Prep for Your Courses Using Library Resources!

By Emily Reed, Instruction and Reference Librarian; Adjunct Faculty

Whether you are building a course from scratch or using a preexisting course shell, supplying your students with supportive learning materials will enhance your students’ academic success. There are many ways that adding specific articles and/or videos to your course content can help engage your students and learn more effectively. Articles, ebooks, and/or educational videos:

  • Make for good discussion board questions
  • Encourage students to read higher quality materials than they may be currently comfortable with
  • Get students used to the interacting with a large research database
  • Instill the value of using the library’s online resources for research
  • Provide a variety of content delivery modes

Did you know that it’s never been easier to link to journal articles, ebooks, and digital films provided by our Charles “T.” Jones Leadership Library to your course in Blackboard? You can access all of the following resources at this link. (If you are using this link off campus, you will be prompted to enter your Blackboard username and password to authenticate your account.)

Read More

Talking about Academic Rigor with Students

 

By Melissa Wehler, PhD, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

When faculty members discuss academic rigor with their students, these conversations usually revolve around quantities of work that the student will perform: page requirements, number of exams, homework sets, and the like.  Taking the faculty’s lead, students often place their emphasis on their output rather than on their input.  The result is an ineffective essay that meets the seven-page requirement is better than an effective one that doesn’t.  This “because I said so” nature of quantity-driven projects belies the reality of academic rigor.  Academic rigor is not interested the quantity produced but rather is propelled by the quality of materials resulting from a thoughtful process.

To help students to understand the nature of academic rigor in our courses means demystifying the processes that go into creating the learning environment.  Here are some best practices to help you talk to students about the role of academic rigor in your classroom:

Establish standards on the first day.  In addition to relating policies on attendance or late work, the syllabus should also function as a guidebook for the course, including your standards and expectations for work.  Give students a general sense of the quantity and quality of the work you expect during the term.  Discuss the specific nature of the course (skills, content, level, type) and what it means for their work.  Provide them with the information on support services and resources that will help them throughout the term.   

Discuss the workload. Faculty members often quote the 2:1 ratio (two hours outside of class preparing, working, and studying for every hour in the class) when it comes to their expectations.  While this general rule acts as a helpful yardstick, it does not necessarily capture the realities of academic work.  Instead, discuss the course schedule and assignments with your students, noting specific times throughout the academic term where workloads will be light, moderate, and heavy.  Explain what they can do to prepare for the workload differences throughout the term, how they can plan their other commitments around these times, and what they can do during them.

Explain the reasons for the requirements.  Talk to students about the thinking process that went into creating the requirements for the assignment.  Link the requirements to course learning outcomes and skills sets.  Discuss how these requirements further their skill and knowledge sets.  Demonstrate how they build on previous work and act as bridges to future work.  These conversations help the students to move beyond the work “requirement” to see the value in those standards.

Emphasize the process.  When faculty show interest in the learning process, students do, too.  Build regular check-in points throughout the term, especially for larger assignments.  Give an informal survey (such as the “start, stop, and stay”) to help gauge their progress.  Provide resources at critical points in the term or project that will help them with difficult steps.  Break up larger assignments with some formative assessments of their progress.  Ask them to reflect on their process and progress thus far.

Support student work.  Having rigorous standards in your classroom is important, but those standards can quickly become impossible expectations without your support.  On the first day, review the support systems that students can use throughout the course to help them meet your standards.  Provide additional resources that are specific to the unit, skill, or content being discussed.  Introduce or invite support staff to the classroom to help with content or skills.  Provide student models or other examples if appropriate.

Such conversations obviously benefit your students, but they also benefit your growth and development as a faculty member.  Obviously, you will see the positive results in your classroom when students not only understand what they are do but also why they are being asked to do it in this way.  Perhaps less obvious, however, is that by elucidating the definition and role of academic rigor for your students, you are also able to do so for yourself.  These conversations ask you to reflect deeply and critically on the standards for academic work in your classroom.  They help you to move beyond “because I said so” and into “and here’s why.”

 

About the Author

13240559_10101056173646389_348591978591550789_nDr. Melissa Wehler serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of English at Central Penn College.  Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture.  She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

Don’t Forget the Grade Center!

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

There are so many things to keep track of at the start of a new term it can be difficult to know where to begin. Recent research shows us that there is one thing that we definitely do not want to overlook: setting up the Blackboard Grade Center! At Central Penn College we use the Grade Center to maintain a record of student grades. Not only do we associate the College’s grading schema with the Grade Center, we also associate assignments, discussion boards, tests, quizzes and other activities with the Grade Center too. This allows us to use the inline grading features within Blackboard to provide detailed feedback and grades to students.

In a recent Campus Technology article I learned of an analysis conducted by Blackboard to determine the biggest LMS predictor of student achievement. From the Campus Technology article, the analysis shows that the “most successful students” are those who access the gradebook function in Blackboard “most frequently” (para 3).

These results are yet another great reason to take the time to make sure that your Grade Center is set up correctly, now. Students rely on having access to an accurate grade record throughout the term, not just to keep track of their progress, but also as a motivator to achieve academic success.

What can you do today? Check your Grade Center and make sure that you…

Throughout the term you should…

  • Let students know when graded feedback on assignments can be expected and follow-through on these promises.
  • Keep Grade Center records up to date throughout the term.
  • Remind students to check their Grade Centers frequently and to ask questions for clarification right away, especially when new grades are posted.
  • Remind students how to read your detailed feedback and what their grades mean (especially when weighted grades are used).

If you need more information about how your Grade Center should be set up, contact your Program Chair or the LMS Administrator (kimbateman@centralpenn.edu). Have a great term!

How much work is enough?

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

At my undergraduate college orientation, the director of academic advisement took a moment to inform my freshman class that college is more than just attending classes. Nobody in the room look overly surprised by this information, that is until they distributed a chart that further informed the group that for a college freshman taking a full-time course load, there would be between 24-36 hours of out-of-class work per week.

As I progressed through my college education, I learned that the 24-36 hour figure presented at orientation was an estimate that varied widely depending on the course subject and level, my pre-existing knowledge, and the professor’s teaching style. Yet, my freshman year was an eye-opening experience that included many late nights in the library spent reading and writing more pages than I had ever previously attempted in my academic career. Sometimes it felt impossible to keep up with my work, and that was without the responsibilities of a full-time job or family, which so many of today’s college students balance in addition to their studies.

Years later, the tables turned, and I found myself in the role of educator. There I was, looking at the very same chart I received my freshman year, wondering how I would find the right workload for my students. It turns out, I am not alone; I am often brought into conversations with colleagues who feel challenged to find the right balance for their students. It seems many of us feel that this challenge is only compounded by technology and the multitude of teaching modalities that blur the line between time spent in-class and work performed outside-of-class.

As you pursue the right workload for your students, my best advice is to seek input from colleagues both inside and outside of your academic discipline, to talk to your students, and to tune into the research and conversations about student workload that are happening across the landscape of higher education.

A handy tool for gauging your current (or future) student workload is Rice University’s Course Workload Estimator. This is an impressive, research-based tool created to estimate how much time a student can reasonably expect to spend on work outside of your class every week based on  planned weekly reading assignments, writing assignments, exams, and other assignments; I highly recommend checking it out.

What do you do to determine the right workload for your students? Tell us about it in the comments section!