New Semester Resources: Getting the New Year off to a Great Start

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(Dr. Christine Rich w/student)

 

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The purposes of our blog are to provide timely access to relevant information about teaching and learning in higher education, create a go-to space for UofL faculty to find resources, and foster a community of practice and active dialogue among our teaching colleagues.

Our faculty colleagues have been asking us for ways to keep up with the latest pedagogy, technology, and best teaching and learning practices. You will find all that and more here.

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In addition to highlighting information in teaching and learning, we’ll have two monthly feature posts: “Innovative Teaching & Technology” to explore new teaching strategies and learning tools on the second Monday of each month, and  “In The News” to connect you to current research and hot topics emerging in higher education.

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The new semester is a fresh start — a great time to reflect on the previous semester and set some goals for this semester.

In this article, Anastasia Salter says she will be “staying away from major teaching overhauls and looking for changes I can stick with.” We think that’s a great idea. Check out her article for specifics.

Tell us what you think!

What are your resolutions for the new semester?

32 thoughts on “New Semester Resources: Getting the New Year off to a Great Start

  1. I have already begun a sort of “out with the old, and in with the new” approach for the remainder of the academic year, but starting off the calendar year with a commitment to move my classes more to a learner-centered environment. I know many of my students actually learn something in my classes, but I want them to LOVE to come to class and learn, not because they need to meet the requirements of the class. I will continue to use my i-clicker type of questions (I use http://www.polleverywhere.com) to help the students realize where they are deficient. I will use group-based critical thinking questions to have them really engage with the chapter content. I am also thinking about having the class meet in an alternate location on campus a few times to break the monotony as well as use the new venue as part of a particular chapter discussion. I look forward to trying out some of the teaching “alternatives” to make my classes more enriching.

      • Michelle, the students rave about it in the midterm and end-of-course student surveys that I do each semester. They let me know in the midterm survey if I am “not using it enough” and they want it more. Some challenges I know so far are things like: the free account is limited to a maximum of 40 responses which is not an issue for my classes but could be for some others. Also, with the free account, you cannot get reporting capabilities that I would like to have but am not willing to fork out the money for a paid account, so I just use the tool in a 2-way process to let the students know what they don’t know and lets me know if they’re not reading/comprehending the material as expected. The students love the fact that I incorporate the use of their technology devices in their learning. I experimented last semester with the open-ended responses and you have to be careful with that as some students will use that as an opportunity to be a class clown…especially since the responses are anonymous until you go on a paid-service option.

      • I’ve been using PollEverywhere with a free account in my classes for a couple of years now. For what I want to achieve, the response limit is not an issue. I don’t use it for earning points in the class, so the fact that responses are anonymous is not a problem for me. Like Dale, I use it to gauge student’s understanding of a topic or to do a quick vote on a classroom issue (when should we make an assignment due, for example). I have stayed away from the open-ended response questions. Answer moderation is a paid subscription option and I probably wouldn’t use open-ended questions without that in an anonymous feedback situation.

    • Thanks for sharing this link, Dale. I’ve never worked with polleverywhere with my classes- I’ve been using iClickers for the past several years. Aside from the open ended responses, do you see any added benefit to using this mechanism in lieu of iClicker? We have much larger classes in my department (60-100 students per course), so I would have to explore the paid option. But we are currently requiring all of our students to purchase their own iClicker device that tends to get lost, left at home, broken, etc. by the student or the faculty choose not to use the program. I hate to waste the student’s money on technology only used in one or two courses.

      • Heather, Much like Andrew’s comment above, since our classes are generally less than 40, we do not hit the ceiling with regard to the limit for the free academic account. However, I have been involved in conducting a big test review that busted that limit very quickly so I felt bad for the students that really wanted to participate. I think the student-paid version of polleverywhere.com is $14/year and does not require them to have to have a device that they have to keep up with other than that which they already bring to the classroom. With the cost of textbooks these days, I have been reluctant to insist on the charge because of the College of Business’ smaller class sizes, but there are more things I could do with the paid version. It amounts to $7/semester which they easily spend on other things so I don’t think the fee is excessive.

        I really like the fact you can create your polls and download a version of it to plug right into a PowerPoint slide deck, if you wish to use that or you can conduct the polls right from the Internet. I also created a special site for students who do not wish to use their mobile phones that can still participate via a laptop. I also stress to students that their participation is not required and is anonymous (currently) so it is to their benefit to engage with the activity.

        I must confess that Andrew deserves the full credit for turning me onto polleverywhere.com last year! I signed up for their Facebook page and won a coffee mug which I promptly relinquished to Andrew to show my appreciation for the recommendation. Thanks again Andrew!

