Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Taking Risks in the Classroom

For a couple of years, I have been involved in a peer review of teaching program in my department. I am sure we could debate the pros and cons of such a program, but it has allowed me to reflect more on the evolution of my own teaching. While observing a probationary faculty member's class a few days ago, I began to think about how my own teaching has changed over the years. Besides using more technology, I try to take more risks in the classroom these days (insert your favorite risk-taking quote here). Over the years, I have become much more willing to try new teaching methods and implement unique ways to start class.

I was recently prescribed Tamiflu and decided to put the drug information sheet (that came with the prescription) in my biochemistry course file. I only really glanced at this information sheet, but it was clear there was information on this sheet concerning drug resistance. A few days later in my Biochemistry course, we were discussing the H1N1virus, Tamiflu and drug resistance. In the middle of class, I remembered that I had placed the Tamiflu information sheet in my notes, which most likely contained interesting and relevant information. Several years ago, I would have looked at that information sheet after class and included some of the information in the next class period. However, that day I walked over to my notes and pulled out that relatively unfamiliar information sheet and used it during class. In some ways, I felt like I was about to walk a tightrope when I pulled that sheet from my notes. It was a bit of a risk because I really did not know what drug resistance information was included on the sheet and I might not be able to effectively incorporate this information into the class discussion.

I would like to hear your thoughts on taking risks in the classroom or in online courses. Please click COMMENT below to give us your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Top Ten Teaching Mistakes

The 2009 Teaching
and Technology Forum recently concluded and it was an excellent opportunity to reflect on effective teaching practices centered around the theme of Connect-Engage-Empower. By contrast, a colleague recently sent me a link to a post at the Tomorrow's Professor Blog about the top ten teaching mistakes (written by Richard M. Felder). I am not sure if my friend was trying to send me a message or hoping I would share this post with the university community. In any event, I invite you to read the post linked below and provide your comments and thoughts on the list.

Top Ten Teaching Mistakes Post:

Mistake #10. When you ask a question in class, immediately call for volunteers.
Mistake #9. Call on students cold.
Mistake #8. Turn classes into PowerPoint shows.
Mistake #7. Fail to provide variety in instruction.
Mistake #6. Have students work in groups with no individual accountability.
Mistake #5. Fail to establish relevance.
Mistake #4. Give tests that are too long.
Mistake #3: Get stuck in a rut.
Mistake #2. Teach without clear learning objectives.
Mistake #1. Disrespect students.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reflections on Remediation: What Can (and Should) Be Done?

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. James Clinger in the Department of Government, Law and International Affairs.

In recent years, American institutions of higher education have increasingly taken on the task of admitting students to college who, by some standards, are not prepared to do college-level work in one or more basic subjects. Such students are often guided to developmental (a.k.a., remedial) courses that are intended to prepare them to do college level work. As pressure to admit, retain, and graduate more and more students is exerted upon colleges and universities, the proportion of the total student body in need of developmental classes is likely to increase.

Many faculty members are not very comfortable with this trend. Some would say that students who are not ready for college work should not be admitted at all. Others would say that students in need of extra coursework to prepare them for college should not be admitted to a four year institution, but should begin at a community college before transferring. Still others would like universities to do more remediation than is presently done. A recently presented conference paper by Paco Martorell and Isaac McFarlin dealing with the effects of remedial education courses in mathematics may inform this debate to some extent. A story about the paper, the paper's abstract, and an earlier draft of the full-text of the paper can be found below.

Education Week Story

Martorell and McFarlin paper

Questions for Murray State Faculty/Staff:

As a matter of policy, should Murray State or other four-year institutions admit large numbers of students in need of remediation?

Would the students be better served if they attended community colleges
before transferring to Murray State or some other college or university?

If we don't admit them, will we be meeting the goals that the Council on Postsecondary Education has set for us?
If we do admit them, how can we prepare them for college-level work?

evidence indicates that remedial classes are not always effective in reaching desired objectives. Are there some forms of delivering remedial education that have been proven effective?

Is there something that we could do differently to make developmental classes enhance learning, as well as improve rates of retention and graduation?

