Ending the Term on a High Note: Punctuate, Synthesize, and Reflect

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Joshua Eyler, Director of Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence, recently shared his blog post, The Final Class of Semester, emphasizing the importance of meaningfully punctuating the time we have spent with our students.

This made me think about my own classroom tradition of ending the term by asking students to write and share haiku style poems that encapsulate their biggest takeaways; I typically use this activity in introductory-level courses. Many students bring humor to the table and it is a great reminder, before we part ways, that we enjoyed the time we spent learning together.

My favorite haiku from ENG 110:

Public speaking is

Not as scary as it seems

If you breathe and smile

Memorable to me not just for its optimism, but also the affectionate debate over the number of syllables in the word smile that ensued.

Share your favorite end of term traditions in the comments section!

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Teaching with Current Events

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

On September 11, 2001 I was a junior in college studying communication and working as the program director for our campus FM radio station. It was a frantic and confusing day on campus and I spent most of the day working at the radio station, making sure we stayed on the air. September 12, 2001 was just as frantic and confusing; I remember feeling especially homesick and scared. I wanted to be with people (and going home was not an option for me), so I made sure I went to class, Survey of Mass Media.

My professor walked into the room waving a copy of The Wall Street Journal. The headline read: “Terrorists Destroy World Trade Center, Hit Pentagon in Raid with Hijacked Jets.” My strongest and most vivid memory of this time is from that day when the professor shared with us that this was the first six-column headline The Wall Street Journal had run since Pearl Harbor. The professor explained why this was significant and for the remainder of the class we engaged in dialogue about the events of 9/11, all framed around the role of media during times of national crisis and tragedy. It was not lost on me that we were living history (and my professor emphasized this), but more importantly there was comfort for me in this dialogue. The conversation the professor facilitated brought order to chaos; everyone in the classroom that day shared the same fear and confusion but theory and knowledge became our flashlight to see through the darkness.

The events of the past month remind me of this time. There is confusion and fear, misinformation and disinformation – but we can bring order to the chaos and comfort to our students by inviting current events into the classroom and structuring our discourse, to the extent that it is possible, around the unprecedented events of the day.

Noliwe M. Rooks wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled Knowing When to Teach Current Events which offers faculty five questions to ask ourselves when determining whether or not a current event should be brought into the classroom:

  1. Does including the topic allow me to teach students something that, within the context of the overall aims of the course, I think is important for them to learn?
  2. Am I familiar with enough scholarly sources to contextualize the moment or event beyond what is readily available in newspapers and social media?
  3. Is more gained by my teaching this topic than by my leading a town-hall meeting, urging students to organize a panel, or allowing them to discuss the issue during the first few minutes of class?
  4. Is this my “lane”?
  5. If I introduce a new topic into the course, am I prepared to teach students what they don’t know but may need to know in order to fully understand it?

Current events can bring life to your classroom discussions and may even light a spark that creates moments of learning so significant that fifteen years later (or more) your students will still remember them. What more could an educator ask for?

Do you bring current events into the classroom? Tell us about it in the comments section!

 

We are having a paper fight! Ready. Set. Go!

By Benjamin Lipschutz, Business and Accounting Instructor

How do your students learn? How is it that they take their prior knowledge and experiences, combine that with what they are currently being asked to intake, and create real and meaningful knowledge? Experiential learning theory explores this process by breaking into steps how individuals learn. According to researcher David Kolb, experiential learning starts with learners having a concrete experience. They do, see, feel, read, or hear something that passes all their filters and actually leaves an impression. They then require a reflective observation period to mull over what has just occurred. When they have internalized what has happened, they can go through abstract conceptualization and truly learn from the experience. Finally, through active experimentation, they can test what they have learned. This cycle repeats, leading to growth.

A question remains: What does this really mean, and how can/do we apply this in our classrooms?

