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Teaching Professor Newsletter

Teaching Professor Newsletter



The Teaching Professor is a lively, practical newsletter with a singular purpose: to provide ideas and insights to educators who are passionate about teaching. ...

The Teaching Professor is a lively, practical newsletter with a singular purpose: to provide ideas and insights to educators who are passionate about teaching. http://bit.ly/teaching-professor-subscriptions A must read for: teaching professors, academic deans, new faculty, faculty development staff, Department chairs,and administrators



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    Teaching Professor Newsletter Teaching Professor Newsletter Document Transcript

    • Volume 26, Number 3 March 2012The Final (Office) HoursBy Gary R. Hafer, Lycoming College, PA, dents’ input. debate can linger on. One semester I hadHafer@lycoming.edu Final conference attendance varies, a student and his father debating whether and so do the reasons why students to appeal the final portfolio grade, which he final portfolio of student work (be decide to drop by. Some want to chat, just for the student meant the final courseT it writings, drawings, or a collectionof different kinds of work) presents the like they do with me before class starts. Some others want to see what I liked, grade; the e-mail discussions went back and forth between the freshman dean andinstructor with a conundrum. As the cul- delighted that their final grade is higher the student’s parent, with me as themination of student work, it needs to be than they expected. Still others solicit bystander, supplying information andsubmitted at the end of the course, but empathy; I listen to them reason through commentary along the way only to thefeedback opportunities then are severely their disappointment, which helps me to dean. It was a bizarre way to look at mylimited. Those of us who use portfolio understand the decisions they made—or own grading, defending it in the role of aassignments do provide feedback at mul- did not make—in revision. They tell me third party. Since implementing the finaltiple points throughout the semester, but this time is comforting to them too. One hour, I’ve avoided such scenarios.when the portfolio is completed, the student just wanted to tell me “how hard Although I’m responsible for the aca-course has ended and this final version it was to even earn a D.” I find there are demic integrity of the course, I alsocannot be discussed with students. Worse learning opportunities during this last understand that I need to keep communi-than that, for years, I cringed as I saw the conference as students and I make our cation open, even after students have fin-graded portfolios accumulate outside my way through their portfolios and I share ished the course. Therefore, I’m notoffice. Some were never picked up. my reactions to them. averse to changing a grade as a result of Interested in a better alternative, I ini- The final conference also helps me. It the final conference. Yet, I never have andtiated “the final hour,” an open office makes me a more careful final grader no student has asked me to do so.hour for any student interested in con- because, whether a student attends the Instead, that final hour provides some-versing about his/her graded portfolio. final office hour or not, I may have to face PAGE 3 The procedure is straightforward. As him or her and defend my decision. Thatwith my previous practice, students have influence is not debilitating; rather, it isuntil Monday noon during final examina-tion week to submit their portfolios. I’ve mightily persuasive in keeping me cen- tered on making my evaluation “honest.” In This Issueseen the original and revised pieces in the As Peter Elbow notes in his book Exploring the Impact of Institutionalportfolios throughout the semester and Everyone Can Write (p. 357), the high- Policies on Teaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2during a “trial run” conference where I stakes response is a “critical” one that “is Active Learning: Changed Attitudes andgive them a ballpark grade of where the more likely to misfire or do harm because Improved Performance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3portfolio is presently situated. This of how it is received—even if it isenables me to read the final product sound…” The final office hour gives me Assessing Critical Thinking Skills . . . . . . .4quickly, usually finishing by Tuesday an opportunity to listen and to see how Cell Phones in Class: A Student Survey . .5evening, after which I send out an e-mail that graded message is received—a rare Too Much Focus on Facts? . . . . . . . . . . . .6with a grade report. In the e-mail header, opportunity to hear a student’s side afterI announce first: “Questions? Discussion? the final portfolio is graded. The student What Classes and Small Groups Have in Common . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6Complaints? FINAL OPEN OFFICE controls the final hour with questions andHOURS, Wednesday 10-12.” The e-mail complaints, all of which I respond to. I Online or In Class? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7note contains all the details and the final discover, however, that I do far more lis- Millennial Students: They Aren’t All thegrade, although I typically don’t submit tening than talking. Same . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8final grades to the registrar until after The final hour also provides a spacethat conference time; I’m open to stu- for quick resolution. Without it, grade A MAGNA PUBLICATION
