A Quick Technique for Making Your Lectures More Active

While reading a recent interview with Christine Harrington, executive director of the New Jersey Center for Student Success, I was reminded of how some practitioner-scholars in the more technical academic fields experience discomfort with the pedagogy of active learning, although they needn’t. In these instances, faculty feel obliged to present very specific information to students, usually in response to precise disciplinary/workplace expectations or to satisfy accreditation standards that mandate specialized knowledge objectives.

Practitioner scholars

This obligation, whether philosophical or prescribed, can exacerbate the friendly tension that may exist in faculties between “those liberal arts types” and “we practitioner-scholars.” In my experience, practitioner-scholars feel obligated to define instruction as delivering information to students, even while accepting the premise that active learning almost always facilitates stronger outcomes.

Read More

Creating Syllabus Policies

By Melissa Wehler, PhD, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

The syllabus functions as a contract between the students and the faculty member regarding the academic experience in the classroom and the standards for that experience.  Often, when writing our syllabi, we get lost in the legalities of our policies, trying to out-maneuver that loop-hole driven student just waiting on our rosters. (The old adage that faculty “can write a student’s name next to every syllabus policy” comes to mind.)   While it’s important that we are clear and concrete in our policies, it is equally as important that we use this document as a space to demarcate the learning environment: what are your standards for student work and engagement? how do you see your role in the classroom? what standards do you have for participation? how should students conduct themselves in discussion?  Focusing on these questions help us to build an engaging learning experience not simply avoid a disastrous one.

When creating policies for your syllabus, keep in mind some best practices:

Keep the audience in mind. Since students are the audience, you will want to use clear and specific language and avoid being overly long, complicated, or detailed. Try to keep them to a short paragraph and consider using bullet lists.

Read for tone.  The syllabus establishes the classroom guidelines, and as such, the rules for behavior and performance.  Syllabus policies should have a positive tone even as they create these parameters. 

Consider the course.  Each course will have its own unique set of policies that are tailored to the way you teach it.  For instance, if you teach discussion-based courses, you might want to create a discussion policy.  Or if you teach a presentation-based course, you might want to have a policy on professional dress or appearance.

Remember the level. The level of the course will also help you to establish behavior, performance, and participation expectations.  For example, if you teach an introductory course, you want to have a stricter attendance policy, so that these new students acclimate to this reality of campus life.

Avoid distractions.  It may be tempting to change fonts or colors, but these attempts to draw students’ attention to the seriousness of your policy can instead negatively communicate something about you.  Instead, use bold on certain parts of a policy to help students locate the information quickly.

By keeping these best practices in mind, you will help students to not just to understand your standards for academic work, dialogue, and engagement, but to see themselves reflected in the learning experience you are building.

 

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.

You DO Have Time For This! Incorporating Video into Your Classes

By Maria Thiaw, M.F.A., Professor, English and Communication

Every new technology has its benefits and its pitfalls, and throughout history, as new inventions have emerged, traditional industries have shown reluctance before coming to acceptance. Teaching, an ancient art, is no different. All of the new bells and whistles coming our way from CPC’s CTE can be overwhelming and under a challenging course load, learning new technologies can seem impossible. That being said, today’s students have been raised on multimedia and in order to lasso them long enough to get our points across, we need a 21st-century approach. This is why I was an early adopter of all that the CTE has to offer.  In the process of using the CTE to create videos through Screencast-O-Matic and the One Button Studio, I have learned a few things that have made using technology in the classroom easier.

First, you have to approach this with an open mind and understand that it is a process. Look at your schedule for places where you can squeeze in some practice time. Come in on a Monday or use one free hour during each day to learn how to use the programs. The biggest time commitment is in the beginning when you are learning. I found that it took a couple of days of practice, but they are very user-friendly and Kim and Judith were there to help. Once I mastered them, things went much faster. Now that I know how to use the programs, I find that I need about 2 – 3 hours to prepare a PowerPoint video for a class. 1 hour to prep it, 1 hour or less to record it and 1 hour to edit it. This is why it’s best to learn and plan over break, have a script ready, and plan time throughout each week to build your inventory of lessons. Notice the word I am repeating here is PLAN.

Secondly, you must edit your expectations. Don’t expect to have an entire class, let alone 4, completed over a two-week break. This isn’t a week long project; it’s a term-long project. It might take longer than that to feel like your class is perfect. Take your time and get through each lesson. Eventually, the class will be where you want it to be and you’ll be proud of it.

