Before you leave for the summer or get involved in other activities, ask a few faculty members in your department or across campus to form a working group to improve teaching. Each member of your group should plan to visit each other's class and offer constructive feedback to each other. Use your group for planning ideas and mutual support. Form your group early so that it will happen in the fall.
You will be a better teacher if you work to increase or improve the following 3 aspects:
Remember you need to balance these 3 and not just concentrate on one aspect.
A short (such as March break) break from classes give us a good time to reflect on our teaching roles and responsibilities. Take a little time to engage in this exercise:
Some of the questions consider on the right column might be:
As you complete the semester and hand in grades, take a little time for personal renewal. Ask yourself these important questions:
Try to act on your commitments.
This is a brief summary of some research (conducted at other universities) on student evaluation of teachers. You draw your own teaching implications.
Possible explanations include:
The student evaluation questions are really measuring these underlying qualities.
This research is discussed in Walvoord, BE and Anderson, VJ. Effective Grading, Jossey-Bass, 1998.
Reflection on one's teaching is the act of thinking about the process of teaching. To be a reflective teacher, one needs to identify the assumptions underpinning his/her own teaching. To be a critically reflective teacher, one should constantly question these assumptions. An effective way to become aware of and question these assumptions is to view the teaching practice from many different perspectives. The most common perspective is the individual's perspective (how that person learns and now teaches). Other important perspectives to consider include: our students' perspectives, our colleagues perceptions and their experiences, and also through the scholarly literature on teaching in higher education. In order to be more aware of the other perspectives, it is necessary to ask for feedback from others and to discuss issues relating to all aspects of teaching with peers and colleagues. Other people can offer insight into concerns and come up with a fresh solution.
For more ideas of how to be a reflective teacher, see the book in the Teaching and Learning Center by Brookfield, Becoming a Critical Reflective Teacher.
As you hand in grades, and clean out the files for the courses you taught this semester, reflect on your teaching. Ask yourself, and then make notes for future reference some questions.
Here are some suggestions:
Before you throw anything out, make sure you keep a copy of your syllabi, exams, assignments, handouts, teaching learning activities, etc., in a file for future reference.
Try to keep this in mind in all your interactions with students: Students will forget what you say, forget what you do, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Thanks to Ed Neal, a faculty developer at UNC for reminding us of this important guiding principle. Let's all try to be remembered for how well we make people feel.
As the semester winds down, take some time to reflect on your teaching this past semester. Save copies of what went particularly well, including the syllabus, active learning exercises you developed, assignments, projects, examples of student work, etc. Put a copy of these examples in your teaching portfolio. Write yourself a note about why these worked especially well, how they fit with your teaching philosophy, how much improved it was over the previous time you taught this course, etc. The example and your notes will save you time when you are updating your teaching portfolio for your annual evaluation, trying to get promoted, or looking for another job, etc.
All of your teaching should be consistent with seven well regarded principles for good teaching practices (the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education Chickering, Gamson, and Barst (1989)):
Ask yourself, how much of my teaching meets these good practice standards? Collectively, ask what percentage of the educational program (s) you are involved in meets these good practice standards?
As I read over many of the innovation abstracts being submitted for the Document of Innovations, I am struck that many faculty have worked smarter not harder. Take some time to think about ways that you can work smarter . Often technology can help you work smarter. For example, putting your course materials on ERes can save you from recopying them, starting an exam pool on Blackboard can help you see how you tested for a concept in the past and modify it, or using some of the tools on Word or PowerPoint to create materials for class presentations or assignments. Ask some of your more technologically empowered peers for tips on how to do what you want to do. I recommend learning how to use Blackboard and playing around with it to see how it can be your course design tool, even if you are only planning a small distance or computer aided component. There is a good tutorial for it also.
The one facet we seem to agree on regarding student-centered learning is having the students take responsibility for their own learning. Throughout your career, make this your mantra- what I am doing to help my students take responsibility for their own learning? The appropriate answers will vary with the level of the student, the type of learning that needs to take place and how responsible the students are. For example, faculty who teach students who are beginners (first year students , or novice professional students) need more modeling to facilitate students knowing how to take responsibility for their learning.