    • 2 Exploring the Impact of Institutional Policies on Teaching Editor-at-Large ere are three questions of interest to ing and learning are directly related to Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D. E-mail: grg@psu.edu H those of us concerned with institu- tional support of teaching: 1) Is the faculty members’ teaching practices.” (p. 819) Were “cultures for teaching” more Editor Rob Kelly strength of an institution’s “culture of prevalent at institutions with learning- robkelly@magnapubs.com teaching” or policy support for teaching centered polices? “There appears no clear President and learning reflected in faculty mem- pattern indicating a relationship between William Haight bers’ pedagogical practices? 2) Are “cul- institutional policy and faculty percep- whaight@magnapubs.com tures of teaching” more prevalent at insti- tions.” (p. 819) Rather familiar institu- Publisher tutions with “learner centered” policies? tional characteristics, such as the David Burns 3) Do the relationships between institu- Carnegie classification of institutional dburns@magnapubs.com tional policies, faculty cultures, and type and institutional size, explained teaching practices differ across institu- more than 80 percent of the variance in For subscription information, contact: Customer Service: 800-433-0499 tional types? institutional cultures of teaching and E-mail: support@magnapubs.com Those questions were addressed in a learning. As for whether relationships Website: www.magnapubs.com recent study. Definitions of key terms between policies, cultures, and teaching help in understanding the findings. A practices differed across institutional Submissions to The Teaching Professor are “teaching culture” involves a “shared types, the answer was yes, particularly welcome. When submitting, please keep these guidelines in mind: commitment to teaching excellence and between doctoral-granting universities • We are interested in a wide range of meaningful assessment of teaching.” (p. and other types of institutions in the teaching-learning topics. 809) The larger goal of this inquiry was sample. • We are interested in innovative strategies, techniques, and approaches that facilitate to determine whether institutional poli- Here’s the overall conclusion: learning and in reflective analyses of cies can be used to create cultures for “Perhaps the most salient and consistent educational issues of concern. teaching on a campus and then whether finding from this analysis is that institu- • Write with the understanding that your audience includes faculty in a wide variety those cultures might encourage faculty tional-level policies have no more than a of disciplines and in a number of different to use effective pedagogical practices. To trivial relationship, either directly or institutional settings; i.e., what you describe must be relevant to a significant proportion that end, they considered 18 different indirectly through their influence on fac- of our audience. policies supportive of teaching and ulty culture, with the teaching practices • Write directly to the audience, remember- learning experiences for first-year stu- employed by an institution’s faculty. ing that this is a newsLETTER. • Keep the article short; generally between 2 dents. For example, are senior faculty Instead, traditional institutional descrip- and 3 double-spaced pages. (associate and full professors) required to tors, including size, selectivity, and con- • If you’d like some initial feedback on a teach first-year seminars? Do senior fac- trol—but especially Carnegie classifica- topic you’re considering, you’re welcome to share it electronically with the editor. ulty teach other first-year courses? tion, are consistent predictors of both Beyond student ratings, does the institu- faculty practices and culture.” (p. 822) The Teaching Professor (ISSN 0892-2209) is pub- tion assess the effectiveness of first-year It is important to note that this lished 10 times per year by Magna Publications Inc., courses? Are learning community oppor- research looked at a sample of policies 2718 Dryden Drive, Madison, WI 53704. Phone 800-433-0499; Fax: 608-246-3597. tunities offered to first-year students? As supportive of teaching and learning, and Email: support@magnapubs.com. for effective pedagogical practices, it considered two (out of many) charac- Website: www.magnapubs.com. One-year subscription: $89 (Multiple print subscrip- researchers considered two in the study: teristics of effective teaching. Even so, tions and Group Online Subscriptions are available, whether teachers provided first-year stu- the results give some indication of how call Customer Service at 800-433-0499 for informa- tion.) Photocopying or other reproduction in whole dents with opportunities to learn about difficult it is to change institutional cul- or in part without written permission is prohibited. people with different background char- tures. Policy changes supportive of POSTMASTER: Send change of address to The Teaching Professor, 2718 Dryden Drive, Madison, WI acteristics or different attitudes and val- teaching and learning face the strong 53704. Copyright ©2012, Magna Publications Inc. ues, and the extent of informal interac- headwinds of tradition and