Lastly, don’t worry! You don’t need 44 hours of video, even if it is an online class. It is best to use a variety of teaching methods. Attention spans are short these days so think about keeping your videos less than ten minutes. If you are lecturing for an hour, you can break it up into five or six segments, which helps to promote student focus.

Now that I can handle Screencast-O-Matic, I can create and edit short videos at home.  Even under our intense schedule, with some planning and patience we can work some of these technologies into our pedagogy.

Take-Aways from Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

By Melissa Wehler, PhD, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

On June 5, 2017, I had the pleasure of representing Central Penn College at the Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning in Bethesda, Maryland. My presentation, co-written and co-presented with Judith Dutill, Instructional Designer at Millersville University, was entitled “Pause Procedure and Reflecting Learning in the Online Classroom” and was presented to a crowd of more than thirty educators from institutions of higher education around the country.

The session reviewed methods and techniques that online teaching faculty can use to engage their online students. First, we discussed the challenges faced by online teaching faculty in designing effective instruction for the online modality and promoted the use of microlectures and pause procedure techniques. Next, we defined the elements of a microlecture and discussed the relevant research on the considerations faculty should make before endeavoring to develop their own microlecture. Finally, we discussed methods for incorporating pause procedure into video lectures and introduced some technical tools to assist with this implementation. Specifically, we reviewed some of the software techniques being used at Central Penn, including Play Posit, Voice Thread, and Office Mix.

In addition to my own session, I attended sessions on:

  • What Lies Beneath: Rethinking Major Issues in Teaching and Learning
  • Radically Inclusive Classrooms: Promoting and Protesting a Diverse Learning Environment
  • #InteractiveLearning: Technology Tools to Engage and Support All Learners
  • Advising Online: An Orientation Module to Support Faculty Student Interactions
  • Improving Academic Integrity: Evidenced-Based Strategies

 

While there were many take-aways from the conference, here are a few that resonated with me:

Teaching-oriented versus learning-oriented. During the opening session, Todd Zakrajsek made an excellent point about this issue by asking: “does your lesson change if there are no students in the room?”  The question addresses the fundamental difference between teaching and learning.  If you can deliver the same presentation, run through the same information, and provide the same talking points to a room of thirty as you can to an empty room, you are probably teaching-oriented.  If your lesson plan so thoroughly addresses, integrates, and engages students that you could not possibly proceed, then you are probably learning oriented.

Understand and respect cognitive load.  There comes a point where students (and frankly, us as well) reach a point where we cannot take in any more information.  Rather than continue past this point-of-no-return, find ways to break up the material.  Incorporate reflective breaks to give students a chance to work with the information.  Think about the ways to manage the class so that there is some thinking and some doing.  Understand that no matter how brilliant the lesson, students can only retain so much.

Ends over means.  The role of lecture in the classroom was a hot topic this year, but overall, the sessions I attended seemed to reiterate the same point: engaged students are better than disengaged students no matter the method.  Sometimes, lecturing is necessary; sometimes, it’s not.  The key is that you know your own strengths and weaknesses as an educator, play to those strengths, and engage your students.

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.

Wehler Publishes Article on Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Dr. Melissa WehlerOn June 5, 2017, Dr. Melissa Wehler, Dean of Humanities and Sciences and CTE@CPC blog contributor, published an article entitled “Students’ Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Five Ways to Break the Cycle” in Faculty Focus, an online teaching newsletter. Faculty Focus is published by Magna Commons and reaches an international audience of higher education professionals.  The article provides educators with practical tips on how to help students break negative self-fulfilling prophecies in the classroom, including providing opportunities for metacognition, flipping roles, creating check-in points, building in moments for dialogue, and pointing it out.

Wehler’s other publications include book chapters in various edited collections, including “”The Haunted Hero: The Performance of Trauma in Jessica Jones” in Jessica Jones Anthology (McFarland, 2017, forthcoming), ‘Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky’: Neil Gaiman’s Extraordinarily Ordinary Coraline,’” in A Quest of Her Own: The Female Hero in Modern Fantasy (McFarland, 2014) and “The Haunted Transatlantic Libertine: Edmund Kean’s American Tour” in Transnational Gothic: Literary and Social Exchanges in the Long Nineteenth Century (Ashgate Publishing, 2013) where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture. She also will be co-editing a collection about CW’s adaptation of Supergirl (McFarland, 2018, forthcoming). She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

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.

1 2 3 4 6