In the CTT blog we have provided lots of articles on best practices for helping students be more successful, and I hope that readers will feel, as Bonni Stachowiak says in her introductions to the Teaching for Higher Ed podcast intro, that we are offering suggestions and opportunities to facilitate ways of being more effective at the art and science of teaching and learning. For us, the big question is what do we really want our students to learn from us?
In this podcast with the late Peter Kaufman who taught at SUNY New Paltz in the Department of Sociology, he reminds us to practice self-compassion, “recognizing that teaching is hard,” and if we are “not compassionate with ourselves,” we are not going to be able to extend compassion to our students. In his most recent book, titled “Teaching with Compassion” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), Kaufman and co-author Janine Schipper offer practical approaches to fostering a caring and empathetic pedagogy. So many great quotes from Kaufman, including “students don’t suck.” We hope you will find this conversation engaging and time well spent.
Who writes “better” exam questions? In an earlier blog post, I talked about student generated exam questions. Shriram Krishnamurthi, a professor of computer science at Brown University, said the approach is an example of what he called “Contributed Student Pedagogy.” Let’s add Benjamin Wiles, the chief data officer at Clemson University, to the conversation. Are you familiar with “Self-Determination Theory?” According to the website verywellmind, “In psychology, self-determination is an important concept that refers to each person’s ability to make choices and manage their own life. Self-determination allows people to feel that they have control over their choices and lives. It also has an impact on motivation—people feel more motivated to take action when they feel that what they do will have an effect on the outcome.” Will student generated exam questions foster engagement? Will greater student learning take place?
Wiles has made use of it in some of his math courses, and he knows that some students may be a bit hesitant at first, but believes that this is an excellent way to build community and engagement from the very first day of the term. In fact, he asks students to help write the syllabus with him.
In a study at the University of Michigan a few years ago, published in 2015 in the Journal of Dental Education, the rigor of exam questions generated by students was compared to the questions generated by instructors. The students were members of a first-year dentistry course. Here’s where it gets interesting…three experts did a blind study of exam questions, using Bloom’s Taxonomyas a scale, and discovered that almost half of students’ questions assessed high-level cognitive skills, and 16 percent of the instructors’ questions did. That gave me pause!
The study also interviewed students about this exercise (not the instructors, though!) More than three-quarters of the students found this exercise helpful in making connections between the dentistry course and other courses they were taking! “This exercise forced me to evaluate questions and review why they were right and wrong,” one student wrote.
Wouldn’t this be an interesting exercise for you to do in one of your classes this fall? Remember that students don’t automatically write great questions. Like the students in Wiles’ classes, it may take some coaxing and coaching, and an introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy, but the outcomes will help students make more and better connections both in your class and other courses.
What’s your practice when it comes to rounding student grades? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Back in April of 2019, Megan Von Bergen wrote inFaculty Focus “Although some students need a “second lap” to master academic skills needed for later coursework, repeating courses makes it harder for students to progress toward a degree. Time is money (literally, in higher education), and when students are asked to spend more of both on a class they already took, they may get discouraged or drop out.”
What are some of the questions you might ask when making a decision about rounding a grade up or down? Here are the recommendations for how to think about this from Von Bergen:
How did students perform on important assignments?
Suppose a student in your class misses some minor assignments, submits some assignments late, and who has a spotty attendance record. But this student has done really well in major or important assignments. In fact, the student has done quite well on all the major exams. Has this student demonstrated learning sufficiently? Are you willing to pass this student?
Did the student improve over the course of the semester?
Let’s say that you have a student who had a slow start in your class. Maybe they were unprepared for the level of rigor or weren’t quite ready for a college level class. So the first 2 weeks they struggled and maybe stumbled on a few assignments, and their first exam grade was not so great. Then 2-3 weeks into the term they began putting the pieces together and their performance on assignments and exams steadily improved. Compare the first assignments with the last – this student went from a failing grade to a solid B. Has this student demonstrated learning sufficiently to earn a B for the course?
Did the student meet the course objectives?