Let’s start at the beginning. We often ask our students to read text, watch a video, or review presentations to gain a scaffolding of understanding, and then we fill the spaces through our instruction. However, Kolb theorizes that “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984), and that the acquisition of abstract concepts that can be applied flexibly in a range of situations is most readily imparted through new experiences.

One classroom activity that truly encapsulates this learning model is the “paper fight.”  I ask for eight volunteers from my class of 30 students. I split them in groups of 4, place them on opposite sides of the room and give each a small stack of paper. I then declare that we are having a paper fight. Go!

What happens? Usually, the students hesitate, but then organize themselves and start throwing paper at one another. Some crumple and launch the paper, others throw the entire stack, some throw at their own group, and others throw at the opposite group. In general – it’s chaos. However, it is a CONCRETE experience. I capitalize on this experience the students just had and lead an in-depth discussion about what just transpired. Too often, this time for reflection, understanding, and convergence of ideas is cut short, and students are left floundering with partially formed ideas that fall by the wayside. There must be facilitation to point out and smooth over any inconsistencies between the experience and their understanding and we have to provide adequate time to allow this to happen.

Some probing questions I use to help students come to a conclusion about the previous fight are: Who won? Why did they win? What was the goal? What was the purpose? What were the objectives? The abstract conceptualization comes into play by allowing them time to reflect on the experience and then come up with a novel idea or concept — in this case, a new mission, vision, strategy, or objective.

I then allow for a round of active experimentation. I run a second round with another 8 students, but allow them 30 seconds to strategize. The process begins again. This activity continues with me slowly incorporating more information and details and highlighting the various aspects of management I am teaching in the unit’s lesson.

Key Takeaways 

  1. Experiences are the basis for learning
  2. Allow enough time for true reflection and understanding before moving on
  3. Encourage and give theopportunity to create their own opinions
  4. Create an activity where they can test out their idea.

References:

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Benjamin Lipschutz is an instructor in the School of Business at Central Penn College. He holds degrees in Accounting, Business, Business Education, and Special Education with PA State certifications in Business Education and Special Education Pre K-8 and 7-12. His focus is in student centered learning and engagement and he enjoys teaching at all levels, from students here at Central Penn College to kindergartners with Junior Achievement.

Bringing the “Back Row Student” to the Front of the Class

By Dr. Melissa Wehler, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

The under-engaged student is perhaps the most elusive types of students you will encounter during your teaching career.  More often than not, they are the disembodied names on your roster, the ghostly presence of a student that you might begin to think was never real at all.  When they come to class, they are usually late, sit in the back row, put their headphones in, and their head down.  In an online class, they tend to vanish suddenly and quietly, reemerging to take an exam or submit an assignment.  These “back row” students present some interesting challenges, but also some of the most rewarding teaching experiences.

Here are some quick techniques on bringing the “back row student” to the front of the class:

  • It starts on the first day. Setting the right tone of the first day is crucial to engaging the under-engaged student.  Ask them to weigh-in on the “rights” and “responsibilities” for the class.  Allow them to vote on any negotiables such as assignments, readings, and topics.  By doing so, they have a hand in their learning experience and feel more responsible for its outcome.
  • Give it a personal touch. Whether you are online or face-to-face, find ways to engage students in the learning process.  Send a personal email.  Respond to every student at least once on a discussion board.  Come to class early.  Stay late.  Even the smallest gesture can make a big impression.
  • But don’t take it personally. Too often we don’t engage the ‘back row student’ because we take their non-participation personally.  We see their texting, yawning, or ignoring as an indictment of who we are as educators and human beings.  Rather than put ourselves out there (even as we ask them to), we shut down.  Instead, take a quick survey (I like the “Keep doing, Quit doing, and Start doing” survey) to refocus on the classroom experience from the student’s perspective.
  • Move it! When you stand at the front of the class, you are going to engage the students in your direct sphere of influence.  Walking around the rooms and through the aisles helps you communicate to students that you are targeting each one of them with your message.  In an online class, this might mean doing a weekly ‘check-in’ post to let students know that distance doesn’t mean distant.
  • Move them! If possible, on the first day, ask students to move into the empty seats in the front rows by using a “light touch”: a joke, an anecdote, or a simple “I’d appreciate it.”  If they try to move back to the last row, ask again (and again) until they realize that there is no “back row student” in your classroom.  Moving online students can be difficult, but there are ways to do it.  Create a quick video response to a discussion board post, ask a follow-up question, and write on students by name if they are being too quiet.
  • Round robin. Have students complete a quick feedback assessment and go around the room to ask for their responses.  Make it clear that you can’t “opt out” of participation even if you have to “come back to them”—demonstrating that students can’t hide from engagement. For online students, you can rotate a discussion leader position for each week, so that everyone has the chance to share in the responsibility.