If you have any thoughts on the questions above, please click COMMENTS below. These are important questions that will impact the future of Murray State and the quality of education we can provide.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning

A recent article in the Wired Campus section of the Chronicle of Higher Education (March 19, 2009) described a new web-based guide entitled the Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning. The authors (George Siemens and Peter Tittenberger) of this guide are at the University of Manitoba's Learning Technologies Centre.

This handbook is quite detailed and combines a nice mix of learning theory with descriptions of new technology-based teaching tools/methods. One reason for this post is to make you aware of this new resource and to highlight two excerpts from the Wired Campus article that describes the handbook:

Excerpt #1:

While colleges and universities have been "fairly aggressive" in adapting their curricula to the changing world, Mr. Siemens told The Chronicle, "What we haven't done very well in the last few years is altering our pedagogy."

Excerpt #2:

In its introduction, the handbook declares the old pedagogical model-where the students draw their information primarily from textbooks, newspapers, and their professors-dead.

I invite you to read the entire Wired Campus article and click COMMENTS below to give us your thoughts on the article, excerpts above and/or the new Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Increasing Student Participation

I recently attended the Teaching Professor Conference in Washington, DC. Attending an interdisciplinary conference devoted to teaching and learning was both fun and informative. Some of the best presentations were from faculty members offering practical solutions to various difficulties we sometimes face in the classroom. One of the best presentations I attended was from Dr. Ken Alford of Brigham Young University who discussed QuizShow, a free, quiz-format software program that can be used to foster student participation. It can sometimes be a struggle to actively engage students in class and promote the type of participation that will ultimately aid their learning. Dr. Alford showed many different ways to use this Jeopardy-style game in the classroom to structure in-class activities and actively involve students in reviewing concepts. I invite you to visit the QuizShow web site and learn more about how this teaching tool may be able to help increase student participation.

The Summer 2009 Blitz Program, sponsored by CTLT, is just around the corner (July 22nd and 29th, 2009) and will focus on various aspects of Blended Learning. It turns out that tools such as QuizShow can be an important part of a blended learning strategy that balances content delivery and student activities in online and face-to-face environments. If interested, please call x-2535 to register for one of the Blitz sessions.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Understanding Great Teaching

An interesting article was recently published by Ken Bain and James Zimmerman entitled Understanding Great Teaching (Peer Review, Spring 2009, vol. 11 (2), 9-12). A link to this article article can be found HERE. Ken Bain is the author of the book What the Best College Teachers Do and this article is based on some observations and principles outlined in the book. Although this is a short article, the authors tackle key questions and issues such as different student approaches to learning, what makes teachers great, how to encourage a deep approach to learning and how to tell the difference between popular teachers and good teachers.

One of my favorite parts of this article is somewhat related to a previous post on the Power of the Question. In the article, the authors state:

"Through the power of the questions they raise, these outstanding teachers engage students in doing the discipline even before they know the discipline...teachers who promote deep learning approaches help students to learn inductively, moving from fascinating and important questions to general principles of the discipline."

I hope you get the chance to read this article about great teaching.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why Do You Teach?

If you read the previous post, you know that I love the talks at the TED conference. I could not resist bringing up this conference one more time and highlighting a talk some years ago by John Wooden, former basketball coach and legend at UCLA. If you are a teacher at any level, this will be a thought-provoking video. It is clear that John Wooden saw his role at UCLA as a teacher of young people, not only about basketball, but life in general. There is no doubt that Wooden was a masterful teacher and in this video he gives us several gems of wisdom about teaching and life. One of the stories that caught my attention was one about a teacher that was asked "why do you teach?." I would imagine that many of us has asked that question at various times. The answer given by this teacher was quite profound and is discussed at 4:55 min into the video. Part of her answer was "where could I find such splendid company?."

As your summer schedule allows, I hope you will take the time to watch this video of John Wooden and reflect on your role as a teacher in higher education. If you have anything to share, please click COMMENTS below.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Love TED (the conference!)

The TED conference started in 1984 to bring people together from the areas of technology, entertainment and design. At this point, the conference has broaden its scope to include the world's most fascinating thinkers from diverse areas that give short presentations. The mission of the TED conference is to spread ideas in order to change the world. You really have to visit the TED website to understand what this conference is all about.

