, I thought it might be useful to address a couple of the myths, misperceptions, and generalizations about instructional videos that I encounter most frequently.

Students don’t need to see me in videos. All they need to see are my slides and the information I’m presenting. (Besides, I hate being on camera!)

Leave a Comment

Why we should learn students’ names

Many of you know that one of my favorite bloggers is Maryellen Weimer, editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter. In a recent post in Faculty Focus, Weimer reminds us that learning students’ names is just good practice. However, the inability to remember the names of possibly 100 students each quarter, and remember them for long periods of times (till next quarter? next year? next decade?) plagues us all. She writes:  “Names … why do we have such trouble learning them? For those of us who struggle with names, it never gets easier, no matter how many tricks we try. It can be embarrassing—to ourselves and to others. I remember once visiting a mall while out of town and hearing someone calling my name. Soon, a vaguely familiar person was greeting me with enthusiasm. ‘I am so happy to see you! It’s been so long? How are you?’ ”

Over the next few weeks I will be writing posts about “The 4 Connections.” Here’s the back story: about 2 years ago I was at a party and saw my friend Elliot Stern. Elliot is the Vice President of Instruction (VPI) at Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech). He told me that several people from LWTech had gone to an Achieving the Dream conference and one of them went to a workshop given by staff from Odessa College in Odessa, TX. Think oil wells and Friday Night Lights. By way of introduction, they shared that Odessa had a large percentage of students who were not only struggling in their classes, but were ultimately dropping out. There was also a high rate of failure and huge equity gaps. In fact, they had the highest drop rate in the country. After a lot of research and soul searching, they discovered that there were four things that all faculty who had low drop rates were doing. They presented their DRIP program (Drop Rate Improvement Plan) that ultimately not only improved persistence and retention, but closed most of the equity gaps. Today they are an Aspen Prize winning college.

My friend Sally Heilstedt, Associate Dean of Instruction at LWTech, ran with this idea, and summarized it as “The 4 Connections.” They are: Interact with Students by Name, Check-in Regularly, Schedule One-on-One meetings, and Practice Paradox.

Let’s get back to the first connection of   Interact with Students by Name. Yes, it’s difficult to learn (and remember) students’ names. I struggled with this for a long time. When I was teaching at Michigan Technological University, an engineering school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I swear every math class was populated by young men who all looked alike – 18 or 19 years old, blond, wearing a cap and Carharts. Of course we have a much more diverse population at EvCC, but remembering names is still a challenge. To address not only learning but remembering names, try this simple approach: On the first day of class, have paper and markers at each table (or easily accessible if there are desks). I like to raid the recycling bin for paper that has been printed on one side only and then discarded.  Have students make a name plate with the name that they’d like you to use. They should display it every day (for this reason I collected them at the end of class and had them available at the beginning of the next class). An added benefit was that if a name plate wasn’t picked up at the beginning of class, I knew that student was absent. Ask students to be sure to make their name legible and large enough for you to read from the front of the class. And, encourage students to address each other by name. Weimer writes, “Challenge students to learn and use each other’s name – None of this, ‘I agree with him.’ Who is he? What’s his name? Someone, please, introduce him to the rest of us. When you give students an activity like think-pair-share, always remind them to first introduce themselves to their partner.”

Two table name tags, one with the name 'Jason' and one with the name 'Debby' written on them. In the foreground are several blank sheets of paper and five markers.

Think about how this might improve the community in your classroom. Raid the recycling bin today and get ready for the start of Fall Quarter. And stay tuned for the next post on The 4 Connections.

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

Coming out of the cave

When I was cleaning out some papers in a desk drawer the other day I came across an article from the Community College Week magazine. I sometimes tear articles out of magazines or newspapers and keep them in a file for reference later. Of course sometimes I re-read the article and can’t remember why I thought it was important at the time, but when I saw the title of this article, Leave the Cave: Professional Development to Improve Student Success, I knew I had to share it in a blog post. The author, Christine Johnson McPhail, Managing Partner of the McPhail Group, said, “People need to come out of their caves!” She visited a community college and met with the school’s student success committee and president. The people she is encouraging to come out of their caves are faculty who teach and fulfill their contractual duties, but do little else. “They seemed disengaged from the greater strategic direction of the college. Their pedagogical practices were all over the map. They appeared to embody little commitment to tweaking classroom practices to improve student outcomes…the result was a cave-dwelling environment with a ‘do your own thing’ mindset.”