When we can engage an under-engaged student, we may make a positive, lasting impression. As faculty members, we play a crucial role in the acculturation of a student to college and eventually to the world beyond it.

Melissa Wehler, Ph.D. 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 including Demons of the Body and Mind,  Transnational Gothic,  and A Quest of Her Own: Essays on the Female Hero in Modern Fantasy 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.

 

Lunch & Learn Highlights: Classroom Management Techniques

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Classroom management is a part of teaching that challenges new and seasoned educators alike. On Friday October 21, 2016, a group of 20 faculty members gathered for a roundtable discussion on classroom management techniques.

Lunch & Learn on Classroom Management TEchniques

Topics included handling classroom disruptions, handling classroom conflict, and maintaining student engagement. Here are some of the techniques, thoughts, and resources that were shared:

  • Don’t be static, move around the classroom
  • Let students know when behavior is factored into grading
  • Don’t let students dominate the conversation
  • Be prepared to help students understand the value in what they’re learning
  • Be proactive in managing behaviors that can incite conflict
  • Ask students what they’re interested in
  • Design engaging activities
  • Bring current events and other relevant information
  • Offer students choices
  • Share your personal experience with students

Additional Resources:

Central Penn College’s Lunch & Learn program is an opportunity for faculty to spend time together, share their experiences, and learn from one another. Watch your CPC email for future Lunch & Learn opportunities, we’d love to see you there!

In the meantime, join the conversation by sharing in the comments section; what are your favorite classroom management techniques?

Are You a Networked Educator?

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

I recently heard an interview with Dr. Bonnie Stewart and I became interested in her work on networked identity. Her words made me think deeply about the value of my personal and professional networks and the richness they bring to my world and to my teaching. My strength as an educator and the value that I have to offer my students is thanks in large part to my past experiences and the people that I know and learn from every day. It’s my responsibility as an educator to remember and reflect upon past learning experiences, to cultivate and maintain relationships, and to seek new opportunities for continued growth. I do this for myself, because I care about my relationships and I care about my career; I do this for my students because they are depending on me and I do not want to let them down.

If you are looking for ideas on how to be a more networked educator – start here:

Know who your mentor is…mentorship is for all stages of our careers and throughout our careers we may experience many mentors. If you do not currently have a trusted mentor, it’s time to find one. Mentorship begins with a relationship. Identify people who have achieved the success that you’d like to achieve and network with them, build a relationship, and learn.

Be active in your professional organizations…my favorite professional organization is having its annual conference in Philadelphia this year. When I went to register for the event, I learned that my membership had lapsed. How could this happen? Well, I moved last year! I forgot to change my address with the organization and I missed my renewal notice. If you haven’t interacted with or heard from your professional organization lately, check your membership. If you’re not a member, join. Our participation in these organizations keeps us up to date on the latest research and trends in our academic disciplines. Commit yourself to joining and getting involved with at least one professional organization in your discipline this year.

Join the conversation…Twitter is an excellent forum for networking with the most active professionals in your field. If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, start by following your professional organization. Go to their website and find out what hashtags they use, follow their discussion and, when you’re ready, jump into the conversation.

