Why Aren’t They Reading?

It is late Spring, and you are scanning your classroom as students walk in. To your horror you see textbooks still wrapped in plastic, others that appear to have never been cracked, and many students who arrived with no book at all. Later you reference an example from the text in an activity or lecture only to be confronted with an ocean of blank stares. Your experience is one many of us have had, and we wonder why aren’t they reading?
This is a complicated question without an easy answer. Also, to be fair, many of them are reading. Of the students who are not having a positive experience with the textbook there are many explanations:
  • The book could be dry and inaccessible
  • The book could prove to not be useful
  • The book could be too expensive to buy/rent
  • The reserve copy of the book could be unavailable at the times the student has to study
A report compiled by the Student Public Interest Research Group found some interesting results about textbook usage among students. I would urge you to read part of their report, but I would encourage you to do some of your own research using a variation of their tested items. James Tyler and I worked together to pull four key questions we believe will give you a better understanding of how your students are utilizing their textbooks and what alternatives might be viable:
  • Have you ever decided against buying (or renting a textbook because it was too expensive? (yes or no)
  • If yes, were you concerned that not buying (or renting) the textbook would hurt your grades in the course? (yes, significantly concerned; yes somewhat concerned; no;  not applicable)
  • Does the cost of textbooks impact which classes and/or how many classes you decide to take? ( yes, significantly; yes, somewhat; no; not applicable)
  • All other things being equal, do you think you would do better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional? ( yes, significantly better; yes, somewhat better; no; not applicable)
If you would like to distribute these to your class, but need some help and have some additional items you would like to use email us at FDEV@csuchico.edu, and we will do the work for you.
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For 2017/18 Faculty Development and Statistics professor Edward Roualdes have secured a $50,000 grant to encourage the adoption for lower cost course materials, so if you want to explore some of these options to increase access for your students, your window of opportunity is now. These are complicated issues with a variety of perspectives. Read this recap of a recent debate if you think otherwise. We encourage you to consider working with us next year to lower costs and increase access for students at Chico. Please fill out this form if you are—this is not really an application, just a way for us to stay organized. If you have a high cost textbook and want to work with some folks to explore alternatives, you are in.
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Make Today Special

Image result for votingI have heard a frequent refrain from friends and colleagues about election day this year, “I am ready for this to be over.” It rings true for even those of us who love politics. The Presidential campaign is 19 months old; if it were a child it would be climbing on things and learning new words every day. However, as I often suggest, we also need to consider this from a student’s perspective. For the vast majority of our students this is their first time voting in a Presidential election, let’s not dampen their enthusiasm with our exhaustion regarding the election cycle. Student voices matter:

  • This year the First-Year Experience program partnered with the Civic Engagement office to register and inform student voters at Chico.
  • Today there are signs and people all over campus urging voting in general or supporting particular candidates.
  • Our own student groups have been present and visible on campus throughout the election season.
  • Across the nation we saw students engaging in dynamic ways. College Republicans were split on their support of Donald Trump this year, so an enthusiastic group formed StudentsforTrump with pop-up groups all over the nation. The group is even mentioned by Trump in speeches, which is a testament to the power of the student voice.

Students often emerge from events like an election with interest in a specific topic, but without a clear path to activism. One such outlet on campus is Civic Engagement which was made a Strategic Priority last year. The campus is looking for a new Director of Civic Engagement right now and it is a great time to get involved. Even if you are not interested in the leadership position, it is worth keeping an eye on the office to learn how to get your students involved in the community. Civic Engagement is not for other students in other classes only during the election, it is for all of us, all the time.

Dr. Sara Cooper has provided additional Book in Common Material. Check out this section of the CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.

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Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! Our second episode of the Fall is out now and our third will be up shortly! Mary, Tracy, and I explore Chico traditions and college athletics. Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

Start of the semester!

board-928378_960_720Welcome to Fall 2016!

The start of the semester is an exciting time for faculty and students. For many of you it marks the launch of a new course design or revision. Some of you worked with Faculty Development or the Chancellor’s Office over the summer while many of you start the term with adjustments based on your own research and experience. You know the course is improved, you know it is better set up for student success and then that question comes. Maybe it is a question you thought you had worked around with a course redesign or an adjustment of your own outlook, maybe it is one you have never heard before, maybe it is one you do not fully understand. In any case, you are frustrated and temped by a flippant response along the lines of “do you know how much work I put into this?”

Instead I would urge you to engage in some healthy perspective taking. This may be your 20th year as a professor and your 11th time teaching a course, but it is probably their first time taking it as a student. Consider the perspectives which generate typical (and frustrating) questions.