faculty Authorization to photocopy items for internal or tion faculty had with students outside of autonomy. personal use of specific clients is granted by The class. Study results are based on data col- Teaching Professor for users registered with the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) Transactional lected from 5,612 faculty members (at all Reference: Cox, B. E., McIntosh, K. L., Reporting Service, provided that $1.00 per page is ranks) at 45 different institutions. Reason, R. D., and Terenzini, P. T. paid directly to CCC, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923; Phone 978-750-8400; The researchers conclude the follow- (2011). A culture of teaching: Policy, www.copyright.com. For those organizations that ing about findings related to the first perception, and practice in higher educa- have been granted a photocopy license by CCC, a separate system of payment has been arranged. question: “Scant evidence suggests that tion. Research in Higher Education, 52 institutional policies in support of teach- (8), 808-829.March 2012 The Teaching Professor
    • 3Active Learning: Changed Attitudes and ImprovedPerformance oo often, active learning activities are instructor ended the period with another comparison group.” (p. 9)T isolated events in a course. They hap-pen every now and then but aren’t a regu- short lecture summarizing the content presented in the workbook activity. “We suspect that most statistics instructors would want their students tolar part of the course. The intermittent use Workbook answers were not graded. report they like and understand statistics;of active learning raises the question of Grades were based on the homework however, we also suspect that mosthow much is needed to accrue gains in assignments, four exams, and a final. instructors are more concerned with theirlearning outcomes, like higher exam Basically, every day in class was structured students’ actual ability to perform andscores and course grades. this way. understand statistics.” (p. 9) And their In reviewing the research on active To study the effects of students’ expo- results did show that those more positivelearning in statistics, the authors of the sure to this kind of active learning experi- attitudes were positively associated witharticle cited below, who are statistics fac- ence, the faculty researchers looked at performance on the course’s comprehen-ulty themselves, found some research in student attitudes toward statistics. They sive final.which certain active learning experiences measured these with an already developed The instructors also felt their teachingdid not produce measurable gains on instrument, Survey of Attitudes Towards benefited from the approach. They wereexam performance. They “suspect the key Statistics (SATS), which contains 36 able to interact with individual studentscomponents of successful active learning items and six subscales, including these more often. They found themselves usingapproaches are using activities to explain three examples: one measuring student student names more often, answeringconcepts and requiring students to feelings toward statistics (the affect sub- questions more frequently, and offeringdemonstrate that they understand these scale), another measuring student beliefs more feedback to individual students.concepts by having them answer very about their ability to understand statistics They did find some student questionsspecific rather than general questions.” (p. (the cognitive competence subscale), and challenging. “Instructors must be com-3) one measuring student beliefs about the fortable ‘thinking on their feet.’ For our To that end, they designed an intro- usefulness of statistics in their lives (the part, we found the unpredictability ofductory behavioral/social science statis- value subscale). The 59 students who students’ questions to be invigorating. Wetics course using what they describe as a experienced the workbook curriculum had become bored with teaching statistics“workbook curriculum.” Students read a completed this survey before and at the but when we changed to the workbookshort chapter (five single-spaced pages) end of the course. The researchers also approach, we were again excited aboutintroducing a topic. After reading, stu- looked at the effects of this course design teaching the course.” (p. 13)dents answered questions, completed a on exam scores and final course grades.problem, and summarized the results of The attitudes and performance of stu- Reference: Carlson, K. A. and Winquist,their computation. Then they submitted dents in the experimental group were J. R. (2011). Evaluating an active learningthis homework assignment online before compared with the attitudes and perfor- approach to teaching introductory statis-class and got feedback on their work, also mance of 235 students in 20 other sec- tics: A classroom workbook approach.before class. These homework assign- tions of courses similar to this one. All Journal of Statistics Education, 19 (1), 1-ments counted for 17 percent of their were general education courses that ful- 22.course grade. filled quantitative requirements. All In class, the instructor began by enrolled 30 or fewer students andanswering questions about the homework required a prerequisite course in algebra. THE FINAL (OFFICE) HOURSand followed that with a brief lecture dur- The results confirmed the value of FROM PAGE 1ing which information in the reading was