My favorite part about Faculty Development has been learning about the innovations and great work going on across campus. I get to hear about new developments all the time, but I want you to share with the whole campus and region at the 2016 CELT conference. Don’t keep your idea a secret. Today’s tip is an encouragement to share your innovations. The submission deadline is on Friday, but submitting is easy. To get you started, I have a list of things I have heard about the past few years I would love to see at the conference.
Team teaching including interdisciplinary education is something we talk about at meetings, but very few of us know how to do it well. Teach us!
Are you utilizing a new technology? Faculty across campus are experimenting with Zoom video and finding their own open source software. Tell us about it!
Who has had a great idea go bad? I once participated in a redesign that went almost nowhere and many of us have good ideas that don’t work. Share your failure with the group (I promise it is therapeutic)!
Who is already working with the new University priorities on Civic Engagement and Diversity in their classroom? Enlighten us with your vision!
Are you struggling with how to manage political conversations in your classroom? Put together a panel on teaching in a divisive election season!
Got something to say on national controversies? Put together a few people with opposing ideas on affirmative action, campus speech codes, or reconciling institutional history with contemporary goals!
Textbooks are getting more expensive every year. Tell us about how you found open source material or pieced together course readings out of available research!
Do you work with graduate students or mentors? Share best practices with us!
Is your classroom a dimly lit dungeon with chairs bolted to the floor? Put together a group on teaching in difficult spaces and places!
Are you collaborating with Advising or Student Life and Leadership to improve learning? Tell us about how you are building bridges!
The CELT conference is a free opportunity to share your innovations and thoughts on critical campus and national issues. In 2015 we averaged 15 attendees per session and we are looking for even broader exposure this year. Last year I learned things about personal productivity from Dustin Bakkie and what it takes for students to turn around their education after struggling from Josh Whittinghill and students in EOP that have changed my behavior this year. Don’t miss your opportunity to make your voice heard. Submission takes a few minutes, but the lessons learned can last a lifetime.
Got feedback on this tip? Leave a comment or email it to us. Got an idea for a tip? Send it along.
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It’s Week 12 and tomorrow is 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.
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.
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?
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.
When they return from spring break, many of our students will begin work on final projects that they will present to the class. These can be remarkable works of creativity and collaboration demonstrating powerful learning outcomes. They can also be grueling exercises in PowerPoint reading that make the semester end with neither bang nor whimper but with “I already gave my presentation, do I still have to come to class?”
When done right, final presentations—by individuals or groups—are an excellent way for students to synthesize and extend learning and practice the real-world skill of getting a group of people to understand something important. There are many resources for designing good final project assignments; this overview from Stanford’s Teaching Commons lays out some good guidelines and creative ideas. And since you have been modeling good presentation techniques all semester, your students know what an effective presentation looks like. But how useful are these final presentations for the rest of the class? Too often the rest of the class checks out, literally or mentally, from sessions devoted to presentations other than their own. But those last class sessions need not be a waste for all but presenter and instructor. If the presentations are good—and should we presume anything else?—they should be just as valuable to the students as any other class session. You may need to help them see this, though. Here are a few possible strategies:
Make completion of a response to the other presentations a required component of the student’s own project. This can be as simple as asking them to fill out a feedback form with “One thing I found interesting in this presentation…” for each project, or as elaborate as requiring peer feedback on each presentation. If you score the presentations with a rubric, consider having the students complete one for each other.
Beyond attaching points to paying attention, try giving added legitimacy to student presentations by entrusting them with real course content. With adequate guidance, students can do the heavy lifting on key course concepts or applications, which makes real the students’ transition from novice to something-beyond-novice learners. If appropriate, you can use material from the presentations in a final exam.
Foreground the importance of interacting with other students’ projects by moving the presentations online and devoting class time to responding to and connecting the projects. PowerPoint, video or other presentation formats can be attached to blogs or discussion threads in Blackboard to facilitate responses. Students might also post viewing guides or follow-up questions for their presentations, so that in-class discussions are primed and ready. Here’s an article from Faculty Focus that lays out this process.