  2. My initial reaction, in response to the Salter article, is “darn, I wish I could read something without automatic copy-editing on my part!” To wit, Salter admits to “…self-inflected pressure…”. Now perhaps she actually meant that she created physical pressure in herself as she bent, crooked, or flexed her body. Certainly teaching has its physical side and there are many a day when I leave the lecture hall exhausted. If, however, she meant “self-inflicted” then I get cranky, which leads to my (half-hearted) resolution to try to let the small stuff go. But then again, should I? Much like David Foster Wallace’s mother, I find an almost moral obligation to correct language. More problematic is that I find it difficult to hear what others say when I’m still fretting over inflect versus inflict. I wonder if Salter is careless in other ways. I wonder how my carelessness affects my teaching. So perhaps in line with Salter’s article, I would ask others what can we let slide and what not? Should I follow up on my resolution to let the small stuff go? How do I know what’s small and what’s not? When does the little detail have an unintended consequence on teaching and learning, the butterfly effect of pedagogy? And on and on…

    And why is Dale’s comment posted as 7:16 pm, January 14, 2013? Time travel? A secret message? From a different time zone? Is the blog under attack?

    • I’m reading “This I Believe” right now, and an essay by scientist and physician Anthony Fauci came to mind reading your post. These days the prevailing message is, indeed, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” I want to have a more discerning eye for what’s inconsequential and what’s not (and subsequently adjust my response if need be), and yet I struggle to embrace that notion. So I related to Fauci when I read his statement: “I believe in striving for excellence. I sweat the big and the small stuff! I do not apologize for this. One of the by-products of being a perfectionist and constantly trying to improve myself are sobering feelings of low-grade anxiety and a nagging sense of inadequacy. But this is not anxiety without a purpose. No, this anxiety keeps me humble. It creates a healthy tension that serves as the catalyst that drives me to fulfill my limited potential. This has made me a better physician and scientist. Without this tension, I wouldn’t be as focused.”

      Surely I have room to relax, to attend to details both small and large without getting as wound up and, ultimately, fatigued. I have marveled at a colleague for whom sweating the small stuff would be something of a barrier to generating the kind of rich and organic classroom experience I know he and his students benefit from. I left my recent conversation with him wishing I could swing that style and considering how I could develop that skill set. But I agree with Fauci that the tension helps keep me focused, helps keep me doing my best. For me, I think, this bit of conventional wisdom is far too glib. Yes, I can add new skills and refine old ones, but I think I will always sweat the small stuff, and that’s OK.

      • Thanks so much for this thoughtful post, Christy! I love the Fauci quote. Like you, I sweat the small stuff in teaching and spend (far too much?) time thinking, planning, revising, re-ordering, editing, and thinking some more about what I will say and how I will say it. I fret over how I can pose questions and structure activities that will elicit (is this the right word, Rich?) good thinking and engagement. I want to make every minute count by, as Dr. Terry Doyle says, “designing a learning environment that buzzes with meaningful learning activities.” All experienced teachers know that this is not possible EVERY time, but it is something I strive to create. When I am successful, it just feels so good and that payoff makes it all worthwhile.

        • Aye, Marie, “elicit” is good but perhaps we should also consider what we do that’s illicit…

          While I agree in principle with the position that we not sweat the small stuff, I still struggle with the issues of definition, measurement, and audience. So quite specifically, what do folks use to decide something is “small” and therefore expendable [I was really tempted to write “expandable”]?

  3. Since my teaching is moving more toward on-line courses, this semester I am consciously focusing on differences between teaching face-to-face and on-line. Why are they different? Are the differences important to learning?

    • I was able to complete my bachelor’s degree later in life thanks to online courses, so they have a special place for me. Now I’m teaching them, so I’m trying to take the lessons I learned as a student and apply them as an instructor.
      I’m a writer by trade, so I probably had an advantage compared with someone who’s not as strong a writer, simply because that’s the main channel of communication. Although I think people tend to look at online courses as requiring less time, as an instructor I think they require more. It’s important to be clear as possible because of the time lag in asking/answering questions. I check in on my course multiple times a day and encourage emails, although that can be a bit time-consuming.
      I try to break the material down to easily digestible chunks (no more than a week’s worth) to prompt people to keep on track.

      • How much more time do you estimate you spend on online versus in-class courses? And what do you see as the maximum versus optimal number of students in an online course? Thanks.