extensive active learning experiences in areviewed. Typically this consumed 15 to course. “Our sections reported liking sta- thing different: an exchange and a shared20 minutes of the 75-minute period. tistics significantly more than the com- understanding that can come only after aThen students completed a “workbook” parison group (i.e., more positive affect final piece of work is discussed. The worstactivity. “As students worked through scores). Our students also reported signif- that has ever come out of the final hour iseach subsection, they answered increas- icantly higher statistical cognitive compe- to have students agree to disagree, partingingly complex conceptual and/or compu- tence (i.e., confidence in their ability to without acrimony. The stack oftational questions” (p. 6). They could understand and perform statistical proce- unclaimed portfolios outside my office isaccess answers while they worked. The dures) than the comparison group. While significantly smaller now. That reasoninstructor was also available to answer students in our sections thought statistics alone justifies the final hour opportunity.questions. Students were encouraged but was harder than the comparison groupnot required to work with a partner. The they also liked statistics more than theThe Teaching Professor March 2012
    • 4Assessing Critical Thinking Skills he guidelines suggested below pro- general reasoning skills and some skills Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal andT pose how critical thinking skills canbe assessed “scientifically” in psychology that are specific to the discipline. The point is that if you want to assess learn- the Cornell Critical Thinking Test are the two examples referenced in this dis-courses and programs. The authors ing outcomes associated with critical cussion) are “probably better measuresbegin by noting something about psy- thinking, you cannot do that well with- of general CT skill.” (p. 9) In manychology faculty that is true of faculty in out understanding how critical thinking cases, no standardized tests or measuresmany other disciplines, which makes is defined in your discipline. assess the specific type of critical think-this article relevant to a much larger Select important goals, objectives, ing or aspect of critical thinking beingaudience. “The reluctance of psycholo- and outcomes for assessment—What developed in a particular course. In sit-gists to assess the critical thinking (CT) critical thinking skills and knowledge uations like this, new instruments mayof their students seems particularly iron- should students be able to demonstrate need to be developed.ic given that so many endorse CT as an as a result of being in a course or pro- Conduct assessments that are sen-outcome…” (p. 5) Their goal then is to gram? Some faculty have learning goals sitive to changes over time—“Simplyoffer “practical guidelines for collecting so general that they are all but impossi- testing seniors once in their capstonehigh-quality LOA (learning outcome ble to assess. They need further specifi- courses is not sufficient to infer changesassessment) data that can provide a sci- cation. If the assessment is to be scien- over time because the levels of skill andentific basis for improving CT instruc- tific, then the goals, objectives, and out- knowledge of students entering the pro-tion.” (p. 5) The guidelines are relevant comes must translated into specific gram are unknown.” (p. 9)to individual courses as well as collec- hypotheses—ones that can be tested. Assess frequently, embeddingtions of courses that comprise degree Align assessment with instruction- assessment and feedback into instruc-programs. Most are relevant to courses al focus—“Measures for assessing the tion—Students can be assessed tooor programs in many disciplines; others impact of instruction must be sensitive much, especially if the same instrumentare easily made so. to the changes instruction is intended is being used. They become sensitized Understand critical thinking as a to produce.” (p. 7) If the measures are to those instruments. The authors rec-multidimensional construct—In their sensitive, then classroom assessment ommend a formative approach thatdiscussion of critical thinking in psy- can be used to look at the techniques embeds assessment in instruction. Inchology, these authors propose that crit- being used, compare their effectiveness this case, the assessment provides theical thinking includes skills, disposi- with other techniques, and conclude instructor useful feedback and helpstions, and metacognition. Critical which are better. students focus on their development ofthinking skills in psychology include Take an authentic task-oriented critical thinking. It offers them feed-argument analysis and evaluation, approach to assessment—Taking an back that can be used to improve theirmethodological reason, statistical rea- authentic task-oriented approach critical thinking skills.soning, causal reasoning, and skills for means using a performance to assess Interpret assessment results cau-focusing and clarifying questions. how well students are completing a tiously and apply the results appropri-Dispositions refer to “the willingness to task. In psychology, tasks requiring crit- ately—The quality of the data collectedengage in effortful thinking and the ical thinking include evaluating the must be considered before decisions totendency to be open- and fair-minded quality