Why am I mentioning the TED conference on a blog devoted to teaching, learning and higher education? I show the video above, featuring Dr. Gregory Petsko from Brandeis University, on the first day of class in my biochemistry courses. This talk is short but it carries a powerful punch! I am convinced that instructors can find TED presentations relevant to their disciplines and incorporate then into class discussions and/or student presentations. I also believe that these types of videos can introduce a multidisciplinary element to courses. The video above is relevant to my biochemistry students but I would imagine that the same video might be useful in a wide array of disciplines including Nursing and Finance.

Below are some TED presentations you might find interesting:

Barry Schwartz (we stopped being wise)

Hans Rosling (debunking third-world myths)

Chris Abani (stories of Africa)

Nalini Nadkarni (rainforest treetop ecosystems)

Please click COMMENTS below and give us your thoughts on the TED conference or how TED presentations can be used in your courses.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Power of the Question

Two recent articles reminded me of the power of good questions in the teaching-learning process. In a recent post at the Teaching Professor Blog, Dr. Maryellen Weimer, discusses the value of good questions to promote productive discussions. Below is an excerpt from her post:

"To realize the potential of a good question, we can’t forget that the power of a question to promote thinking happens in the interstice between the question and the answer—in that quiet space between the asking and answering. Most of us are in such a hurry that that space is short—typically less than 5 seconds, according to research."

In the July 14th, 2008, edition of Chemical and Engineering News, an editorial was published by Dr. Richard Zare of Stanford University about the power of the question. Below are a few paragraphs from this excellent editorial:

"The question is a little-understood element of human cognition. Nevertheless, some question is at the center of every scientific and technological advance, and fundamental questions underlie every humanistic quest to comprehend the world about us. The question is a central aspect of both learning and knowledge creation....Yet students often seem to value more the answer than the question. I think quite the opposite. The quest to answer a question is where the learning takes place, not the answer itself.Those are two of the 10 winning questions."

"The point is that questions propel the world of inquiry and you should never underestimate the power of a simple question in organizing human endeavors. When you ask a question, you develop ownership of the question, and this sense of ownership is nothing like what you get from an answer. Today, we are drowning in information. The real power comes from the question, which organizes knowledge and directs us to the unknown. Life is not about answers; it is about questions, and the quest to find solutions to stated problems."

The question plays a vital role in our legal system and in the ability of journalists and authors to get information about a variety of issues. In my opinion, the question is often taken for granted in education. In some of my courses, I ask students questions in which the answer can be yes, no or maybe. Although the answers seem quite simplistic, the process students have to use to analyze the questions is sometimes quite complex. Overall, not getting the correct answer to questions with seemingly simple answers can often be a signal to students that they do not truly understand a concept or understand it only at a superficial level.

On the other hand, the quotes above suggest that another important part of teaching is helping our students ask more and better questions. Please click COMMENTS below and let us know what you think!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Anything But Common: Learning Commons and Academic Libraries

The following is a guest blog post from Adam Murray, Interim Dean of University Libraries.

A study conducted recently at Simmons College found that 45-55% of student learning activities taking place outside of the classroom took place in the library’s collaborative work spaces. Collaborative work space – as well as work space designed specifically for individuals – is a core component of the planning for a “learning commons” and new library facility at Murray State University. But what does the term “learning commons” really mean? One of the great things about envisioning a learning commons for Murray State University is that we can define it for ourselves, modifying what has already been successful elsewhere for the specific needs of Murray State students, faculty and staff. What we do know is that a learning commons should be a gathering place where students feel comfortable accessing and using information, and doing so on their terms as individuals or as members of a group.

The video above highlights interviews of students and librarians at North Carolina State University, which recently developed a learning commons in their main library building. A quote from the video indicated that the planning for the NCSU learning commons was “responding to what students were asking for already in the library.” The space in the NCSU library before the renovation was very reminiscent of the current Waterfield Library – lots of computers in rows and not much space for group work. Students indicated that they really appreciate locations where they can interact loudly without disturbing others while having access to “lots of computer desks where students can gather around in groups.” This quote helps put another nail in the coffin of the notion that using the library and using a computer are not synonymous.