Von Bergen writes, “Course objectives are the finish line of a race: like a marathoner who leaves the course at Mile 20, a student who does not reach the objectives has not fully completed the course. If a student falls short of a significant number of the objectives, she should retake the course, so that she has the opportunity to acquire important skills.” Some of the courses you teach may have a long list of objectives. Are they equally important? There is a student in your class who has adequately demonstrated that she has met most of the objectives. How many of the objectives are students in your class required to meet? All of them? Most of them? Which ones really matter, especially for later coursework? Has the student who meets “most” of the objectives adequately demonstrated sufficient learning to earn a passing grade?
Von Bergen writes, “Even with assessment tools such as rubrics, grading is unavoidably contingent; any final decision always depends upon the individual student’s situation.” As instructors we tend to view all student work as complete, or not, correct, or not, rather than in a more holistic way. Some will argue that the work of teaching is to cover the material (and while I agree that this is true), let’s look at grading in a more holistic way.
Want to read more about grading?
Check out this Faculty Focus article, Grading and Chaos Theory: Frustrations and Exhilarations of Parsing Motivating Factors…”The academic freedom to evolve a philosophy of grading, thanks to tradition and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) encouragement of which, “The assessment of student academic performance…is a direct corollary of the instructor’s ‘freedom in the classroom…,’” provides a path of exploration regarding what, why, and how I grade.”
Here’s another recent article from The Scholarly Teacher, Grading as Instruction: Designing for Practice by Barry Sharpe. “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.”
Many of you know that I am a fan of James Lang, the author of such books as Small Teaching and co-author with Flower Darby of Small Teaching Online. [Small Teaching: how minor modifications to our teaching can have a major impact on student learning.]
I was reviewing an article written by Lang several years ago [Small Changes in Teaching: Giving Them a Say] in which he described something I know every classroom instructor has experienced: civil attention. Civil attention is a phrase coined by Jay Howard in his book, Discussion in the College Classroom: Getting Your Students Engaged and Participating in Person and Online. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Lang writes, “Citing research that dates back to the 1970s, Howard writes that “in the vast majority of college classrooms, we expect college students to pay civil attention. Actually paying attention is optional.” Students pay “civil attention” when they face the front of the room, eyes open, taking notes and occasionally making eye contact with us. But we all know — from our own experiences in boring faculty meetings or conference talks — that looking like you’re paying attention doesn’t mean you are.”
Back to Small Teaching. Lang recognized that when students are passive learners, there is much less learning taking place (because they are paying civil attention), and when they actively engaged, much more learning takes place. I think we all know this. In Giving Them a Say, Lang’s main point is that we should give students a measure of control to improve learning. Here are the three ways he recommends:
Student-generated exam questions.
Students expect our exams to look a certain way, but what if we allowed them to choose from a longer list to choose from? Lang suggests that you create more questions than you actually want students to answer, or to even have them write their own questions. Asking students to write exam questions is a great group activity!
Are you familiar with the concept of “a class constitution”? I found this idea intriguing. Cathy Davidson, in How a Class Becomes a Community: Theory, Method, Examples asks “Why does a class need community rules?” Perhaps you are not quite ready to go as far as Davidson does, allowing students to set most of the operating rules, but what about a class discussion on Day 1 about things like participation, cell phone use in class, late policies? Invite students in to the decision making process as part of your community building.
While many of us who are “old school” instructors will find the idea of giving students more control in the class, trying just one of these items might prove to be the first step in a much more successful course with improved learning outcomes.
It’s the end of the quarter. We’re getting ready for final exams. Many of you have spent a great deal of time thinking about and writing questions and problems for that exam, knowing that this is an opportunity to bring together everything your class covered in the past 10 weeks.
Shriram Krishnamurthi, a professor of computer science at Brown University asks students to contribute possible exam questions. He says that this is an example of what he calls “Contributed Student Pedagogy.” This technique is not to make his life easier. Instead, he uses these questions to develop concept inventories.
According to Exploring How Students Learn, “A concept inventory is a test to assess students’ conceptual understanding in a subject area.” Krishnamurthi says, “This is a very lightweight, cheap way of generating and evolving fairly good inventories.”
By now we might have piqued your interest in concept inventories. Here’s a podcast from Michelle Smith, an Associate Professor in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine. In this podcast from Teach Better, Professor Smith gives advice for finding, creating and/or giving them.