of information from the change a course or a program are made.in evaluating claims, yet remain skepti- Internet, analyzing and evaluating Not considering the quality of the datacal of unsubstantiated claims.” (p. 6) research literature, using psychological and not carefully interpreting the resultsMetacognition means being aware of theory to analyze and evaluate behavior, can result in changes that do notone’s thinking and in control of it. and writing research and case reports, improve learning outcomes. A recent article in The Teaching among others. Many of those tasks canProfessor highlighted the variation in be used to evaluate critical thinking in a Reference: Bensley, D. A. anddefinitions for critical thinking. These variety of fields. Murtagh, M. P. (2012). Guidelines for aauthors point out that critical thinking Use the best and most appropriate scientific approach to critical thinkingis either thought of generically or as measures—Because critical thinking assessment. Teaching of Psychology, 39being discipline-specific. They cite has multiple dimensions, multiple mea- (1), 5-16.research that critical thinking is proba- sures should be used to assess it. Thebly a combination of both. As a multi- authors point out that standardizeddimensional construct, it contains some tests of critical thinking (the Watson-March 2012 The Teaching Professor
    • 5Cell Phones in Class: A Student Survey ell phones in the classroom—it’s a instructor being aware.” (p. 4) One sur- text in a class if the professor had noC topic that generates much conster-nation among faculty. Are policies that vey question asked students to complete this statement: “If college instructors policy against cell phones or appeared to be laid-back and relaxed about theirprohibit their use enforceable? Are stu- only knew _______ about text messag- use.dents texting in class? If so, how many? ing in the classroom, they would be When asked about cell phone poli-If a student is texting, does that distract shocked.” The most common student cies that work, students didn’t offerother students? Are students using their response, offered by 54 percent of the much in the way of concrete suggestionsphones to cheat? Are there any ways cell students, was that teachers would be beyond being able to use them as longphones can be used to promote learning? shocked if they knew how much texting as they didn’t disturb others. FacultyThe questions are many and the answers was occurring in class. Obviously, class policies described in the article includestill a long way from definitive. size influences the extent of texting or confiscating any phone that rings or Most faculty have opinions about at least student perceptions of how easy phones that are being used for texting.how much cell phone use is occurring in it is to text without the teacher know- Some professors answer phones thattheir classrooms, but those individual ing. ring in class. If a student is observedanswers need a larger context and inde- Did students in this survey report texting, some professors count that stu-pendent verification. A recent survey of that they were using their cell phones to dent as absent for the day.269 college students representing 21 cheat? Ten percent did indicate that Given the pervasiveness of cellmajors from 36 different courses, and they had sent or received a text message phones and the acceptability of their useequally distributed between first-year during an exam, with 9 percent saying it almost anywhere these days, it’s difficultstudents, sophomores, juniors, and was easy to text during exams. to imagine successfully enforcingseniors standing, offers this kind of Interestingly, 33 percent of students in almost any policy in the classroom andbenchmarking data. This student the sample chose not to answer this still having time left to teach. This arti-cohort answered 26 questions that question. The authors note, “Failure to cle includes an appendix that containsinquired as to their use of cell phones as answer could be seen as a reflection of the questions used in the survey. Thewell as their observations regarding the the respondents’ desire to either not risk use of cell phones and texting in yourcell phone use of their peers. self-incrimination, or to not reveal to classes could be sensibly addressed by Virtually all the students (99 per- faculty that texting during an exam is a asking your students to respond to thesecent) reported that they had cell possibility.” (p. 4) questions. That way, you’d know for surephones, and 97 percent said that they Students in this cohort didn’t feel how much texting is happening andused their phones for text messaging. that texting caused serious problems in you’d have something concrete on theAnother significant majority (95 per- the classroom. They did understand topic to discuss with students. The arti-cent) said they brought their phones to that the person texting is being distract- cle also contains references to severalclass every day, and 91 percent reported ed and maybe distracts a few students studies documenting how texting inter-that they set their phones to vibrate. sitting nearby, but these students were feres with and compromises learning.Only 9 percent said that they turned reluctant to support a policy that forbidstheir phones off. As for their use of cell the use of cell phones. More than 64 Reference: Tindell, D. R. andphones, 97 percent said they send or percent believe