Richard Light, a professor at Harvard, has written a book about making the most of the college experience. Through his research he has found that one of the best predictors of college success is having meaningful interactions with faculty outside of class. We should encourage students to talk to us outside of class, but students are often afraid or uncomfortable to come to office hours or make an appointment. Therefore, it is up to the faculty to initiate such dialogue. Within the next few weeks, invite each student (or as many as you can) to speak to you individually in your office. You might ask them to make an appointment with you during office hours to talk about the course or just themselves. This should not be in relation to an assignment or test. Try to get to know each student a little to let them know that you are available if they want to talk to you further.
Here are some tips to make your annual performance evaluation a meaningful, feedback opportunity for you:
If you need someone to talk to after your annual performance evaluation, I can be a confidential, somewhat objective person, or talk to a friend who does not work here.
As you prepare your annual faculty evaluation keep the following in mind:
Periodically it is a good time to think about balance in our lives.
The Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion
has a great web site relating to balance. web site: http://web.sbu.edu/vitality/faculty_vitality/index.html
I especially liked their profile of faculty with high well being. Included on the list as important factors for high well being are collegial support and career acceptance. Check out the site for more great insights and some research findings. We all should be very proud of how much we achieved this year.
Think about how you want to present your teaching this semester on your annual review. Do you want to claim that your teaching improved in a specific area, or the students' critical thinking skills improved, or that they became more self-directed in their learning? What ever you want to say is much stronger with some hard data from your students. What data do you need to support your claim? Try to incorporate the data collection into a meaningful activity for the students. For example, you might ask the students to reflect on how they improved in a specific area that you emphasized as a question on your final exam and count it as 5-10% of the exam. Do you want to conduct a course-specific evaluation or collect data on a survey about attitudes? Plan to collect these needed data now before it becomes impossible to gather it after the semester is over. Also if you are planning to change some aspect next year, collect data from your students now to use as a base line to measure change again for the future.
A graduation time, is a good time to reflect on your own teaching strengths and weaknesses. You might want to classify your own strengths and weaknesses into a 2x3 matrix. The 2 columns are the strengths and weaknesses. The three rows would be 1) the content of teaching, the content covered 2) your relationships with your students and 3) insights into yourself as a teacher. Think about making some changes in the weaknesses column. However, these changes should be consistent with the other cells of the matrix.
The idea of the three categories came from Sandstrom as discussed in an article in the April 2004 Teaching Professor newsletter.
As this is the season for faculty recruitment, I have been part of lots of interviews and observed many candidate presentation. In my opinion a characteristic that distinguishes the better candidates from the rest is enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing. When you are working with students on their job interview skills, try to get the students to be able to show their love for their field in a professional manner. This love can be demonstrated with enthusiasm and not in a reserved and understated manner while still appearing quite professional.
As the semester ends, be sure you have your records of all the material you produced or used for each course. Make a file or disk for every course and be sure everything from the course is contained in the file. A print copy in a binder of everything is also a good idea. You will want to refer to these materials when you teach the course again or to modify them or other courses. If you put materials on Blackboard, archive it on Blackboard and save it on your own computer. Make sure you have a copy of all materials you placed on ERes.
Many of us are proud of what we do in our teaching, yet we may not be able to explain why it is working. Some may have made innovations, but are not sure if this has led to improved learning. In order to explain how and why something is working or to see if an innovation mattered, we need to collect specific information directed toward determining the answer. As you plan courses think about the type of data you would need to answer these types of questions. Then think about how and when you can gather this information. You may want to ask a reflective question on an exam, conduct a very simple survey with the students or ask a peer to do a directed observation. Once you have analyzed your data you will have a better idea what is working and why.
Most of these can be translated into all course instructors regardless of the type of course. They all seem like common sense and certainly something that is within our reach. Try to achieve each of these characteristics in each encounter we have with our students.
Data come from Herrington, DG & Nakleh, MB. What defines effective chemistry laboratory instructor? JChemEd, Oct. 2003, 80 (10) 1197-1205.