This time next week you may have toes in the sand, hands in the garden, or at least a triple latte at your side while you move through the next stack of papers. Keep your eyes on the prize.
From “The Flipped Classroom: Not Just for STEM:” Flipping a class isn’t an all or nothing affair. Turning just one lecture into a set of activities students do before class—typically reading and/or watching a video presentation of the day’s material—frees up class time for hands-on activities that require students to dig more deeply into the material using higher-order thinking skills—applying, analyzing, and evaluating, not just remembering. Students might work in teams on a case study or analyze data using material or theory introduced in the pre-class activity. In all of this work, the instructor can circulate among the students, checking for comprehension and helping deepen reflection. Keys to the success of a flipped session are that the pre-class activity have a scored component both to ensure students will do it and to set up the in-class activity; and that in-class work both use and extend the out-of-class material. Many instructors require the students to generate a question based on what they’ve viewed, or open the class with a quiz. It takes time and care to build an effective flipped class, so taking it one session at a time makes sense. And those of us who love our lectures needn’t give up all or even most of them to take advantage of this powerful technique. Our TLP Instructional Technology Consultants are available to help create flipped classroom activities, and have put some resources together here. Thanks to faculty presenters Denise Minor and Sarah Anderson!
From “Approaches to Learning and Teaching (Through) Writing:” Involve students in the process of defining good writing before they begin writing. Deb McCabe (CMAS) invites the class to generate a list of traits they admire in what they read and puts them on the board—understandable, engaging, easy-to-follow, etc. Having done this before, she knows that the traits are likely to fall into certain categories so she lists them in columns (without identifying headings). At the end of the exercise, she turns to the columns of traits and notes how clearly the students have identified key areas like structure, purpose and audience, clarity, mechanics, content richness, and voice. Not only are students now aware of the complexity of what makes for good writing (it’s not the same in a science journal and a political blog), but because they have been engaged in setting the terms, they are also more likely to think about these traits as they begin their own writing processes. Thanks to faculty presenters Deb McCabe, Chris Fosen, and Kim Jaxon!
This might be awkward. Let’s consider that painful moment (or two or infinity) between when we ask the class a discussion-launching or comprehension-checking question and when (a) we give up in despair of ever hearing a human voice again or (b) that nice kid in the front row finally offers something up out of plain desperation. We all know that good teaching involves getting our students to actively connect with the material, and the discussion prompt is a tried and true means of engagement. But we’ve all also experienced the blank stares, the down-turned heads, the aimless shuffling through notes that all say “I would rather die than form an out-loud sentence right now.”
For your consideration, I recommend some version of the Think-Pair-Share
technique for getting past the awkward silences to real discussion and improved learning. This is when you ask a question and give students a few minutes to think about their responses, then they discuss their ideas with a partner, and then each pair shares a response with the whole class. There are countless varieties of this popular method: Write-Pair-Share (students do a solo quick-write before discussing—gives you something to collect if desired); Think-Pair-Square-Share (students discuss in pairs, then in groups of four before sharing—shortens the reporting-out period in a large class); and of course there are a variety of tools for pairing and sharing, both synchronously and asynchronously, in online classes.
The benefits of this technique are many: Cautious students have a smaller, safer space to try out their ideas, confident students get practice in the skill of explanation, novice learners gain critical processing time, faculty get a window into students’ understanding, and we all are relieved of that soul-killing awkward silence.
But it turns out the key to the success of the Think-Pair-Share is in the details. For instance, the question has to be big and hard enough to generate real thought, but focused enough that students can get a handle on it. Projecting the question (and/or an image/graph/chart) is helpful. It’s also critical that students are given enough time to actually process the question and assemble their thoughts. Even if not every pair gets the opportunity to share, it’s probably more important to give adequate time to the thinking and pairing. Of course, it’s also vital to signal that what’s been shared actually matters—by revisiting a concept that has been shown to be tricky, by praising an insightful contribution, by connecting ideas across the groups.
Here’s a great 10-minute video explaining and demonstrating the Think-Pair-Share technique in an introductory Biology class at San Francisco State—relevant to any discipline.