What’s another approach to a successful end-of quarter exam? In another article from Teach Better, the author Doug McKee writes that they tried something new for an online class – a collaborative exam. “I strongly encouraged individuals to complete the exam on their own first and then meet to discuss their solutions—If you think this sounds an awful lot like a two-stage exam, you’re right! After the fact, many students told me they learned a lot during the exam through this collaboration process.”
How successful was this experiment? Well, pretty successful if you measure by student scores. But McKee realizes that there might have been students who simply copied other students’ work. He writes, “I’m seriously considering a hybrid approach where I first ask them to take a short (say 10 question / 30 minute) randomly generated multiple choice exam on their own. Then they take a collaborative exam like the one I gave as a midterm. It would be much less work than a full-on multiple choice set up, but it would still let me identify those students who have no idea what’s going on and free-rode on the midterm. The collaborative piece would let me ask tougher questions and keep all the learning that happens during the exam. Their score would be a weighted average of what they get on the two parts.”
These are just some thoughts on generating exams and exam questions, whether in an online class or not, and if you have other ideas you’d like to contribute please leave your comments!
What are the 4 Connections and why do we recommend using them?
We believe that implementing these small but important strategies will empower educators to build relationships that promote both student success and their own success. While you may be using strategies similar to these, the goal is to move from intuitive practice to intentional practice. We also believe that the 4 Connections are an inclusive pedagogy, creating a supportive environment, and giving all students equal access to learning.
Connection 1: Interact with Students by Name
Learn your students’ names and begin using them on the first day of the class and throughout the quarter.
How to do this when you’re on campus:
Name plates – provide paper (grab some 8.5 x 11 paper from the recycling bin that’s only printed on one side) OR cut up old file folders. Students create their own name plates on the first day of class. When folded they stand up on their desks in the classroom. Collect at the end of class and have students pick them up at the beginning of each class.
Introductions – Create a discussion forum in Canvas and require students to introduce themselves and replay to other introductions (or make time to do this in class). Ask a colleague – How do you learn student names and how do you help students learn each other’s name?
How to do this when you’re online:
Canvas Profiles – ask students to create their profile in Canvas. Make sure that your own profile is up to date! If you are using Zoom for your courses or office hours, make sure students’ names are appearing on their individual “tiles” that you see (and let them know they can rename with their preferred name or nickname and their pronouns). Also ask students to use their image instead of an avatar so when we are back on campus you’ll recognize them!
Connection 2: Check-In and Support Students (all the time)
Pay attention to student behavior and track student progress. Empathize with students (“I’m really exhausted today, too, so let’s make the best of this class together today.”) When a student is struggling, intervene. Make sure you know what resources are available for students. You can find many of them on this Online Student Supportpage.
How to do this (either f2f or online):
Formative assessments are a great way to check-in to potentially modify teaching and learning activities, and will help to improve instruction by incorporating student feedback. Formative assessments typically involve qualitative feedback, but could include quantitative feedback (but that’s more like a summative assessment – a quiz or test). Formative assessments should be administered throughout the quarter as a way to modify when necessary. Formative assessments are for learning, and students can self-monitor their understanding and the learning process. As an example, at the end of a class ask students to summarize the main points of the lesson that day (Minute Paper).
Instructors can use the results of a formative assessment to check for understanding and adjust their teaching the following day to better support student learning. After reading the results of the Minute Paper, you can determine what portion of the class was able to correctly summarize the main points.
Connection 3: Schedule One-on-One meetings with Students
At the beginning of the quarter and throughout, schedule one-on-one meetings with students.
When you are on campus, you will find that many students don’t use your office hours (or even know what office hours are for!) and they may not use the extra time you are available both before and after class to answer questions. Most likely, the only time students remember having to go to a teacher’s office was when they were in trouble! So naturally there’s a negative connotation to office hours. Some students may be intimidated by the thought of going to a teacher’s office, thinking you will judge them for not being very smart if they have questions. These are real concerns that students have!
Developing a relationship with students takes time, so building in one-on-one meetings with students helps to break down some of the fears students may have. In these conversations you can also find out how a student is doing individually.
How does this work (f2f and online):
Set aside some time during each office hour for short visits by students (let’s say 15 minutes) to ease into the one-on-one conversations. Many faculty have found that a Zoom meeting that is not called “office hours” but rather “a check-in” means it’s more likely students will show up. Consider using check-in times as a way to see how students are doing not just in your class but in life.