students should be Bohlander, R. W. (2012). The use andreceived text messages while waiting for allowed to keep their cell phones on as abuse of cell phones and text messagingclass to begin, and 92 percent admitted long as they are placed on vibrate. Less in the classroom: A survey of collegethat they had sent or received a text than 1 percent said that cell phones students. College Teaching, 60 (1), 1-9.message during class. Thirty percent should not be permitted in the class-reported that they send and receive room under any circumstances. Aboutmessages every day in class. Virtually all one-third reported that it was easier tothese students (97 percent) indicatedthat they had seen texting being doneby other students in the classroom. The Teaching Professor However, these students do not feel 2011 Index now available online at:that their instructors know that they aretexting. Almost half of them “indicated www.magnapubs.com/files/2011tpindex.pdfthat it is easy to text in class without theThe Teaching Professor March 2012
    • 6Too Much Focus on Facts? he content of many courses is too portive of the criticism existed. Here are and private institutions. The teachingT focused on the facts—those detailsthat students memorize, use to answer the three research questions they aimed to answer: 1) “What is the mean cogni- experience of the faculty cohort ranged from three to 36 years, and the size of thetest questions, and then promptly forget. tive level faculty routinely target in intro- classes they taught ranged from 14 stu-That criticism has been levied against ductory undergraduate biology, as evi- dents to almost 500 students, with amany introductory college-level courses, denced on course syllabi and assess- mean class size of 192.especially by those of us who think facul- ments?” 2) “Did faculty align their course They looked at goals stated on the syl-ty are too focused on covering content. goals and assessments to determine the labi and categorized them using theBut is it a fair criticism? Do introductory degree to which students achieved the Bloom taxonomy. They also analyzedcourses ignore the higher- level thinking stated goals?” and 3) “What factors— what they called “high-stakes courseskills, like those identified on the Bloom class size, institution type, or articulating assessments,” meaning quizzes andtaxonomy? Is the evidence empirical or objectives on the course syllabus—pre- exams that accounted for 60–80 percentanecdotal? dict the cognitive level of assessment of the course grade. “These data provide There isn’t much empirical evi- items used on exams?” (p. 436) evidence of what faculty consider impor-dence—that’s what a group of They collected sample syllabi from 50 tant in the course. Goals stated in syllabiresearchers discovered in their review of faculty who taught 77 different introduc- reflect faculty priorities about what theythe literature. They decided to undertake tory biology courses, about half of which expect students to know and be able toan analysis of introductory biology cours- were general biology courses. Theyes to see whether or not evidence sup- taught at a wide range of different public PAGE 7 What Classes and Small Groups Have in Common? ’ve been collecting good articles on discusses 15—four are highlighted here. sorial role, has a profound effect on howI teaching and learning since the early’80s. In the process of looking for a par- Principle 1: Every participant in a group is responsible for the outcome of students enact their role.” (p. 147) Principle 13: A group will set its ownticular article, I regularly stumble onto the group interaction. Billson acknowl- norms of behavior and will expect con-others whose contents I remember when edges that the major responsibility does formity to them. The same policies andI see them but have otherwise forgotten. belong to the professor, but she main- procedures can be used and yet classes I ran into just such an article recently. tains that students share a “significant respond to them differently. ProfessorsIt’s old, published in 1986, but it was the responsibility” as well. (p. 144) She rec- need to be aware of these norms and iffirst article I remember reading where ommends discussing that responsibility they work against course goals, theythe content of the discipline was used to with students and explores the possibili- should be discussed openly with stu-explain certain instructional dynamics. ty of letting students plan certain seg- dents. Billson applies the principles of small ments of the course. Although “small group” isn’t a labelgroup dynamics as they are studied and Principle 4: When people feel psy- that feels like it fits classes with moreunderstood in sociology to what happens chologically safe in a group, their partic- than 100 students, even large classesin the classroom. And she does so for this ipation levels will increase. Students can exhibit many features typical of groups.reason: “Deeper awareness of small group be made to feel safer when they are Applying these principles can result inprocesses can enhance the teaching known by names, when their first classroom climates where learning is aeffectiveness of college faculty through attempts to contribute garner positive more likely outcome.improving their ability to raise student feedback, and when the professor avoidsparticipation levels, increase individual sarcasm and ridicule. Reference: Billson, J. (1986). The collegeand group motivation, stimulate enthusi- Principle 8: The leader of any group classroom as a small group: Some impli-asm, and facilitate communication in the serves as a model for that group. “The cations for teaching and learning.classroom.” (p. 143) So what principles way in which professors play their role, Teaching Sociology, 14 ( July), 143-151.of small group dynamics might help us including how they present expectationsbetter understand what’s happening in of students, carry out responsibilities, andour classrooms? Billson identifies and handle privileges implicit in the profes-March 2012 The Teaching Professor
