In April, 2012, Mark Bauerlein wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how digital tools have downsides when it comes to needing to slow down. He wrote that “sometimes, slow understanding is a necessity. Take, for instance, those sequences in the history of film which are slow and deliberate, but which are nonetheless central expressions of the art form.” He considers habitual switching and hurrying as learning deficiencies. He recommends that academics work to “insert into the curriculum exercises and experiences that cultivate a different habit, a slow-down of apprehension.” Slow down for a moment and consider the speed with which your students access information. Is there time for retaining and using the information?
Question: Grading is a difficult task. Sometimes grading can be objective; other times it can be too subjective. How can I grade more fairly and effectively?
Answer: Not only is grading a difficult task, it is a complicated one. There is no simple answer to your question. Many elements go into awarding grades that students earn. To be fair means that the grades reflect how well students performed on the learning goals for the course. To be effective means that the grades, awarded throughout the course, helped students reach the learning goals. The single best advice to get you on your way to fair and effective grading is a paraphrase of Walvoord and Anderson (Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College): teach what you grade and grade what you teach.
How can we stop grade inflation? Just stop inflating grades! I frequently return to a 2008 quote by Mary Biggs, which appeared in Grade Inflation: Academic Standards in Higher Education. She wrote that “the cause of grade inflation is the faculty. We give inflated grades.” Here we are in 2012. We still discuss the grade inflation problem, but we are also still giving the same explanation: faculty inflate grades. To better understand what inflating grades does and does not do, check out a June 25, 2012 Chronicle article on the topic: http://chronicle.com/article/To-Stop-Grade-Inflation-Just/132415/.
To turn office hours into learning opportunities for students, Margaret Walsh, sociology professor at Keene State College, offered seven strategies: teach, advise, collaborate, offer books, listen well, mentor, don’t ask for feedback on your course or department. The last strategy can “put students on the spot … in a difficult position.” You can access Walsh’s article here: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/how-to-make-the-most-of-your-office-hours/.
In a 2009 issue of The Teaching Professor, Maryellen Weimer summarized McGowan’s and Graham’s research on changes faculty made to their teaching in response to their end-of-course ratings (McGowan, W. R., & Graham, C. R. (2009). Factors contributing to improved teaching performance. Innovative Higher Education, 34, 161-171.). Faculty attributed an increase in ratings to the following changes in teaching: more active learning pedagogy, better teacher-student interactions (knowing students’ names, for example), clearer learning outcomes, better preparation for class, and revisions to the evaluation policies and procedures that are used to assess student work. Perhaps making one change a semester would eventually build toward improved student ratings of teaching. It may be overly challenging to make many changes at once. Besides, there are anecdotes that specific changes in pedagogy (more student interaction, for example) lead to lower student ratings!
Besides student feedback on your teaching, institutions might also rely on peer feedback for your annual evaluation. Before your colleague observes your teaching, consider the following advice from David Perlmutter. You can access his entire Chronicle article here: http://chronicle.com/article/Pleasing-the-Peers/129885/. Don’t try something new. Stay on message. Don’t get fancy or quirky. Rehearse, but not too much. Build in a mix of lesson and interaction. Don’t coach the students. Don’t get rattled. Teach for the students, not the evaluators.
Troubled by your students’ evaluations of your teaching? There is a lot of advice out there on how to read them and respond to yourself, and possibly others. Check out David Perlmutter’s advice: http://chronicle.com/article/How-to-Read-a-Student/129553/. Keep in mind that each institution has its own ways of gathering and responding to feedback from students on teaching and courses. Checking on policies and procedures at your own institution will help you put ratings and comments into perspective.
Maybe you think that because you have learned a lot about your discipline, you can easily learn something that is totally new for you. Have you ever considered what your students are going through when they attempt to learn material that is totally new for them? In a personal description of what it was like to learn to swim, Stephen Brookfield “recounts his own efforts to master a daunting new skills and the many lessons he learned about teaching and learning in the process.” The article, Through the Lens of Learning: How Experiencing Difficult Learning Challenges and Changes Assumptions About Teaching, is readily available on the internet: http://www.biochem.wisc.edu/faculty/weibel/lab/education/Brookfield_Through_the_Lens_1996.pdf. Read it and then decide about how easily you might learn your discipline if you have no prior knowledge or experience with it.
Question: When it arises, plagiarism is complicated and time consuming for all. I have to attend to detection, making a complaint, and sanctioning the student. How can I stop plagiarism from happening in the first place?
CITL’s Answer: The Iwasaki Library and the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning assist faculty through discussion sessions about the reasons why students plagiarize. And, at these sessions they offer recommendations for assignment design that can help deter plagiarism. Watch for announcements about these discussion sessions or contact the library: firstname.lastname@example.org, or the CITL: email@example.com.