Some ideas for meeting with students:
Q&A Form: for each meeting, provide students in advance with a list of questions you might ask during the meeting. Provide some space on this paper for them to jot down notes, and ask them to bring one question for you. Have them bring this form to their meeting with you.
Project Process: Build a meeting as part of a project. This could be a planning meeting to help students get started if they have never done a project before, or a status report midway through the quarter, or a review at the end of the quarter.
Scheduling Meetings: Have a sign-up sheet posted in your classroom, or create a Canvas page that is editable by you and the students. List the time slots that are available and have students add their name next to the time that works best for them.
Connection 4:Practice Paradox
Structure your course clearly. Communicate your high expectations frequently. And then, when life happens, be reasonably flexible when students come to you with concerns. There are a lot of ways to support students without compromising rigor. We love the Transparency Framework and Universal Design for Learning! Trust is the key element of relationships that promote success. Practicing Paradox allows educators to establish trust with students through clear, high expectations. The Transparency Framework provides a tested and effective way of designing assignments that increase student success without compromising rigor.
Another way of saying this is High Expectations/High Support.
Connection 1: Interacting with Students by Name
Cooper, K.M., Haney, B., Krieg, A., & Brownell, S.E. (2017). What’s in a name? The importance of students perceiving that an instructor knows their names in a high-enrollment biology classroom. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5332051/
Pay attention to student behavior and track student progress. When a student is struggling, intervene. If you believe that the student is struggling with homelessness, depression, food insecurity, or many of the other issues that have come to light during the pandemic, consider filing a BIT report. This can be found on the College Intranet.
Formative assessment can be summarized this way:
A check-in used to potentially modify teaching and learning activities – Improve instruction and incorporate student feedback
Typically involves qualitative feedback
Administered throughout a unit or course
Assessment FOR learning – Students use the results to self-monitor their understanding and learning process. Instructors use the results to check for understanding and adjust teaching to better support student learning.
Example Minute Paper: After a class session or a reading assignment, students submit the main ideas that stood out to them and the questions they still have.
Read more to find out why Formative Assessments are well worth the extra effort to support students and their learning – everyone benefits!
During the first week of class, ask students, “What do you wish (more) instructors knew about you as a person or as a student?” This works better as a written submission, in person or via Canvas. Thank you to Tish Lopez from South Seattle College for sharing this idea.
Class Meeting Greeting
This idea is borrowed from our K-12 colleagues. Each day, especially for the first few class meetings, stand at the door (or be present in the Zoom room early) and greet each student as they come into the classroom. Use their name and share a greeting like, “Glad you are here today,” or “Thanks for your post to the discussion in Canvas.”
Your college has many resources available for students on campus. One of the best ways to support students, those who are excelling and those who are struggling, is to refer them to these wonderful resources. Even better, walk them to the services, introduce them by name, and help them connect with someone there.
Not sure what those resources are? Find the Student Handbook on the college website or connect with an adviser. Look for programs like TRiO, disability support, counseling, tutoring, and more. Worried about remembering all that is available? No worries! Demonstrating use of the Student Handbook to find information is a great way to model help-seeking behavior to students.
Extra Credit: Schedule brief one-on-one meetings with colleagues from other departments to learn about the support they provide to students.
EvCC Student Resources
The following links are additional resources or tools which do not require login to MyEvCC.
The following video was created by LWTech students and faculty member Jo Nelson. The topic is Validation in Teaching – you’ll appreciate that these are real students talking about their learning. Thanks to LWTech for sharing!
Loes, C., Saichaie, K., Padgett, R., & Pascarella, E. (2012). The effects of teacher behaviors on students’ inclination to inquire and lifelong learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(2), 22. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2012.060207
Lundberg, C., Kim, Y., Andrade, L., & Bahner, D. (2018). High expectations, strong support: Faculty behaviors predicting Latina/o community college student Learning. Journal of College Student Development, 59(1), 55–70. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2018.0004
Winkelmes, M.-A., Boye, A., & Tapp, S. (Eds.). (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and leadership: a guide to implementing the transparency framework institution-wide to improve learning and retention. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Quick Tip # 2 comes from The Chronicle of Higher Education(March 13, 2019). I was attracted to this brief article because of the statement by Rob Jenkins that “Too often, he says, simple business in higher ed is conducted unprofessionally.” Perhaps this is even more so in the remote environment. What will things look like when we return to campus full time? (Note that I didn’t say when things are “back to normal” because I don’t think there will be a normal again, at least as we sometimes envision it.)
