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Category: News and Announcements

Announcements, news, and updates from the Center for Transformative Teaching

Eight Steps to Engage Learning

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

  1. 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. 
  1. 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.
  1. 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. 
  1. Practice their skills — preferably by applying and using those skills in different contexts. 
  1. 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

  1. 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.
  1. 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.”
  1. 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)?

You can listen to Peter Felton talk about the research on engaged learners, or read the transcript, on the Teaching In Higher Ed website.  Today’s post was written by guest contributor, Elisabeth Frederickson from Edmonds Community College.

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I love butterflies. Over the summer I watch butterflies in my garden, and am delighted when they flutter around, landing for just a moment on a flower before heading off to search for more nectar.

The kind of butterflies I DON’T like are those I get on the first day of class. Walking into a classroom (virtual or otherwise) with a group of new students, wondering what kind of impression I’ll make has always made me a bit nervous. When I share this with students, they can hardly believe it – What? they say…but you’re the expert! You’ve been teaching a long time! Why do you still get butterflies on the first day??

Delaney J. Kirk, Ph.D. from University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (and who has 27+ years teaching experience!) still gets a little nervous at the beginning of a class. In an article she wrote for the Faculty Focus blog, she outlined 10 tips for getting ready for that first day:

Develop your own routine before going to class. Take a short brisk walk beforehand. Twirl your wrists to gently shake the stress out of your arms. Relax your shoulders; people tend to “hunch up” their shoulders when tense. Do some deep breathing.
Check out your classroom before the students get there
. Walk around and get familiar with the room, podium, how the seats are arranged, etc. Make sure you know how to work any technology you’ll be using.
The first few minutes are crucial. Your students are curious about you and the course. Everything (how you dress, walk, present yourself) are clues as to your personality and credibility. Walk briskly and with purpose into the classroom.
Chat briefly with the students as they come into the room
to make yourself (and the students) feel more comfortable.
Act confident and enthusiastic about what you will be doing that first day. Don’t say that you are nervous as this makes the students uncomfortable and you will lose credibility with them.
Also, it’s best not to tell your students that this is the first time (if it is) that you have taught this particular course. You should know more about the topic than they do so they’ll assume you’re an expert.
Use notecards or form to gather information about your students (name, email address, past class experience with the topic, work experience, etc). This takes the focus off you and onto the task which gives you time to get comfortable.
As you begin, make eye contact with two or three people in various parts of the room. Learn their names and use them several times. You are essentially beginning to build a relationship with your students.
Be enthusiastic about being in the classroom so that they will be also. Don’t just stand behind the podium but move around and move toward them. Look happy to be sharing your knowledge with them.
Start with something that is easy for you to talk about. Tell a story you’ve told often before, read something that is relevant to the class from the newspaper, share something from your days as a student or talk to them about why you went into teaching.

Are there some other ways that you prepare for the first day (April 5!)? What do you do to help with that nervous feeling on Day 1 of the course?

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Airport Ideas

Have you ever heard of airport ideas?

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

  1. How is our understanding of culture and society constructed through and by language?
  2. How can language be powerful?
  3. How can you use language to empower yourself?
  4. How is language used to manipulate us?
  5. In what ways are language and power inseparable?
  6. What is the relationship between thinking and language? How close or far are they apart?
  7. How does language influence the way we think, act, and perceive the world?
  8. How do authors use the resources of language to impact an audience?
  9. How is literature like life?
  10. What is literature supposed to do?

Some overarching essential questions for math, from McTighe, Jay and Wiggins. Grant Essential Questions: Doorways to Student Understanding

  1. How is mathematics used to quantify and compare situations,
    events and phenomena?
  2. What are the mathematical attributes of objects or processes and
    how are they measured or calculated?
  3. How are spatial relationships, including shape and dimension,
    used to draw, construct, model and represent real situations or
    solve problems?
  4. How is mathematics used to measure, model and calculate
  5. 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.

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Don’t’ let technology betray you! eLearning can help

Technology can transform our work!