Note that there is light at the entrance to the cave image at the left. That suggests that it is possible for those reluctant colleagues to leave the cave – but there is no quick fix to this problem. Whose responsibility is it to help our colleagues see the light and move towards it?

McPhail suggests that we must first “assess the operative culture and climate in order to define student success and the existing professional development issues.” Do we all agree what student success means? Are we willing to have a conversation about our professional development needs? How are we going to answer these questions in light of our Guided Pathways work? What is it that all faculty need to know in order for us to have a shared vision of student success?

Let’s assume that all faculty (and staff) sign on for the work and vision of Guided Pathways (or just student success)? There are three areas that we must avoid as identified by McPhail:

  • The “That’s above my pay grade” mentality.
    • We all know that teachers are are poorly paid. Why should I work harder than I have to? I already spend hours grading and prepping!
  • The “This is my space” syndrome.
    • I have academic freedom. What happens in my classroom is my business!
  • The “That’s not in my job description” discussion.
    • My job is to teach. I shouldn’t have to serve on so many committees. Besides, that’s what administrators are for!

My guess is that we have all heard someone say at least one of these things. In fact, perhaps you have said something like this yourself (I think I am guilty of that at some point, especially when we seem to be adding one initiative after another, or at the end of the academic year when we are all hoping the quarter ends soon!). So here’s my question for all of you: How do those of us responsible for professional development on our campus help our colleagues venture towards the light at the entrance to the cave? Remember that the motto of the CTT (Center for Transformative Teaching) is Exploring Innovations in Teaching and Learning. How can we help you explore new ways to help students be successful?

Leave a Comment

Let’s jam: the accessibility session

Poster for Accessibility Jam, with orange and white text, displayed on a slight angle, on a purple background. Decorative accessibility icons appear at the bottom of the poster. Full text reads: 'Accessibility Jam. ELearning live in person and featuring performances by Text Alternatives, Closed Captions for Videos, Universal Design, Headings and Document Styles, Canvas Accessibility Tools. Thursday May 18, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., Gray Wolf 268. Free entry, all ages. Come jam with us! Bring your syllabus or course materials for hands-on help with accessibility.'
Accessibility: just like cool jazz.

Here at EvCC, we’re hosting an Accessibility Jam on May 18 in honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. What’s an Accessibility Jam, you ask? Much like the musical jam session from which it borrows its name, the Accessibility Jam is an informal and improvisational gathering that aims to raise awareness of how easy it can be to create accessible course materials, even if you don’t have a lot of time or experience with accessibility-related matters. It’s a drop-in affair, not a formal training session or workshop. That means anyone can stop by to ask a question, sit down with a colleague for some hands-on help with a document or video, or simply find out about some accessibility-related resources and tools. Whether you can spare five minutes or fifty, there’s bound to be some strain of accessibility you can riff on, in your own way and at your own pace, before being pulled back to the regular schedule of your day.

The Accessibility Jam has its origins in a common statement I’ve heard on numerous occasions. You may have heard it, too. It usually goes something like this:

“Accessibility sounds important, but I don’t know anything about making course materials accessible. Plus, it seems like a lot of work — I just don’t have the time to think about it.”

It’s easy to be critical of this view, but anyone familiar with the realities and time constraints of teaching should be able to sympathize. It’s true that making course materials fully accessible does take a lot of time, and it requires specific knowledge of common accessibility problems and solutions. Together those two factors — lack of time and lack of knowledge — can make the idea of an accessible class seem like a fantasy: something we’d all like to see, for sure, but not something that seems very achievable.

But what if we could replace this way of thinking with a different perspective, one that holds every single incremental step toward greater accessibility, no matter how small, is a change for the better that brings us closer to the goal of universal accessibility? This way of seeing course accessibility would mean that small slivers of time could be put to productive use  — which is exactly what we hope to promote at the Accessibility Jam.

Plus, it will be fun. It’s a chance to spend a few minutes with colleagues, working collectively on a shared endeavor, with something tangible to show at the end of it. So if you find yourself with even five minutes to spare on May 18, be sure to stop by the Accessibility Jam!

Leave a Comment

Is Innovation Just a Buzzword?