Unprofessional habits strain relationships on campus. Here are four ways to break them.
Rob Jenkins, one of our advice contributors, has spent most of his adult life in higher ed. He has also dealt extensively with people in the corporate and nonprofit worlds, and his experience has led him to a worrisome conclusion: Academics don’t always look so good in comparison. Too often, he says, simple business in higher ed is conducted unprofessionally. Calls go unreturned. Emails are ignored. That kind of behavior is destructive, and it strains relationships. Here are four simple ways to avoid such bad habits:
I. Respond in kind. It’s hard, because you get lots of email. But if someone goes to the trouble of contacting you directly, try your best to reply.
II. Follow through. Doing what we’ve promised to do is key. Dropping the ball creates problems for others.
III. Be there. Sacrifice a little time to demonstrate your commitment to your institution — and your fellow human beings.
IV. Speak temperately. Be gracious, acknowledge your failings, and accept your share of responsibility when things don’t go well.
If you’re a true professional, you treat everyone else’s time as just as valuable as your own. And you do what you’ve committed to doing.
A few years ago, edutopia, an excellent resource for faculty teaching at all levels, shared an article by Taylor Meredith on student feedback loops. Meredith writes, “A feedback loop is a process of checking for and affirming understanding that is specific, non-evaluative, manageable, and focused on a learning target.”
This process aims to move learning forward through feedback. Ideally, this feedback loop would happen frequently, in all subject areas. Meredith offers these steps as a way to start the process:
1. Begin With an Aim
An aim is a learning target or essential question that is unpacked from the standards, a part of a learning progression that is clearly communicated to the students at the beginning of each lesson.
2. Feedback Exchange
Feedback should be specific, non-evaluative, manageable, and focused on the aim. If the aim for the day is that readers should structure reasons to develop a compelling argument in a research-based essay, all feedback exchanged should be focused on that aim.
3. Revision and Application
In order for feedback to be effective, students must be given time to revise and apply their new understandings or ideas. Susan Brookhart and Connie Moss, authors of Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom: A Guide for Instructional Leaders, speak of the Golden Second Opportunity, that moment when feedback is grasped and applied. When a student takes the feedback, makes changes to his or her work, and as a result moves a step closer to meeting the desired learning of the day’s aim, then the loop has started. It is authentic, purposeful learning. The teacher begins the process, but the student owns it.
Closing the loop is time to reflect on the aim. Did students meet the desired learning of the day’s aim? Could they move to a different level of proficiency? Could they ask for more feedback? Are there any other areas to revise?
In student feedback loops, students are the ones who drive this process. The teacher supports the students by clearly defining a structure for feedback, modeling effective feedback, highlighting critical student feedback, and participating when necessary.
That’s Meredith’s approach to giving students feedback. Let’s look at the feedback process as a way to improve your teaching. Consider formative assessments such as the Minute Paper as a way to solicit comments from students about the class lesson or a just completed project. Spend several minutes at the end of class and have students do a quick write (anonymously) to determine if they had difficulties, felt the directions weren’t clear, or perhaps they were able to correctly summarize the topic. Using formative assessments to hear what students have to say about your class can help improve our dialogue with students, and help students develop a sense of belonging. If you collect student feedback, though, make sure you respond, and that your response comes quickly. Tell students what you learned (For example: I heard you say that the directions on the project weren’t clear, and I will make sure to check in with you about directions before the next project is assigned.)
An article from The Teaching Professor, author Scott Gabriel poses this question, and suggests that “the question of whether good teaching is caught or taught draws many of us in because we gravitate toward having a definitive answer—black or white, caught or taught.” Is there, in fact, a recipe or formula, as he wonders, that will help us all become the amazing instructors that we want to be, and that our students want and expect? What goes into a recipe, if there is one? What mathematical formula gives us the inputs of knowledge, skills, and abilities (or as Gabriel says, attitudes, behaviors, and practices), and an output of an amazing teacher?