Today’s guest contributor is Hannah Lovett. Hannah is the Program Specialist in eLearning who I like to call our “Canvas Guru.” Hannah has helped so many of us with Canvas questions, and is always so gracious and generous with her time. Thanks Hannah!

Reach out to eLearning with your questions! We are here to support you.

We have all had those moments where technology seemingly betrays us or maybe we mistakenly do the damage ourselves. There is a myriad of reasons for reaching out to the eLearning team, here are some ways to get the best, quickest assistance possible:

Include as much information as possible. This will eliminate some of the back and forth information gathering needed for us to look into your conundrum or query. Include the name of the course(s), names of the students/faculty/staff involved or experiencing the issue, the name of the affected assignment/quiz/discussion, etc. Examples give us something to look into and prevent us from having to sift through the entire courses and user logs. If you can, screencasts and screenshots help us tremendously.

Email us. Even when we are on campus, email is the quickest way to get in touch with eLearning as a student, faculty or staff member. This allows us to assist you on the go and prevents a traffic jam of phone calls and walk-in (even though we love seeing you!). It also allows us to look into the issue or question before responding.

Use the digital forms. For some of the tasks that must be completed every quarter we have digital forms that you can use to request that an eLearning staff member completes them for you. We have forms for merging, blueprint courses, adding and removing people from your courses, as well as for requesting that new software be integrated into Canvas. This helps us gather all the necessary information and keep track of the many requests that we receive in a day so we can complete them as quickly as possible. eLearning Forms can be found by searching eLearning Information for Faculty and Staff.

Maintain your browser. So many of the issues we hear about can be resolved by simply keeping your browser up to date and clearing your browser’s cache and cookies regularly. If Canvas looks wrong, it might be your browser. Switching browsers to see if the issue persists may give you and us some clues to solving the problem that you are encountering.

Surf the web. In a hurry? Often doing a web search of your question or issue will bring you to pages in the Canvas Community and Guides with the answers. Did you know there is also a page where you can check if Canvas is down? Check out the Status Page.

We are here to support and assist you! Don’t hesitate to reach out to eLearning.

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Welcome to the New Year and the New Quarter!

Welcome to the New Year and the New Quarter. We’re so glad to see you! And we’re glad to be able to put 2020 behind us. The CTT blog is back with new contributors and new topic.

Happy New Year!

But let’s do a review of the past year first.

I was recently reading The Teaching Newsletter from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Becky Supiano, the author, began with, “Last spring’s shift to remote instruction was a remarkable moment in higher education. At the time, I marveled at the strangeness of talking with professors across the country — and even in other countries — and hearing the same experiences and emotions over and over. Neither instructors nor students were ready for online learning. They missed being on campus and in the classroom. Everyone was wrapping their minds around the reality of the pandemic.” You can read the entire newsletter HERE.

The CTT and eLearning rallied to provide multiple professional development opportunities to help faculty with the transition. We hoped that faculty who had never taught an online class would have sufficient tools to make this quick pivot, and those who had experience with online teaching would be able to spend time improving their classes, and that everyone would be comfortable using Zoom or Google Meet to make connections with their students, critical in the online and remote environment.

Faculty were most certainly engaged in their online coursework, and focusing on “getting it right,” but we didn’t always take into consideration that this was a big shift for students as well. In her article, Supiano reports on some things she learned from student interviews:

  • A well-designed online course can be a big adjustment
  • Some classes are barely happening
  • Many students are comfortable talking about their mental health. But that doesn’t mean they’ll tell instructors they’re struggling.

What are students at EvCC telling us?

In a survey conducted by eLearning during the summer of 2020 we asked students, “what is most critical to your success?” Their top responses included:

  • That you can easily navigate your online course (organization is clear, expectations are transparent)
  • That assignment instructions and grading criteria are clear and seem fair
  • That you feel like your instructor cares about you and your success
  • That you know where to go to ask for help
  • That the course content connects to your goals and life experiences

When we asked whether students felt they received clear and consistent feedback on coursework in either the spring or summer classes, they responded:

  • 49.2% felt their received clear and consistent feedback
  • 42.4% felt that in some classes they received clear feedback, and others they didn’t
  • 8.4% felt they did not receive clear and consistent feedback

What are some things we can do to improve those numbers? How do we move from a deficit mindset to building capacity? Not just our own capacity, but that of students as well. Can we reveal the hidden curriculum the hidden curriculum that “consists of the unspoken or implicit academic, social, and cultural messages that are communicated to students while they are in school” and help students develop a sense of belonging?