    • 7Online or In Class? nline course offerings continue to completed online coursework would have tions of online education.” (p. 246) TheyO grow. In 2006, experts (cited in thearticle referenced below) were estimating the same job opportunities as students who didn’t. call for more research to understand the bases for these negative attitudes andthat some 2,000 major universities and “Data analyses revealed that for the perceptions.colleges were offering online/Web-based most part, the students did not hold Online courses are clearly part ofcourses, enrolling more than 5 million polarized opinions regarding the online higher education’s future. With the expe-students. And that was 2006. As experi- courses they had completed.” (p. 243) rience of offering them accumulating, it’sence with online education grows, the Mean responses for the first seven items time to explore questions like these andopportunity for learning from that expe- on the questionnaire ranged from 3.05 to others, for example: Which coursesrience grows as well. Highlighted below 3.51, “indicating relatively neutral overall should be offered online? What’s anare findings from a study that examined attitudes toward the online course expe- appropriate balance between onlinebusiness student perceptions of college- riences.” (p. 243) The second part of the course and in-class courses, or does itlevel online courses. questionnaire identified some different matter? Who benefits most and least Using a five-point Likert-type scale, perceptions between students who had from taking online courses? Should somethis 800-student cohort indicated and had not taken an online course. For students (maybe beginning students inwhether online courses were more or less example, students who hadn’t taken an various at-risk categories) be adviseddifficult than regular classes, whether online course thought it would be easier against taking online courses? Are all fac-online courses provided poor or good to cheat in online courses than students ulty “good” online teachers?learning experiences, and whether they who had taken one (3.19 mean for thosewere happy or unhappy that they had not taking an online course versus 2.75 Reference: Bristow, D., Shepherd, C.taken an online course, among other for those who had taken one). D., Humphreys, M., and Ziebell, M.items. On a second portion of the ques- Researchers were concerned about (2011). To be or not to be: That isn’t thetionnaire, they compared learning in tra- one finding. “What is rather disquieting question! An empirical look at onlineditional classrooms to the amount of is the fact that approximately one-third versus traditional brick-and-mortarlearning in online courses, whether it was of the students who had completed at courses at the university level. Marketingeasier to cheat in online courses, and least one online course expressed nega- Education Review, 21 (3), 241-250.whether they thought students who tive attitudes toward or negative percep- was being assessed in virtually all these students should begin practicing the FOCUS ON FACTS courses. skills of connecting, transferring, and FROM PAGE 6 Some may be tempted to argue that modeling scientific concepts at the start,do; assessments reflect how faculty evalu- students must begin to understand a dis- not the end, of their degree programs.”ate students’ achievement of those learn- cipline by acquiring these basic facts— This analysis focused on introductorying goals.” (p. 436) that it is knowledge of these facts that biology courses. Every discipline offers The findings are breathtaking—at enables students to do higher-level introductory course work, and the normleast they took away this editor’s breath. thinking tasks. “Evidence to supports is to packed those courses with content.“Of the 9,713 assessment items submit- such claims ... is lacking.” (p. 439) These Does that content focus too much on theted to this study by 50 faculty teaching researchers argue that high-level think- factual details? That’s a question everyintroductory biology, 93% were rated ing skills must be developed right along discipline ought to be exploring, and thisBloom’s level 1 or 2—knowledge and with a knowledge base, and they contend study provides a great model of how thatcomprehension. Of the remaining items, that those kinds of thinking skills only analysis can be undertaken.6.7% rated level 3 with less than 1% rated develop when there is opportunity tolevel 4 or above.” (p. 437) And the news practice them. Reference: Momsen, J. L., Long, T.about course goals wasn’t much better. Of “We do not have a prescription for the L., Wyse, S. A., and Ebert-May, D.the 250 that were pulled from course syl- ‘right’ cognitive level of goals and assess- (2010). Just the facts? Introductorylabi, 69 percent were at levels 1 and 2 on ments in an introductory course.” (p. undergraduate biology course focus onthe Bloom taxonomy. The level of assess- 439) However, their findings would cer- low-level cognitive skills. Cell Biologyments was not affected by class size or by tainly indicate that in terms of fostering Education—Life Sciences Education, 9institutional type. Students’ knowledge higher-order thinking skills, the current (Winter), 435-440.and understanding of facts were what balance is not “right.” “We believe thatThe Teaching Professor March 2012