As we know from the past year, when the pandemic forced us out of the physical classroom into the virtual one, nearly all of us had to learn new skills, and learn them fast. It was with the help of our professional development offerings that many of you began to learn about all the things we do in eLearning! Now, more than a year into the pandemic, we have been refining those offerings and even inventing some new ones. Our goal remains the same – to support you in the challenges we all fact in the classroom. We begin by asking, as author Gabriel does in this article, what works? Can we “assume that what any good teacher does can be integrated by another teacher, regardless of discipline?” Here are the points he makes in his article (please note, the article was originally published pre-pandemic, when no one ever expected our world to go topsy turvy).
First, prepare and train for a long journey. No one becomes a great teacher overnight, in a quarter, or even in one’s teaching career. We build confidence along the way, and with the help of professional development, both on our campus in at conferences or professional organizations, we “recalibrate” our teaching skills. Note: recalibrate suggests that sometimes we drift “off course” so that we periodically need to adjust our practices.
Second, bring a friend along for the journey. Look around at your department colleagues. Listen to them talk about their teaching. Is there someone who talks about their teaching practices and how they are working on building student engagement strategies in their classes? Listen in committee meetings for the colleagues who talk about successful students – as them if you can “sit in” one one of their classes or look at their Canvas course. Despite years of thinking that teaching is a solitary enterprise, we have learned that building relationships with other teachers who share and mentor us and offer advice on how to improve our practices works best. Remember, good pedagogy is good pedagogy. These trusted colleagues don’t have to be in our discipline.
Remember that there is no quick fix. Like any profession, we get better with practice. We can supplement that with professional development, by looking to others to help learn what best practices are, reading the literature which abounds with information in both your discipline and overall pedagogy, and listening to student feedback. Regular reflection on our practices will allow us the opportunity to think deeply about teaching and grow into the role of the master teacher.
Peter Felten, author of several books on teaching and learning, recently shared his research on engaged learning on the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast. Felten is the Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Learning, and an Assistant Provost and Professor of History at Elon University.
Felton makes the point that learning results only from what students themselves do and think.
In other words, we can’t climb inside their heads and pull those levers. All we can really do as instructors is influence them to learn.
With that in mind, Felton outlines what students must do, think, and feel in order to be engaged, successful learners.
Five Things Students Must Do
Dedicate time to their studies. This is essential as real learning happens in stages and multiple exposures to a new topic allows the information to stick.
Dedicate effort to their studies. Students need to know that effort and struggle are a normal part of the learning process. Effort is a measure of progress, not a sign of weakness.
Get feedback on their work. To be useful, feedback has to be clear (understandable to the student), constructive, and actionable. A student is more likely to read comments on an essay, for instance, if she can revise that essay and improve her score.
Practice their skills — preferably by applying and using those skills in different contexts.
Reflect on their learning. In other words, they need to be metacognitive, to think about what they know and how they know it.
Three Things Students Must Think or Feel
I belong here. Students need to believe that they belong in college, in the discipline, and in the classroom. Felton points out that “students who lack a sense of belonging are likely to interpret normal academic struggles as evidence that they can’t succeed,” and are more likely to give up as a result.
I can do this. They need to adopt a growth mindset, to think to themselves, “I am a human who is capable of learning and growing and developing.”
This is meaningful to me. Students are more motivated when they perceive that the work they are doing is relevant and when they can see the value in it.
A Teacher’s Influence
What if you chose one thing from the list above, and made a small change in your teaching that would influence students to learn? Could you . . .
add a mock quiz to give students more opportunities to practice?
allow rewrites of essays so students can use feedback to improve?
teach students about growth mindset?
explain the purpose and value of an assignment (sell the benefits)?
It won’t be long before Spring Quarter is over, final exams graded, and some of us head off to a relaxing summer break. When you begin your planning for your courses for either summer or fall quarter, whether they are online or hybrid, or perhaps even face-to-face, think about how to help struggling students. Have you ever considered how you might “humanize yourself” in your classes, demonstrating to students that you are supportive, without adding to your workload? Here’s an intervention that could prove to improve student retention and possible improve their performance in your course.