Have you been to a conference or a meeting on campus recently where the word innovation WASN’T used? It seems to be a buzzword not just in the halls of academia but in the business world as well. What does it mean to be innovative, and how do we incorporate innovations into our teaching practices?

Dictionary.com  defines the verb to innovate as: to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. Does innovation mean revolution? No – it can mean small changes, incremental changes, to your daily work. Think Small Teaching by James Lang, a book I wrote about in an early post. Lang writes about “back pocket techniques” that you can have at the ready to enhance student learning. I wish I had known that innovations could be small when I first started teaching. 

In my first several years in the classroom I struggled to “get things right” and when things started to go smoothly, I did what many of us do: I rested on my laurels. At that point I was mostly concerned about covering the material each day and not evidence of student learning.  Since then I have taken to heart this quote by 19th Century Clergyman William Pollard, “Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday is sufficient for tomorrow.”

So, it’s not critical that you re-invent your course or yourself. What about starting with one small task next week? Yes, planning for innovation is a good way to make sure it happens. Consider this: On Monday, start class with this activity. Say to students: Before I introduce the next topic to explore in class, please find a partner and discuss the big topics we have learned so far. Make a list and be ready to describe how they are related.

Opening class with a “retrieval” activity will let you know how well students have actually learned the material, and is a great way to help students to see the big picture of the topics in the course. I should note that the first time you introduce an activity like this you may be surprised how difficult it is for students. I can tell you from experience that not all my innovative practices were a resounding success! Don’t throw away an activity just because it doesn’t work as well as you’d like the first time around.

Are there innovative practices that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about them!

Leave a Comment

Making the extraordinary ordinary

“If we want students to learn, the most critical element is the teacher. So professional development is the overall most important thing we can do to help students learn.”  

Why Quality Professional Development for Teachers Matters by Ben Johnson in Edutopia

As a member of the Center for Transformative Teaching team, I think it’s important for me to continue learning deeply about the world of teaching and learning. Much of what I learn shows up on this blog and in the journal articles I post on the CTT site. To support my learning, I regularly read blogs, journals, and even take courses (online) that I hope will help me support you in this amazing work we do. To that end, I am enrolled in a MOOC called Leading Ambitious Teaching and Learning through edX. In his introduction to the course, Don Peurach, Assistant Professor of Educational Policy, Leadership and Innovation in the School of Education at the University of Michigan says we are at “A moment of renewal and reinvention in education in the United States and around the world. Complex dynamics, social, political, economic are creating needs and opportunities to pursue new aims for student learning, new approaches to classroom instruction and new strategies for school and system organization. Addressing these needs and seizing these opportunities will require transformative innovation.” There’s that word again…transformative

Transform (verb):

1. to change in form, appearance, or structure; metamorphose.
2. to change in condition, nature, or character; convert.
3. to change into another substance; transmute.
What is it that the CTT is hoping to transform?  Employee retention, efficiency, skills, knowledge and abilities. To make the extraordinary ordinary, we need pretty big ideas and goals, yes?  If you check the CTT webpage, you’ll see that we list the following:
To help you improve your teaching and learning over time, we hope to provide you with ideas for enhancing your teaching, including:
  • Getting Feedback on Teaching
  • Developing Instructional Skills and Materials
  • Improving Course/Program Design and Alignment
  • Consulting with eLearning professionals about Teaching and Learning Issues
  • Learning More About Teaching and Enhancing Student Learning

If you have ideas for how the CTT team, including John Melson, Derek Jorgenson and me, please let us know. We are here to transform!

 

Leave a Comment

Grading anonymously can help counteract implicit bias

The first time I ever taught a college course, I spent an enormous amount of time grading my students’ essays–many, many hours reading, re-reading, and commenting on their work. Part of the reason grading papers took me so long was obviously my inexperience. I had yet to discover the many small efficiencies that can help speed up the process of evaluating students’ written work. And, of course, being new to teaching I was especially anxious about proving I could do a good job and provide my students with the kind of detailed, constructive feedback that I had received from the teachers who had most influenced and helped me in the past.

stacks of composition notebooks
Stacks and stacks and stacks of grading. Grading by ninniane licensed under Creative Commons.

