Archive for November, 2011

Sticky Notes to Improve Teaching

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

In the September 14th, 2011 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Heather M. Whitney offered a simple way to improve teaching:

What we do and don’t recall easily is a funny thing. I’ve learned a lot of helpful information, science and teaching-wise, at the conferences I’ve attended, but some sticks in my mind without the help of notes and some doesn’t.  One bit of information I recall most readily is a handy tip I learned from attending GradSTEP (Graduate Student Teaching Event for Professional Development) at Vanderbilt University, literally days after I defended my Ph.D.  During one of the sessions, a panelist, very new to the professoriate herself, mentioned that immediately after each class, before she does anything else or even touches her computer, she takes a large 5×8″ sticky note and writes down what did or didn’t work well in that class period. She sticks that to her papers from the class and then uses that note the next time she teaches the course to improve her teaching.  This relatively simple tip has been a lifesaver to me. It’s incredibly easy to forget such matters in the moments after leaving the classroom, but using the post-it note centers me enough to do some productive reflection, even if it is just for a fleeting moment. It also results in handy records that I can refer to the next time I teach the course. The result is better teaching and a mindset focused on continuous improvement.  This little tip has meant wonders for my productivity, and I’m betting that’s why I remember it so easily.

CITL Answers – November 2011

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Question: My students tell me they hear everything that is being said in class, but their work doesn’t suggest they listen deeply. How can I help them understand the difference?

CITL’s Answer: For a brief explanation about the difference between hearing and deep listening, go to a recent post on “Academic Minute,” a daily feature of Inside Higher Ed. In two and a half minutes, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Pauline Oliveros explains the difference. It could provide just what you need to begin to help you help your students engage in deep listening. The link is here:  http://www.insidehighered.com/audio/academic_pulse/passive_hearing_active_listen­ing

Let Them Surf

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

The following excerpt from the story, Let Them Surf, and a follow-up comment, both published on May 12, 2011 in Inside Higher Ed, may give you something to consider when testing your students.

A Danish university has adopted an unusual strategy to tackle cheating: allowing unfettered internet access, even during examinations. Lise Petersen, e-learning project coordinator at the University of Southern Denmark, said that all handwritten exams were being revised and transferred to a digital platform wherever possible, with a completion date of January 2012. She said administering exams via Internet software would allow lecturers to create tests that were aligned with course content rather than “trivia” quizzes. “What you want to test is problem-solving and analytical skills, and … students’ ability to reflect and discuss one particular topic,” she said.  Petersen added that, far from being a soft option, using the Internet as an academic tool was a challenge for most students because of the sheer volume of information available. “The skill is discerning between relevant and irrelevant information and then putting it in context,” she said. . . Petersen said that another benefit of the new Web-based system was that a strict limit could be imposed on the length of work submitted by students. This would force them to rethink how they write and prevent them from copying and pasting from other sources, she said.

This follow-up comment posted by Frank Schmidt, Professor of Biochemistry at University of Missouri, tells me that his assessment method is a learning tool, as well.

For many years I have given a standard, closed book, problem-solving exam in class on Friday. At the end of the hour, students take a clean copy of the exam which they turn in at the start of class on Monday, for half the points they missed. All sources are allowed. A bit more work (I have a class of 113 this semester) but it reinforces critical points, allows those who forget a key fact to find it, requires them to look things up in the literature, and promotes interaction among the students. I am also told that the parties on Friday night after they get together to do the re-take are a lot of fun.