Student representatives on the task force currently planning a new library for Murray State have proven to be some of the most committed members, frequently bringing forward exciting and intriguing ideas about how a future library will operate. Some of the considerations for a learning commons include a Written & Oral Communications Center, housing the Honors Program, and a focus on internationalization throughout the facility. Far from being just another student center, this early vision of the new library and learning commons really puts the library where it should be – at the academic heart of the university.

What do you think about the prospect of a new library for Murray State that includes a learning commons? Why? What features, functions or services should a learning commons possess? What innovations would the existence of a learning commons spark in your own teaching methods? Please click COMMENTS and give us your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Vision of Students Today (by Michael Wesch)

Dr. Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University. His work in digital ethnography has gained national and international attention. The most visible project is his work on YouTube and a video entitled "A Vision of Students Today" that was a collaborative project with 200 of his students. According to YouTube, this video has been viewed close to 3 million times and certainly raised the visibility of Dr. Wesch's work. In fact, he was recently named the US Professor of the Year for Doctoral Universities by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Support and Advancement of Education.

The point of this blog post is to call your attention to the work of Dr. Wesch as I do feel it has a great deal of relevance in the current environment of higher education. After watching the video above, or visiting links to the Digital Ethnography project at Kansas State, I hope you will click "COMMENTS" below this post and give us your thoughts on this work and describe how it does or does not impact your teaching.

A VISION OF STUDENTS TODAY (also see above):
YouTube Video

Digital Ethnography Blog:
Visit Blog

Article written by Dr. Wesch at Academic Commons:
From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Want to Get Rid of Grades?

A recent article at Inside Higher Ed, entitled "Imagining College Without Grades," raises the issue of not assigning letter grades in college courses. The alternative would be Pass/Fail designations or narrative evaluations. This story reports on a workshop at an annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Indeed, this is a complicated issue that would require a shift in teaching and assessment. Below, I have listed a few pros and cons that proponents and opponents of this idea have put forth:

-students will have greater academic freedom to take a variety of courses
-students can focus on learning, instead of worrying about grades and scores
-in the pass/fail system, faculty will spend less time grading and more time with students

-the amount of faculty time it will take to write narrative evaluations, especially in large classes
-many scholarships, graduate/professional school and job applications require a GPA
-students may lose the motivation to learn the material

I am sure that you can think of more Pros and Cons of this approach. So, click COMMENTS below and share them with us!!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ABC's 20/20 Says College is a Ripoff

I was flipping through the television channels last week and landed on the ABC show 20/20. Before I could continue my ritualistic channel surfing, I heard the phrase "college is a ripoff." This certainly caught my attention and I watched the story by John Stossel. His reports are usually provocative and this one was no exception. This report raises many questions and issues that are directly relevant to the future of higher education in terms of its role in providing students a liberal arts education and/or providing them the skills they need to directly enter the job market. It is no secret that our own institution is trying to increase enrollment and this report might make some high school students think twice about obtaining a college degree. If we feel that this report is misleading, how do we do a better job promoting the value of a college degree? What role should faculty and staff play in this process?

I invite you to view John Stossel's story on YouTube (or watch it above) and click COMMENT at the end of this post to give us your thoughts or reaction to any of the issues raised in this report.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Faculty Beliefs about Student Ratings

Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Editor of the Teaching Professor Newsletter, maintains an excellent blog that addresses many issues associated with teaching and learning. A post in April 2008 raised the issue of a potential disconnect between faculty beliefs and research on student ratings (end-of-semester student evaluations of faculty teaching). I think the most striking part of the blog post is a quote from a research paper on student ratings: "Teachers will not likely improve their evaluations from students by giving higher grades and less course work." (Centra, J., Research in Higher Education, 2003, 44(5), 495-519)

To many faculty members, this is certainly a "hot" topic as the value of student ratings of courses and teaching has been debated for many years. I invite you to read the blog post mentioned above and provide your comments on this blog (click comments below this post) about student evaluations of faculty teaching, a potential disconnect between faculty beliefs and research on student evaluations and/or the role student ratings should play in the evaluation of faculty performance (tenure, promotion, merit, etc.).