A recent study of domains that student like and those that cause them anxiety found an inverse relationship between satisfaction and anxiety on items that tell students what to expect and what they will do. While this finding was true for all levels of students, it was the truest for undergraduate students. Giving students a course syllabus, dates for tests and deadlines for assignments in advance, and having specific grading criteria outlined in advance were the items valued the highest by students compared to domains that were valued less including those that focused on content of lectures and clear outlines of lectures. Further the result of this study found that students are frequently less concerned about the content of a course, what they will be tested on, or how they will be tested than they were about receiving advance information related to what to expect and when in terms of evaluations. The study was conducted at a school where the students carry a high number of credits per term and often feel time pressured.
The study was reported by DeRoma and Slater, Student Preferences for specific domains of course structure. Journal of Student-Centered Learning, 2005, 2: 131-137.
As you hand in grades, take a little time to review how your courses went and write some notes to yourself. Try to analyze where the students had difficulty-identify the concepts they had trouble learning, the assignments or activities they seemed to have a hard time understanding or doing, etc. Look at the directions you gave students for exams or assignments and check that they were clear. Finally record what went especially well. As you revise your courses for the next time you offer these courses, these notes will help jog your memory.
Some schools use a voluntary thank your professor activity where students can write notes to their professors to thank them for any number of things. It is a way to show appreciation for a professor. When people analyze what students thank professors for the most, the characteristic most frequently valued is that the professor showed they cared about the student as a person and as a learner.
Once you get your evaluations of your teaching from your students, share the evaluations with a trusted colleague. Your colleague will help you see the balance among the comments, help you gain a different perspective and probably give you praise for the things you did well. Together formulate a plan for improvement.
If you tried something new during the course, perhaps a new activity/assignment, implemented a different type of policy or changed how you taught something, you might want to gather some quick feedback from the students. You might ask the students to list 3 things they learned or 3 things they got out of the activity/content, etc. You can also ask them for their opinion of the activity or the policy.
In general if you are seeking feedback, only ask about what you want to know or are willing to change. For example, it is not worth asking students if the time of the course or if the room was acceptable because you cannot do anything about those things.
The students who presented at the TableTalk, Amy Concilio (Biology), Jill Smethurst (PharmD.), and Samera Merali (PharmD.), all agreed that meaningful learning experiences derive from faculty who show an interest in them as human beings, who show that they care about them. Many of their learning experiences related to out of class interactions they had with the faculty, when they interacted 1:1 as people.
Draw a small box in front of the last name of your students on the class list prior to class. During the first class, divide the students into groups of threes and ask them to introduce themselves to one another and share some information about themselves. Then ask students within groups to introduce each other, e.g. a, introduces b, b introduces c, c introduces a and talks about them.
As soon as the person is introduced, find his/her name on your class roster. Write down any nicknames or how to pronounce the name. Look directly at the student being introduced and silently repeat his/her name. Once the introduction is over, address the introduced person by name and ask a question to that person. Acknowledge the student by name after the comment and use the name again asking that person to introduce the next person. Try to use each person's name at least 2-3 times. During the rest of the class make an effort to call on each student by name whenever you can.
Place a dot in box relating to the location in the room where the student is sitting, top-back, bottom-front, left, right. Most students will sit the same place next class, especially since they either were sitting with their friends or have now gotten to know some students in the room better. Learning student names helps students to think you regard them as individuals and with respect. Students will know there is no hiding in your class.
This idea comes from David Howle (2005) The Best of the Teaching Professor, p.32 Magna Publishers.
As you clean out your files from your teaching at the end of a semester, make a copy of some of the materials and put them in your annual review/promotion/tenure folder.
Good things to place in this folder include:
Joan Tarloff suggested these ideas at the preparing for promotion
and tenure workshop she gave.
When you are trying to compliment a student, don't tell him/her that(s) he is really bright. Instead tell him/her that you see how hard he/she is working really hard or achieving great results. Being smart may encourage people to take the easy road without working hard.
Todd Zakrajeck suggested this idea.
In the last TableTalk, Jacquie Smith demonstrated new electronic resources. One is called SciVee. It can be found at www.scivee.tv It is like the utube only for scientists. Anyone can post science information onto it. Currently authors of published papers are doing a little summary of their research on the sites. It is a great way for scientists to share their ideas and join a virtual worldwide community of like minded people.
The other one she demonstrated is the public library of science. This is a referenced online, free journal for the biological sciences and medicine. You might consult publishing there as well as reading it.