But my slowness resulted from another factor as well. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, but I now see I was filled with a vague sense that I might, without knowing it, be unfair in the comments I provided and the grades I assigned. How could I possibly be sure that a student’s tardiness the day before wasn’t subtly affecting how I was reading her essay now? How could I know that I wasn’t thinking about another student’s evident lack of preparation for a class presentation the previous week as I deemed his current work worthy of only a ‘C’? Could I truly guard against all of the various ways in which a student’s appearance or behavior might affect my judgment, even though I knew those things had nothing to do with work I was evaluating now?

Leave a Comment

Does feedback enhance learning?

Each month I meet with a group of faculty in the New Faculty Academy to discuss chapters in the book How Learning Works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching (Susan Ambrose, Michael Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha Lovette, Marie Norman). Our discussions allow us to do a deep dive into our classroom practices, and because the faculty come from different disciplines and teaching experiences, there are always rich conversations that enhance our own learning.

Recently we discussed the chapter “What kinds of practice and feedback enhance learning?” There are 2 kinds of feedback that we tend to give students: formative and summative. Many of us rely solely on summative feedback, such as exams, projects, or papers. I recently heard someone describe the case of relying on exams alone as doing an “autopsy” on student work. Formative assessment is a way, as the authors state, to focus on ways to help students “work smarter.” The authors believe that “feedback plays” a critical role in “keeping learners’ practice moving toward improvement.”  Formative feedback that you might be familiar with would include things like the minute paper or the PLUS/DELTA mid-quarter feedback. Both of these address student learning and allow the instructor to make changes in their classroom practice in real time. Using the minute paper at the end of a class asking students to summarize the main ideas of the day allows an instructor to reflect on whether they were successful in getting those main ideas across. A PLUS/DELTA mid-quarter assessment allows students to comment on what’s working in the class to promote their learning (PLUS) and what changes they’d like to see in the class to help them learn better (DELTA).

Here is a short list of the strategies that the authors suggest for targeted feedback:

  • Look for patterns of errors in student work
  • Prioritize your feedback
  • Provide feedback at the group level
  • Design frequent opportunities to give feedback
  • Require students to specify how they used feedback in subsequent work

Of these, I am most interested in knowing whether you have ever used the last type of feedback. Would this be valuable to you, the instructor, and to students? Do you think it would help students to connect the dots between different assignments?

If you’d like to learn more about other kinds of formative assessments, please connect with me!

 

Leave a Comment

Shared Expectations

During a casual conversation with a faculty member, we were talking about the then upcoming quarter and the planning she was doing (along with her department colleagues) to get ready for the beginning of classes. Coincidentally, an email from the Faculty Focus blog (written by my all time favorite blogger, Dr. Maryellen Weimer, showed up in my email inbox:  What Happens in a Course is a Shared Responsibility. Weimer says, “Early in my teaching career, I heard a wise colleague tell students, ‘It’s not my class. It’s not your class. It’s our class, and together we will make it a good or not-so-good learning experience.’ ” I looked back at some of my old syllabi and realized I made some of the same mistakes that many faculty commonly make. I outlined the expectations I had for students, including things like punctuality, adherence to class rules, and the cell phone prohibition. Where, I wondered, was my statement about what students could expect from me? I did all the things that Weimer talks about: “We can carefully prepare and organize course materials, design effective activities, treat all students fairly, offer clear explanations, and establish policies that promote learning.” But did I explicitly state what they could expect? Probably not.

Weimer’s article talks mostly about how to create a classroom with shared responsibility for students’ learning. Here are the three things she suggests will be contributing factors in their success:

  1. Students will take responsibility for their own learning.
  2. Students will support the efforts that the teacher makes to help them learn.
  3. Individual students can contribute to the learning experience of other students in the classroom.

One of the activities that we use in the 5-Star Consortium Best Practices orientation for new associate faculty each quarter is “Developing Shared Expectations.” This activity right at the beginning of the orientation helps us build community with a large group of faculty from all levels of experience (some from previous academic institutions and some from industry and some with no prior experience at all!) and helps them build community within the group. We ask, “what can we as facilitators do to make this a rich learning experience?” and “what will you do to make this a rich learning experience?” We encourage the new faculty to try this on the first day of class, and to post it in their Canvas class or even on the wall of the classroom so that it can be referenced throughout the quarter. We have found that when it is regularly reinforced in conversations in the class that students will generally meet the factors set out by Weimer in her article.

Are there activities that you use in the classroom that help to build shared responsibility? Let us know! We are always looking for topics to write about, and look forward to hearing from you!

 

Leave a Comment