  • “When am I ever going to use this?” Many of us find this troubling as the merits of our own disciplines are self-evident to us. The same may not be true for a first-semester student in an English class or an advanced Geology student. Making connections between the course and the world outside the classroom is part of our work, even if references to the real world are troubling.
  • “Is this going to be on the test?” We often recoil when students are so clearly focused on grades in a way that is seemingly dismissive of learning. Take a moment and consider why students might be concerned with grades. They are how we measure athletic eligibility, competitiveness for scholarships, graduate school tiers, and even the ability to continue towards a degree at Chico. While we may yearn for a student population focused on learning, we have set up a system that rewards and punishes them based on grades.
  • “When are your office hours? (or any other syllabus question)” Once as an experiment for a semester I did not respond to questions one could answer by referencing the syllabus, it did not go well. These questions can get frustrating, but asking them can also be frustrating for students. Are they new to the University and the concept of the syllabus? Did they have a course from a previous semester where their instructor constantly rescheduled office hours? Is the syllabus a clear and inviting document (Cornell has a good guide). Is your syllabus accessible enough for all your students to read it? It is easy to think they are asking because they are lazy, but often that is lazy on our part. For a first-generation student balancing work and school asking about your office hours may be their way of ensuring you will be there because they may have to take time off work or away from family. Let’s think about this another way, if a student is so interested in coming to see you they want to make sure you are going to be there and confirm in advance, isn’t that something we want to encourage?

Sometimes questions are lazy, but do not let your experiences with the least prepared and engaged students shape your experiences with everyone else.


The CELT Conference preliminary program and registration link are now available. See you on October 6-7!

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We all have something to share

In Faculty Development we are making mentoring a priority. We formally and informally connect new faculty with experienced peers in their colleges. This program is critical to new faculty members as it allows them to ask tough questions and it values the experience of our wonderful full and part-time faculty members. In the new and exciting “U-Courses” the leadership of instructors is put into motion by advanced peers who help students move through complicated course content. We also value the mentoring relationships faculty build with students in undergraduate research efforts which have been recognized by AAC&U as a high-impact practice.

Increasingly, we know mentoring is important for our students and our faculty, but questions persist:

What is mentoring?

How do I know if I am engaging in good mentoring?

I enjoy pointing out other people’s failings in public settings to embarrass them, does that count as mentoring?

While mentoring is as old as human experience, we are still figuring out how to value it in the academy. At Purdue it is increasingly valued in tenure and promotion. On our campus, it is the focus of an exciting and diverse exploration in the upcoming mentoring conference. See the message below for a chance to learn about something we almost all do, but we could all benefit from knowing more about.

 When: Friday, October 16, 2015

Where: Colusa Hall 100A&B

Time: 9:30-4:30pm

[Register for one or multiple sessions, see conference schedule for details]

*No registration fees*

Reasons why you should attend:

  • Mentoring helps people establish caring relationships
  • Provides resources to help people learn and succeed
  • Build mentoring skills that you could use in workplace, community, and education settings
  • Opportunity to connect with clubs and organizations that are interested in mentoring, leadership, and civic engagement
  • Learn how programs at Chico State implement mentoring into their organization

 Interested? Register now. 

 For more information, contact Gina Tigri at the First-Year Experience Office at 530.898.3705 or visit our Experiential Mentoring Website at http://www.csuchico.edu/fye/mentoringconference.

Get your students engaged

This tip is brought to you from our partners in the Office of Civic Engagement.
If you are interested in learning more, check out the discussion led by Ellie Ertle at the CELT Conference at 2pm on Friday the 9th. While you are thinking about, be sure to register for the conference!

“In the end, higher education should be devoted not just to the spread of knowledge but to the pursuit of virtuous action. It should have an impact on how students make the important choices that shape their lives.” – Thomas Ehrlich, Civic and Moral Learning

What did you see on your way to work this morning? Perhaps on your drive you struggled with traffic as high school students crossed a busy intersection, chico bridge crossed the bridge on campus and saw the dry creek bed or saw someone sleeping in Children’s Park. As faculty, we are fortunate to live and work in a beautiful place that, like communities everywhere, has wonderful assets along with real problems to address. Fortunately, Chico State brings a bounty of intellectual resources and people-power that can be channeled to positively impact our community while expanding student learning.

Simply put, civic engagement is about connecting students with real problems and opportunities in the community and world in which they live. Chico State faculty have a rich history of helping students be solutionaries – whether it is working with community leaders to address local issues, teaching lessons in schools, or engaging students in service learning projects. In doing so, we create space for students to learn more about themselves as well as about how they can use their unique talents to impact the world for the better.

Chico State values civic engagement and education for the public good. It may seem intimidating, but there are resources on campus to facilitate these opportunities for your courses. The Office of Civic Engagement (OCE) can help you incorporate civic engagement into your curriculum in a way that works for you, your class and your students. Visit OCE’s website for more information or email us at oce@csuchico.edu.