For more information in these resources, contact Jacquie.
If we are a learning community, then all participants, faculty and students should be learning. At the end of the semester, it is a good time to reflect on what you learned from your students; about teaching; or about how you interact with students. How can you use this new knowledge to improve what you do in the future?
Many students complain to us that they did not get the courses
they wanted . They often get fewer courses because the computer/registrar
did not have openings for the courses they wanted and the student
did not give alternatives. Computers are not mind readers.
All of our students are now able to register online. First and second year students still need their advisor's permission to take a course.
All advisors can help students to get the courses they need. Ask students to select several sections of the same required course and several alternative elective courses, then the computer can give them what fits in their schedule and still has openings. Also ask students to put down all required parts of the courses, include the lecture, the recitation, the lab, prelab, etc.
Around the time you hand in grades, organize all of your files, both print and electronic, for each course you teach. Make a few notes about what worked well, what you need to revise, thoughts about teaching each course differently, etc. Save each of the documents that you will be using or revising on your personal repository on ANGEL. That way you can access them later when you need them, and you have a back up copy in case you cannot access your other copy.
A recent TableTalk focused on the relationship between the IRB and the scholarship of teaching. Out of those discussion it was felt that a wider audience should receive the information. Mickey Cohen put together this information and Amy Joseph, the current IRB chair approved it.
When does educational practice in the classroom become research and when should the IRB be notified? Always err on the side of caution, when in doubt contact the IRB chair, currently Amy Joseph, or Karen Mitchell in the office of sponsored programs. Below is a definition of research taken from the Department of Educations site and referenced to the Code of Federal Regulations.
The regulations define research as "a systematic
investigation, including research development, testing and evaluations,
designed to develop or contribute to generalize knowledge."
It includes activities which meet this definition, whether or not
conducted under a program considered "research" for other
purposes. [34 CFR 97.102 (d)] If an activity follows a deliberate
plan whose purpose is to develop or contribute to generalize knowledge,
such as an exploratory study or the collection of data to test a
hypothesis, it is research.
The main consideration is the intent to share the information.
Attached are flow sheets and below is a link that provides further information. The US Dept. of Education has some guidance on it's site at www.ed.gov/policy/fund/guid/humansub/overview.html
The bottom line is that we should seek IRB approval for classroom-or course-based educational approval. It might be exempt, but we still need to complete the form and send it in for this exempt status.
Students who are asked to describe their exemplary teachers describe them as:
These are worthy goals to aspire to.
This data come from Loman, J. (1996) in Svinicki and Menges, Honoring Exemplary Teaching. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, No. 65, Jossey-Bass
Try to develop a body of literature to support your research. This literature can support your philosophy of teaching, how you teach, how the students become engaged with the content and how you assess your students. You might aim to have about 10 articles, chapters or books that sustain your teaching. As you know the Teaching and Learning Center has a large collection of relevant material and can assist you to collect the relevant resources. This might be a good time of year to start thinking about these resources. Once you have these references, you can use them to support your statements about teaching in your annual review of teaching, in your dossier for promotion and tenure or anywhere else where you have to discuss how and why you teach.
Research shows that most innovations in all fields including higher education do not succeed the first or even the second time you try them. In fact, Rosabeth Kantor, a famous organizational behavior professor wrote that, "Every innovation is a failure in the middle". So be persistent and keep trying. Often innovations succeed the third time you try them. In between implementations it is important to analyze what happened, what worked and what did not work.
Have faith that your innovation is worth pursuing and will benefit the students.
There is a huge body of literature on how to teach effectively in higher education. In come disciplines, especially the sciences, there are special journals devoted to teaching specific disciplines. We may not be aware of this literature and we may not know how to access it. Search engines and databases help us find the articles efficiently. Jeanette McVeigh suggests that we look in a specialized collection called, "Professional development collection" as it is based on 350 peer reviewed journals for professional educators. Also if you use Google, always use the advanced search strategy in Google Scholar.