    • 8Millennial Students: They Aren’t All the Same A disservice is done to any student tent. The authors cite multiple studies is to make big gains quickly and with“ cohort when they are globally definedby a single set of character traits. Within documenting “that a spectrum for both the desire and ability to use digital learn- minimal effort, which has conditioned them to select the first or most easilyany generation, there is diversity and in ing tools exists.” (p. 216) Based on their available information source.” (p. 218)the Millennial Generation, there is con- review of this literature, they conclude, That has eroded their critical thinkingsiderable diversity in background, per- “More careful evaluation of the purpose skills.sonality and learning style.” (p. 223) So of technology in learning with regard to More worrisome is the fact that stu-concludes a lengthy and detailed article actual student needs, desires, and profes- dents don’t appear to be developing highthat seeks, among other goals, to “demys- sional applications should be undertaken levels of thinking skills in college. Thesetify” the characteristics commonly attrib- before additional time, money and authors reference a 2006 survey of 400uted to students belonging to this gener- employers nationwide. Only 24 percentation. “Analysis of research data suggests of that group felt that college studentsthat these students may not be as differ- had “excellent” preparation for the work-ent from other generations in the funda- “Educators should encourage place. Sixty-five percent said theirmental process of learning as is regularly curricular change that will preparation was adequate. Specificallyproposed.” (p. 215) These authors believe on critical thinking and problem-solvingthat’s important because “it is crucial to positively impact the learning skills, only 28 percent of the employersaccurately assess which specific ‘stable felt students had “excellent” preparation,characteristics’ truly impact the learning process in a way that will be and 63 percent said preparation on thoseprocess and should be targeted for con- skills was “adequate.”sideration in instructional design.” (p. meaningful not just for a The admonition to respond thought-215) fully and critically to sweeping general- They are critical of much of the evi- single generation but will have izations made about any generationaldence being used to support both posi- cohort of students is appropriate.tive and negative characteristics associ- fundamental application for a Generalizations about Millennial stu-ated with Millennial learners. “Over the broad spectrum of learners.” dents can become stereotypes that rein-last decade, as the literature on the force erroneous assumptions about indi-Millennial student has proliferated, it viduals and groups of them in courses.has proven that opinions beget opinions. As these authors note, “EducatorsA scrutiny of the references of a majori- resources are invested in more extensive should encourage curricular change thatty of publications and presentations technologies.” (p. 216) will positively impact the learningindicates that the ideas being espoused Millennial students are thought to be process in a way that will be meaningfulare fundamentally opinions based on multitaskers. They may be, but only a not just for a single generation but willobservation and perception as well as on small percentage perform multiple tasks have fundamental application for astudent personal satisfaction and prefer- with no loss in efficiency. One study broad spectrum of learners.” (p. 223)ence surveys rather than on evidence- cited identifies a population of “super-based research methodologies.” (pp. taskers” who were able to multitask, but Reference: DiLullo, C., McGee, P., and215-216) they were only a bit more than 2 percent Kriebel, R. M. (2011). Demystifying the They point out that many of the sur- of the population studied. The other 97 millennial student: A reassessment inveys documenting a set of Millennial percent were less efficient at one or both measures of character and engagementstudent characteristics have been done at of the tasks they attempted to perform in professional education. Anatomicalone or two institutions with populations simultaneously. Sciences Education, ( July/August), 214-not always representative of the larger Some characteristics associated with 226.student population. The Millennial Millennial learners are verified bycohort includes students from various empirical research. Critical thinkingraces, religions, ethnicities, and socioe- skills are a good example. “Millennialsconomic backgrounds. have grown up with astonishing expo- Among the Millennial student char- sure to unvetted internet resourcesacteristics challenged by these authors is exemplified by Wikipedia and YouTube.their need for the digital delivery of con- The predilection for Millennial studentsMarch 2012 The Teaching Professor