Who are your students?

Today’s tip is “Get to know your students.”

During New Faculty Orientation an accomplished professor from Business told a powerful story of a dedicated instructor who poured hundreds of hours of time into course design, but did not know the name of a single student. Evaluations revealed the students had a disappointing experience in the class despite the extensive planning.

Names are one way we can get to know our students, but there are others, too. Every year, Beloit College publishes their “Mindset List” detailing the life experiences of incoming students. Here are a few highlights that might help you get to know your students:

  • They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
  • The therapeutic use of marijuana has always been legal in a growing number of American states.
  • The Lion Kinghas always been on Broadway.
  • Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have always been members of NATO.

The time we take to get to know a little about our students as a group and as individuals tends to pay off in the form of a more dynamic classroom and a better learning environment for all of our students.


These students want off the bus

It’s Week 12 and tomorrow is tax day Tax Day; we may be forgiven a certain lassitude.  At this point in the semester we and our students can feel like travelers stuck on a bus trip that is taking way too long.  No matter how fascinating we all found each other at the beginning of the journey, things may have gone a bit stale. Here are few quick tips for re-energizing your semester.

  1. Try something unexpected in class. One instant way to change the energy in the room? Music.  Choose a piece of music to have playing as students enter the room—to hint at the topic of the day, to reduce anxiety before a test, or to reboot after a unit break.  When I team-taught a super jumbo version of an introduction to religion class a few years ago, my colleague and I selected pieces to set the tone for our alternating lectures, David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” for my religion and gender session, k. d. lang’s “Constant Craving” for his on the Buddhist Four Noble Truths. It was a great way to build an affective relationship with so huge a group.  Or ask your students to build a musical soundtrack for the topic under discussion, as this high school history teacher does.
  2. Shake up your relationship with classroom technology.  If you regularly use clickers, video, live Tweeting, or even just humble PowerPoint, try going dark for a session.  Or the reverse: fold one digital element into an otherwise low-tech class. (The incomparable and indefatigable Instructional Technology Consultants in TLP would be glad to help you think though an activity.)  How would learning be reshaped by changing the way you, the students, and the course material interact?
  3. Feed your mind. We work at a university, where smart and creative people are doing smart, creative things every day.  This is the forest all around us, but too often we can only see the giant task-shaped tree right in front of us.  Check out the University Calendar, which you can conveniently filter according to your own proclivities: arts, athletics, lectures, tours, you name it. Tomorrow’s Middle East Studies Symposium and next week’s Turner Print Museum Student Print Exhibition do not relate directly to my area of teaching or research, but I suspect they will make me proud of our students, teach me something new, and help me remember why I chose an academic life—all of which are likely to make me a better teacher.

* Authored by Dr. Kate McCarthy.



Front-load Engagement

One of the great things about the structure of university life is that we get this opportunity for a do-over every semester. So we can let go of last semester’s slag—the student presentations that disappointed us, the papers so full of words and so void of meaning, the brilliant class discussions that never quite got off the ground—and focus instead on the fresh faces before us. To reduce the likelihood of May regret, consider front-loading the semester with some tools that are shown to improve student success.

Front-load engagement.  Invite students to think about the big picture of your course by asking a big question to get conversation started.  James Lang’s wonderful On Course (Harvard University Press, 2008, 33) offers three examples:

  1. In Art History: Describe for me one work of visual art that has really impressed or interested you; what made it stand out for you?
  2. In Philosophy 101: What makes a person ethical?
  3. In Human Biology: What fields or careers do you think depend heavily on an understanding of human biology?

Your own responses to these kinds of questions offer a chance for students to see your passion for the field, which has been known to be contagious.

Frontload high expectations. Setting the bar high is critical for real student learning. This is done not only by making clear statements about rigorous course requirements and classroom accountability, but also by making it clear that we believe students can learn, meeting them where they are now, and giving them the tools to keep climbing.  (This is an insight at the heart of current conversations around “mindset” and “grit” in education.)

Frontload support. You know that you are there in office hours to help with any course-related issue, and that you are not a scary person. Students may not know this, especially if they are new to college. I’ve heard great ideas about how instructors promote office hour visits—requiring a mandatory shared cup of tea; offering a suggested script for what they might want to ask; assigning them to come in pairs to diffuse the anxiety; creating a simple course task that must be done in person—pick your ploy.  Just by getting the student into your office, you have established a connection on which he or she is more likely to draw when the going gets tough.

And it’s not all on you.  Our university has a great range of support services that we could surely do more to promote. Post on your Blackboard site and remind students frequently about all the resources relevant to your course, starting with the free tutoring that is available in the Student Learning Center.

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.