Last week Melanie Oates gave a wonderful workshop on mindfulness. This led me to think about being mindful when we teach and not just going through the steps. When we are mindful, we focus on the moment or on the class with all of our abilities. While we may teach the same course for many years, students, generally, only take the class once. Therefore, we should try to make this course the best course it can be for these students. Jerry Farber (in Pedagogy, 2008:2: 215-225) makes some suggestions to help us be more mindful including be aware of the students as individuals, try to engage them as individuals even in a large class, focus on the teaching that you are doing each day and try not to think about other tasks or things that you have to do. Therefore, you are fully present and aware of the teaching you are doing to the students you currently have. This takes practice and we are not always able to do it every time, but it is wroth striving for it.
While PowerPoint presentations may be helpful, sometimes they can be distracting. If you are in the middle of a PowerPoint presentation and you do not want the students to see the slide, just hit the b key and the screen will blacken. Hit it again and it will reappear. You can use this technique to help the students listen more carefully or not exposed information such as what would be needed for the next step.
Students like the use of animations in lectures using PowerPoint, such animation entertains and distracts from learning.
Stephen Mahar of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington and colleagues varied lectures only by using animation to incrementally present information. The group receiving the non-animated slides performed much better on tests of recall of information, especially their ability to recall details on graphics. While animated slides require more concentration, much of this concentration is focused on the presentation itself and not on the contact in the presentation.
Mahar. The dark side of custom animation. Int. J. Innovation and Learning, 2009, 582-592
As many full time faculty prepare their AFE's, and all faculty are considering feedback from students, it is appropriate to consider how to review the comments from students. Many faculty get upset with a lone, below the belt and inappropriate comments and over-react to it. It is important to look at patterns and trends and not just isolated comments or numbers. Further, some comments need to be unpacked to be understood. For example, if students write that the course was challenging, is that a complement or a negative remark? Courses can be challenging because they made the student work hard, learn a lot or really stretch them. Courses can be challenging because they made the student work hard, learn a lot or really stretch them. Courses can also be challenging because the course appeared disorganized or was over the student's head. To find out what students mean you might want to conduct some follow-ups with the students or ask the next class to help you understand comments.
It is always a good idea to gather some of your own formative feedback on your teaching and not just rely on the standard course evaluations.
As we approach the beginning of a new academic, I hope you are looking forward to your teaching. Are you excited about the courses you are teaching? Or are you dreading your teaching, beyond the normal nervousness of anticipation of new students. If you are drained of energy or just tired of teaching the same course, are you wishing you could spend more time other responsibilities or interests. Perhaps the best remedy for tired teaching is to make some changes in what your are doing. To breathe new life into your teaching, change how you deliver material, the questions that students answer in class or in assignments, change how you assess the students, etc. For many other suggestions on how to overcome tired teaching see Maryellen Weimer's latest book, Inspired College Teaching. You can borrow it from the Teaching and Learning Center.
Take some time to be refreshed before the academic year begins.
Professor Meacham at the University of Buffalo wrote the following reflection which makes me question if our students are doing right by us.
"I learned from talking with students that some see the place and value of what we do as follows:
If my behaviors merely encourage and support student attitudes and behaviors such as these, I have lost sight of my primary goal and responsibility as a professor...which should be to enable me to pose questions that engage my students, spark their curiosity and push them to think critically and, ultimately, to learn.
(I changed some of the wording a bit and my changes that are not his words ar in italics.)
Are we helping students take responsibility for their learning or develop life-long learning skills or just allowing the students to pass without really expanding their capacity to think or learn?
Meacham, J. (Fall, 2006). Questioning the best learning technology. Peer Review. 8(4):30.
From time to time we get free books, examination copies, or find that we have older editions of books or books that we may no longer use. Instead of throwing them away, consider gifting them to your students. If you talk to a student who seems especially interested in a topic, consider loaning or even better giving that student a copy of a book that discusses this topic.
If a student seems motivated, but confused about the material, perhaps you can loan or give another textbook, perhaps at a lower level that covers this same material.
You could also give them as presents to students who tried very hard in your class.
If the book is a gift inscribe the book for the student with a special personal note. This personal gesture can be very meaningful to students.
Across the university the most requested feature ask for on end of course evaluations is 24/7 easy access to their grades. Blackboard gradebook provides this feature. Therefore, if you keep your gradebook current on Blackboard, you can satisfy this request easily. Unlike Angel, Blackboard's gradebook feature is easy to use.