I recently read an article on theEvolllution website(yes, that’s how they spell it) called Small Changes, Large Rewards in which the author, Zoe Cohen, Assistant Professor in the College of Medicine Tucson, University of Arizona, says “By identifying struggling students and sending them personalized emails encouraging action and providing support, educators can make a significant difference to the success of their learners.”
Cohen provides sample emails. In one of the samples, she connects with students who have failed the first exam: “I was looking at the exam #1 scores for (Course name) and saw that you didn’t do as well as expected. Since it’s still early in the (semester/quarter), now is the time to try and figure out what went wrong and how we can fix it. I have some quick questions for you that I’m hoping you’ll be willing to answer for me.” In this email she lists some questions that ask students to reflect on things like class participation and exam preparation. After sending this email for the first time she worried that there would be a “backlash” from students, blaming her instead of taking responsibility for their behavior. Instead, she got some amazing responses from students, thanking her for taking the time to care about them! And not only that, there has been an improvement in student average grades.
Read more about Dr. Cohen’s experience, and think about how you might nudge students to move them towards success in your course. What are some other ways that you can humanize yourself in your courses to help students? How do you do this in an online environment?
********************************************************************************************** At the start of the semester, Crystal Peirce, an instructor in the biology department at Harper College, polled her students in a course for non-majors, asking what career skills they expected to need, with options like “data interpretation” and “working as a team.” With that foundation in place, she writes, “I continue to remind students of these skills as we complete activities and assignments.”
Julia Kregenow, an associate teaching professor in astronomy and astrophysics at Pennsylvania State University, also takes a direct approach with the non-majors she teaches. “My trick,” she writes, “is to ask the students point blank: ‘Why are we doing this? When might you use this skill in everyday life?’ Having the students come up with the relevance themselves is particularly powerful; it can’t go in one ear and out the other if they have to come up with it themselves.” Scott Cowley, an assistant professor of marketing in the business school at Western Michigan University, came at the issue a little differently. He teaches “Advanced Digital Marketing Strategies,” which he describes as “very applied, skill- and résumé-building course.” But when former students asked Cowley to review their résumés, he learned that they hadn’t included anything from the course. So he began showing, near the end of the term, a slide of what students could reasonably add to their résumés. And he thinks he got through to them. “Many pulled out their phones and began taking pictures” of the slide, he writes. That, he adds, had not happened before.
How are you making your course relevant for students? What life skills, things that they will need 5 years later, will they take away?
According to Harvard Professor Dan Levy (no, not the actor), an airport idea is something from his statistics class that he wants students, five years from now, to be able to discuss when they see each other at the airport (remember when we saw colleagues and even students at airports? When travel for work was a thing?)
This reminds me of a question we asked a few years ago when departments were creating their program maps and looking at classes faculty in those departments and programs felt were critical to a student’s understanding of their discipline. We asked, “What do you want your students to be able to do know and know not just next quarter, but next year, and even five years from now?” How to we ensure that students are learning and understanding
That leads me to another important concept – essential questions. In a post on TeachThought, Terry Heick writes, “Essential questions are, as Grant Wiggins defined, ‘essential’ in the sense of signaling genuine, important and necessarily-ongoing inquiries. These are grapple-worthy, substantive questions that not only require wrestling with, but are worth wrestling with–that could lead students to some critical insight in a 40/40/40-rule sense of the term.” This 40-40-40 rule asks, “what’s important that students understand for the next 40 days, what’s important that they understand for the next 40 months, and what’s important that they understand for the next 40 years?”
When I was teaching statistics, I used essential questions to pull a thread through the class, Sometimes it was about something topical, like the 2020 Census, or polls in a presidential or even off-cycle elections.
Here are some examples of Essential Questions created by Terry Heick:
Language & Literature
How is our understanding of culture and society constructed through and by language?
How can language be powerful?
How can you use language to empower yourself?
How is language used to manipulate us?
In what ways are language and power inseparable?
What is the relationship between thinking and language? How close or far are they apart?
How does language influence the way we think, act, and perceive the world?
How do authors use the resources of language to impact an audience?
How is literature like life?
What is literature supposed to do?
Some overarching essential questions for math, from McTighe, Jay and Wiggins. Grant Essential Questions: Doorways to Student Understanding
How is mathematics used to quantify and compare situations, events and phenomena?