We will be sharing more information in this CTT Blog about how to address some of the challenges facing students. For now, you can learn more about Student Well-being by listening to this Podcast from Inside Higher Ed called “The Key.” Earlier episodes are also available on this site.

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Revisiting Online Quizzes

The Teaching and Tools workshop series included two seminars with a tongue-in-cheek title “Beat the Cheat.” The first session was a broader exploration of the general premise of exams as an assessment tool (spoiler alert – Derek is an occasional skeptic), and the second session explored some of the Canvas features that allow for “security” measures when online quizzes are offered.

Feel free to take a listen to the Podcast versions here:

Part One podcast

Part Two podcast

You can also access the transcripts here:

Beat the Cheat part one transcript

Beat the Cheat part two transcript

And the handouts from the in-person workshops are available as well!

Beat the Cheat part one handout

Beat the Cheat part two handout


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See the EvCC lightboard in action

Last Thursday’s Opening Week session on “Cool things faculty are doing in the classroom,” facilitated by my colleague Peg, was great fun–and a good chance for me to find out more about some of the thoughtful and innovative work EvCC faculty are doing. I learned something from every presenter, and as a result my notebook is now brimming with new ideas for future workshops, conversations, and potential blog posts.

For now, though, I’ll mention just one of the cool things from the session: Joe Graber’s demonstration of the lightboard he and some of his EvCC engineering colleagues have constructed over the past year and are now using to create videos for their courses. What’s a lightboard, you ask? It’s essentially a transparent, edge-illuminated chalkboard you can use to create videos that show you and what you’re writing at the same time. If that’s hard to envision, take a look at this demonstration video that Joe has created to show off some of the lightboard’s uses and capabilities:

This is DIY educational technology at its best!

Joe will be hosting an informal demonstration at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 19, in Whitehorse 109 if you want to stop by to take a quick look. Later this fall, we’ll also be offering a workshop on creating videos using the lightboard, combining a discussion of best practices in planning and structuring lightboard videos with an opportunity to visit the lightboard studio and give it a try yourself.

[Update 9/20/2017 — Joe an I will be facilitating a workshop on October 3, at noon, in Whitehorse 105. We’ll discuss recommendations for creating effective videos using the lightboard, then spend some time putting it through it’s paces. Light snacks will be provided, but bring your lunch — and your curiosity! For complete details, see our schedule of upcoming workshops.]

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New quarter, new stickers!

2017 eLearning Help Desk stickers displayed on a table. The sticker is a red hexagon with three cartoon superheros, accompanied by the text 'Help Desk Heroes'

You know it’s almost the beginning of the fall quarter when a new batch of eLearning Help Desk stickers arrives, fresh from the printers. Our Help Desk program is just one of the many ways we’re helping to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and support at the CTT.

If you want your very own 2017 edition sticker, stop by one of the eLearning Help Desk locations next week or drop by the Center for Transformative Teaching offices on the second floor of Gray Wolf Hall.

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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!

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Christening the Teaching & Tools Podcast

I was hired as a radio announcer when I was 15.  I had to wait two months until I turned 16 before I could start my training and go on air.  It was an incredible job, and a difficult position to give up nearly eight years later.  The debut of the Teaching & Tools Podcast feels like my triumphant return to the airwaves, even though the topical scope and technology have changed dramatically.  Differences aside, I’m happy to report the first episode of the Teaching & Tools podcast, Discussion Boards, is now available!

The first episode is a recap of a workshop offered on campus.  If you prefer reading to listening to me, check out the Discussion Boards transcript.  Either way, you can catch the essence of the workshop and its question and answer session.

Watch this space for future episodes.  I will be creating and posting an episode for each of the workshops from the winter/spring series.  I may even get fancy and add music and other creative embellishments.  It’s safe to say the radio bug has bit again…

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