Engage in peer review…a great way to develop as a teacher is to watch other people teach. Network with a colleague in your discipline and ask if they are open to having you visit their classroom or, better yet, invite yourself into a classroom outside of your academic discipline to expand your perspective.

Record your reflections…commit to a system for keeping track of the people you meet and reflecting on the new things you learn (I use Microsoft OneNote). Build a filing system in Outlook for archiving emailed newsletters and information from your professional organizations and subscriptions. Block a little time on your calendar every week to read articles and catch up on professional development activities.

Share your knowledge…respond to your professional organization’s call for papers and presentations to share your scholarship. Invite your peers to learn from your experiences in the classroom – the CTE is always looking for guest presenters and guest bloggers. Let us know if you are interested!

What do you do to be a networked educator? Share with us in the comments section!

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!

Context is Key: Using Films on Demand’s New Intro Video Feature

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

In online teaching, an important part of successfully using video for educational purposes is framing the video in the context of your lesson and learning goals by using annotations. When you embed a video (or any multimedia element) into an Item in Blackboard, you should include annotations that orient your students to the content of the video.

Effective annotations include:

  1. An overview of the video’s subject-matter
  2. Information on how the video aligns with your weekly or course-level learning objectives
  3. Specific information on what students should pay attention to in the video or an overview of what students should take away from the video
  4. A reminder for students to take notes, if necessary
  5. Insight on any related activities or assessments that will be conducted after viewing

 

Example Annotation
An Example of Embedded Videos with an Annotation in Blackboard

 

If you’re looking for high-quality video content for your classes, our library subscribes to Films on Demand, a streaming video platform that specializes in educational videos. Our subscription to Films on Demand can be accessed through the Charles “T” Jones Leadership Library’s Online Resources page.

Films on Demand allow users to bookmark videos, build playlists, and generate share links and embed codes to embed videos in Blackboard. Additionally, Films on Demand has a new feature that allows users to create 2-3 minute intro videos for their playlists.

Click this link to see an example of a Films on Demand Playlist with Intro Video.

Users can use intro videos to build continuity and cohesion into their courses, to provide brief instruction to students, and to put videos in the context of a lesson or learning goal. Using an intro video also adds instructor presence because it allows students to hear from (and see) their course instructor as they set the stage for learning.

If you are interested in learning more about this feature, check out the Films on Demand Support Center. Need help recording your first intro video? Contact the Faculty Support Center: facultysupport@centralpenn.edu.

Are you going to give this feature a try? Let us know how it goes in the comments section!

Lunch & Learn Highlights: Strategies for Using Group Work in the Classroom

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Sometime today, take a few minutes and type “I hate group work” into YouTube. Your search will return about 144,000 results including many videos created by college students lamenting over their hatred for and the injustices of the group work expectations in their undergraduate courses. One student vlogger shared: “When I die, I want every single person I’ve done a group project with to be at my funeral so when they bury me they can let me down one last time.” Talk about having some very strong feelings!

Teachers know that group work plays an important role in today’s classroom. Group work affords students the opportunity to practice the important soft skills they will need in their careers including collaboration, communication, problem solving, leadership, and organization.

On the other hand, from the student perspective, group work can seem like a frustrating and unnecessary burden. Students’ lives are so busy that coordinating collaborative sessions with team members who have equally busy lives can feel impossible. A commonly shared complaint is, “I don’t like group work because I just wind up doing all of the work myself!”

How can we help students see the value of group collaboration while also equipping them with the skills they need to collaborate successfully with their peers? On Friday August 26, 2016 a group of fourteen faculty members gathered for a roundtable discussion to consider this challenge and to discuss strategies for using group work in the online and on-ground classrooms.