What are the mathematical attributes of objects or processes and how are they measured or calculated?
How are spatial relationships, including shape and dimension, used to draw, construct, model and represent real situations or solve problems?
How is mathematics used to measure, model and calculate change?
What are the patterns in the information we collect and how are they useful?
This comes from The Second Principle by Leslie Owen Wilson who identifies essential questions as a key part of the instructional design process:
If you want to determine whether the questions you write fit into this framework, check out Dr. Wilson’s checklist:
I hope you give some thought to this idea – perhaps make it clear in your syllabus that this is what you hope students will be able to answer by the end of the quarter, and lead them through this investigation, bit by bit, each week. And maybe we’ll one day soon see our students at the airport.
Is Canvas not behaving like you think it should? Is there an obnoxious feature that you can’t seem to turn off or change the settings for? You may have discovered a Canvas Quirk – a persistent feature of Canvas that gets under our skins or foils some of our best design ideas. We’ll be collecting examples of these and publishing them in this occasional column, along with workarounds or thoughts about how to turn what seem like bugs into features.
Future entries might be more elaborate, but here are three quick ones to get us started:
What’s the quirk?
Instructors can’t use the same Zoom link for meetings happening at alternating times within the week for the same material to accommodate students, like a Tuesday morning session and a Thursday afternoon session. Canvas creates a unique link each time you create a new Zoom meeting and is unable to create recurring sessions using multiple times.
What is Canvas thinking?
This is a security feature. Creating a unique Zoom link address for each session reduces the possibility of students sharing a recurring link that might be picked up by a Zoombomber. It also reduces the risk of FERPA violations. For this same reason, Canvas does not give you the option to use your personal room ID for recurring sessions.
What’s the workaround?
See option 2 below.
What’s the quirk?
Recurring Zoom meetings crowding the ToDo list and overwhelming students. Instructors are unable to turn off the ToDo list or adjust any ToDo-related settings, unlike the Announcements at the top of the Home Page.
What is Canvas thinking?
Canvas seems to have 3 operating principles here:
The ToDo list will show everything due within the next 7 days
The ToDo list would like at least 6 items and will reach further than a week to get them.
If there is only one type of event, like a recurring Zoom meeting, it will show all of them – even if that is 20 items.
What’s the workaround?
If you started by setting up your Zoom meetings, adding other items with due dates in that week, such as discussions, assignments, and quizzes, should trigger the first two principles, reducing your list to less overwhelming 6 items or however many items are due that week. You can even add pages to your ToDo list if you want to remind students to do readings by a certain date.
However, if a recurring Zoom meeting is the only thing you are assigning to students on Canvas, you can create a single meeting and then use the generated link as your recurring meeting. You can publish a link to it prominently on your home page along with your Zoom session schedule or on a special Zoom session page with additional login, help, and troubleshooting information. The Zoom link does not expire after the official date of the meeting. If you still want individual meetings on your ToDo list, you can also add calendar events every week and include the Zoom link in the event description. You might think to simplify this workaround by using your personal meeting link for all course meetings, but this could create potential FERPA violations or Zoombombing if students from different sections or previous classes figured out the link remained constant, so it isn’t recommended.
What’s the quirk?
There is a practical limit to how long answers to matching questions can be in Canvas Quizzes. Long answers will simply run off the screen so that only part of the answer is visible, and a smaller part for a smaller screen. The answers don’t wrap.
What is Canvas thinking?
Text wrapping the answers would be confusing because the answers can’t be formatted with bullets to separate multiple line answers. The answers are highlighted as the student scrolls through them, but even that might be confusing.
What’s the workaround?
The right side of a matching question won’t wrap, but the left side will, so always put your (longer) description or example on the left and the (shorter) matching term on the right when creating matching questions. In this case, the answers on the left would fit nicely in the dropdown answer menu. This will even work if you have multiple examples of the same term or concept and you want students to use some of the same answers for multiple prompts or questions.
If you want a bit more flexibility when creating quiz questions, I also like the multiple dropdown question. It can do more than just short answers.
I hope you found these useful. If you have discovered a Canvas Quirk or have a better workaround than the ones suggested here, please send them to eLearning@everettcc.edu and let us know if we can give you credit.