    • Hi Tim — yes they are different primarily on two fronts and I do think they are important in achieving learning outcomes. The first is the level of communications that needs to go on in the online world. Because of the isolation of many students (isolation in the sense of not being in a classroom), their two biggest interactions occur with the faculty-student, and student-content fronts. The one thing that we see repeatedly is MIA faculty — they may start out strongly communicating regularly but then by mid to late semester, they appear to be completely non-existant. This leaves the student struggling because they may need to know further information about a project, what their grades are, how they can improve, etc. In a f2f situation, it would be like faculty just not showing up for the last half of the semester — that’s going to happen rarely (hopefully never), but we see it happening in the online world all the time. The other major difference is the degree to which student learning is dependent upon the student him/herself. It’s kind of like the flipped classroom model where collaborative rather than one-way learning is stressed. No longer is it the professor lecturing and students taking notes and then regurgitating those notes on an exam. In the online world it’s much more incumbant on the student to actively participate in the learning process. One would hope this model would exist in the classroom – and sometimes it does – but for the most part, the old model is still in place. Anyway, those are my thoughts. There are other differences as well and we can talk about those further, but those are two major differences that I see.

  4. I like the article, but because every course/professor is so different, the suggestions sound a bit generic. However, I do agree with the author that some basement cleaning is always a good resolution. We all have that section of low impact material in our courses that we know just fills a gap in time, or enables us to give some nice questions on an exam, but upon hard analysis, it is usless and uninspired. My goal is to go find some truly innovative material or activity that forces me and my students out of the same-old-same-old (easy) routine, and brings some life into the class. In my case, it will take a resolution to get it done because change is work, and I already feel overworked. Fortunately, such change is no problem for the students. They thrive on it…new phone every month, new computer, new apps, new video games. Change is in their DNA.

    Rich, remember that each semester, we age, but our students never do…there’s your time travel at work.

    • John,

      Indeed, I age, but I swear the students are also getting younger as I get older. On a more serious note, a question to you and others contemplating changes- what do you use as your outcome measure and what specifically do you use as your indicators that change is needed? I agree that Salter’s recommendations are generic, but equally problematic, I find, is the vagueness of how need to change is identified and what the goals of the change are. For example, should I think of changing something to deflate the pressure on myself and how will I know if this was a good thing or not? And by good thing or not, whose good thing-mine? the students’? my department chair’s? Another example: does putting life in the class enhance pedagogy? How will we measure “life” and the presumed other outcomes for which we are hoping?

      Also, I would love for us to do a survey on students’ actual responses to specific changes in the classroom versus those that have real consequence like video games and smart phones. My impression is that some students are made anxious by changes in the classroom and are oblivious to the new technology beyond a brief Google and Facebook encounter. One example: at least 50% of my students (including many juniors and seniors) in a 300-level psychology course I teach each year have never used the library online search tools to get an online article. Of these, a small majority have at least Googled their way to an article or two. [Note: the vast majority have never used the library in vivo]

      In short, can we examine the assumptions, indicators, goals, and consequences of change in a systematic way? And just as importantly, can we start getting data from our own students? Clarification: data that go well beyond student satisfaction, even the revised version.

    • John, what you are talking about is a perennial rub for many teachers–the desire to try something different, or give up an activity that is an old favorite but just not working well anymore. And to try something new with no time to reinvent! One set of activities you might consider trying–since your students thrive on the new–is the Classroom Assessment Technique (CAT). Many can be done with just a few minutes of class time once a week, or even just once a semester. CATs are valuable because they are quick and can be inserted into an existing class session without rethinking everything, and give you great information about what your students are thinking/learning. This link from the teaching center at Iowa State does a great job of summarizing the concept of CATs and describing different types of CATs: http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/cat.html An easy start might be trying a One Minute Paper with your students at the end of a class session, or the Muddiest Point (both are described at that link). For more information on how to choose a CAT that won’t eat up all of your time–or anything related–let me know. I’d be happy to loan you the book on CATs by Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross. I know many faculty at UofL find CATs to be a go-to source when discussion is lagging, or they just need to inject some energy or engagement into a class session and to find out what their students are thinking.

      • I agree with Patty about the use of CATs as a quick hit for implementing something new into class. I use the Minute Paper in both online and face-to-face (f2f) classes and it is well received by learners. In my online class I use the Muddiest Points activity as a tool for giving me information on where I might need to further review or explain something and it allows learners to review in their minds what was done the previous week, where they may still be needing assistance and to demonstrate to themselves that learning actually occurred during the week.

        I mostly teach adult learners that are; new to college, coming back after a long absence and especially new to online learning. Many begin class with the fears other online learners have about their confidence and competence to not only learn but to be able to manage and thrive in an online environment. I follow and sometimes point out to them comments or messages that I receive at the beginning of the semester or term when they are apprehensive, frightened and generally “geeked” about online learning and the progress that appears in comments throughout and towards the end of the semester or term. They are generally suprised at their progress. Information from the Muddiest Points discussioins are great archived examples of that progress.