Lunch and Learn August 26

Here are some of the strategies suggested by the group:

  • Students do not always know how to function in a group – scaffold group assignments by providing resources that help students understand how to collaborate. Examples of resources you can share with students include:

Infographics: Tips for Online Students: Successfully working in Teams or Pairs

Videos: Thomas Frank’s YouTube video 5 Tips for Dealing with Lazy Group Project Members

Embedded tutorials: Embed the Learn to Work in Groups Module into the Groups in Blackboard

Reading assignments: eLearners – How to Survive Virtual Group Work

  • Teach students about online collaboration tools such as the Blackboard Groups tools and Microsoft 365
  • Have students negotiate their roles and sign group contracts or submit communication plans
  • Allow group members to evaluate and rank one another (make their peer evaluation part of the assignment grade)
  • Do not prolong group assignments
  • Reframe “group work” as “team work” or something with a more positive connotation
  • Give students the choice to opt out and work independently
  • Help students avoid procrastination by requiring timely check-ins, progress reports, or submission of work periodically throughout the term
  • Use classroom assessment tools such as surveys to check in with groups and to evaluate their learning experience
  • Assign students to groups strategically so students can support and learn from each other
  • Clearly articulate expectations to students and spend class time reviewing the assignment and the way the groups will be graded

How do you use group work in the classroom? What strategies do you employ to set students up for success while working in groups? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Additional Resources:

Every person who attended the Lunch and Learn received a copy of the Faculty Focus Special Report: Effective Group Work Strategies for the College Classroom. Use the link to download your free copy!

The Value of Course Level Assessment

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Todd Zakrajsek, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Executive Director of the Academy of Educators at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Dr. Zakrajsek is also an accomplished author and presenter in the world of faculty development and teaching excellence in higher education; I’ve had the privilege to hear him speak on numerous occasions. During his talks, Dr. Zakrajsek usually shares a video clip called the Five Minute University:

This video is a humorous riff on a lingering question: Why invest so much time into learning if we are destined to forget most of what we learn? I acknowledge that, as educators, we knowingly view this question as illogical. We are privileged to know that higher education is not just about memorizing facts and figures or checking boxes on a degree matrix; it’s about developing the hard and soft skills that will sustain an individual in their career and for the rest of their life. The real question is: How do we ensure that our courses and curricula are equipping students with the skills they need to be successful? The answer: Assessment.

It is a misnomer that assessment is reserved exclusively for the academic department level, academic school level, or institution level. Assessment belongs at every level, especially the course level. I highly-encourage every educator to find a method of course assessment that works for them and to practice it regularly. The results of this practice are higher-quality courses and an improved student learning experience.

My personal assessment practice begins with course planning: (1) I use the approved course learning objectives as the learning goals for developing my course; (2) I determine what constitutes evidence that these learning objectives are being achieved; (3) I create an outline for my course that aligns my course learning objectives with weekly learning goals and objectives; (4) I develop assignments, activities, and instruction to support the process, capture evidence, and assess learning.

Once the course begins, I monitor overall student performance throughout the term and make note of the needed changes or improvements that become evident right away. Next, I make it a point to check in with my students regularly to hear their thoughts on their experience in my course (eventually I pair this information with my student observation results).

When the term wraps up, I add my final reflections and organize my notes (I use Microsoft OneNote* as my notebook) so they are easily accessible the next time I am scheduled to teach the course. I organize my notes into five categories: (1) things that exceeded my expectations; (2) things that met my expectations; (3) things that need improvement; (4) things that need to be eliminated from the course; (5) things that need to be added to the course.

On a final note, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Dr. Zakrajsek speak (he is the Director of the Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching), take the opportunity. Dr. Zakrajsek is an inspiring speaker and teacher educator.

Microsoft OneNote Logo

*Microsoft OneNote is a notebook in Microsoft Office that allows you to capture notes, drawings, screen clippings, and audio notes. You can organize your notebook into tabs (I tab mine by course). There is a built-in search tool that makes retrieving notes easy.

What do you do to assess your courses? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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