        Finally, I also use another technique the last week of class that I think I got from CATs named “I used to think….and now I think.” It’s an activity that asks learners to think back to perceptions, thoughts or ideas they may have held about the course topic and how that may or may not have changed at the end of the course. It is a good way for them to review their learning’s. In online learning classes I make this a voluntary post but add participation credit for completing the assignment. It is an alternative to the weekly discussoins that may begin to lag with finding someone else to respondto in a creative manner in the regular weekly online discussions, thanks.

  5. I am not one to make resolutions in general, but am focusing on two aspects of my on-line teaching (since that is all I am doing this semester). First, I am trying to be more intentional about encouraging community by using small group discussions as well as personalized student introductions (thanks Delphi U). Second, I am trying focus on just a few big concepts and reinforce those in different ways throughout the course via screencasts, readings, and examples.

  6. I am actually focusing on the Fall 2013 semester, and how I might be able to use the summer 2013 semester to pilot a few ideas. Last Fall I began to use some of my lecture time in my 400-person introductory Biology course for discussion and problem solving while putting the lectures that would normally be given on those days on Tegrity. While the text is good at trying to put topics in context, I feel students would profit from reading the actual literature to put a series of lectures into context, i.e., what basic principles do I need to understand, how does one principle relate to another, how can this information be used to analyze the contextual problem. I’m currently trying to envision what topics I could have students read about from the literature that would ultimately lead us through lectures on material from the text.

    • Joe, I’m curious as to how your new format last semester worked. Did you see any difference with learning or engagement with the material? How did they respond to the format change? I think we’re going to be doing a post on “flipping the classroom” in a few weeks and I’d love to reference what you’re doing!

  7. I decided to NOT have any resolutions this year (so far). I want to see how my students are as a group and try to move to better serve them “where they are” rather than to have a personal agenda. I do lots of critical thinking activities already (what I see at the Delphi center reconfirms what I do). I have lots of student-centered experiences in my classes (isn’t that what we are challenged to do every day). I am often seen as the unique professor by my students and just want to stay that way this term. This blog will reconfirm what I have heard good teaching at any level should be. A dialogue.
    I am curious about this blog and the readership. How many new members of our community of learners will be engaged to contribute to this blog beyond the small group that I love to share ideas with. Can we get new faculty members to contribute or grow as a result of this blog?

  8. I would like to infuse some new creativity into my online course. I like to use visuals and interactive activities to engage students, and it’s probably time to make a few changes.

  9. Personally, I am not so into New Year’s Resolution. This past few weeks, a local fitness facility I go to is a zoo with people with their resolutions in their minds, but as you may all know, this is typically short-lived. I will have ‘my space’ back by the end of February (if that!). I know myself well enough – like these ‘resoluters’ at the fitness facility, I don’t do well with big changes. So I keep making small changes as I go – in teaching also.

    I really like the idea Joe indicated above – if he can do more application in his contents-heavy super-sized class, I should be able to do more application and analysis type of activity in my class with 40+ students. I look forward to new ideas from being part of this blog.

    • My advice for making changes in teaching: Make small evidence-based ones, carefully assess whether they are having the desired effect on your students’ learning, then carefully consider your next change. The bigger the change, the more assessment and practice you will need (teach the class at least 2-3 times before throwing out the baby with the bath water!). A word of caution: Transitioning from face-to-face to online teaching is a HUGE change and requires much more time and energy than most folks realize. In my instructional consulting work with faculty, I often see big problems when too many changes are incorporated at once. Students can become frustrated, faculty feel overwhelmed, and ultimately the learning environment suffers. Want feedback from your students about your course and your changes? Conduct a mid-semester feedback session! Learn more about this valuable formative assessment from the folks at “Tomorrow’s Professor” here: http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/posting.php?ID=313

      You can also take what Stevens (1987) refers to as the “tinkering approach”: “Make small, modest changes and don’t abandon a change the first time it doesn’t seem successful. Tinker with it, making little adjustments, and see if it can be made successful after all.”

  10. Pingback: In The News: Graduate Student Mentoring | The Teaching Practice

  11. Michelle (and others): I found the “flipping” to be very enriching for me! Some of the students, as you might imagine, found that my requirement that they participate more actively in the learning process, i.e., that they do some more of the hard work of learning, found this to be onerous (read ahead?, be ready for a quiz?, do homework for which there isn’t an answer in the text?). However, I’m hoping to tinker and make some refinements (hopefully improvements!) in thinking of this and trying some of it again over the summer.

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