Teaching & Learning: Podcasts for the Holidays

While you’re driving to and from family or friends homes over the holidays, relax and listen to a marathon of highly engaging teaching and learning podcasts provided by The Teaching in Higher Ed website.

Hosted by university professor Bonni Stachowiak, each 30- to 40-minute podcast features a guest with specialized teaching insights, who share tips, experiences and expertise. The format is informal and conversational, with plenty of storytelling and Q&A.

Here’s a look at a few recent episodes to whet your appetite.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!



Small Teaching, Big Ideas

James LangJames M. Lang, author of Small Teaching reminds us that teaching involves a feedback loop of constant improvement. His premise: small tweaks can make a big difference in student success. Here are a few of the simple, innovative ideas he proposes to enhance learning and retention.

  1. Retrieval Bookends: When you begin class, ask students: “What was the most important concept from the previous class?” When closing, ask them write down the main thing they learned. These repeated retrievals help to cement concepts in memory.
  2. Learning Closet: Lang says the challenge with learning is not getting ‘new stuff’ in, but going back and finding it later, similar to looking for an item in a disorganized closet. Repeated opportunities to recall and apply new information, such as with a quiz or practice activity, helps students to organize their ‘closet’ for better retrieval.
  3. Connection Notebooks: Ask students: How do new concepts connect to your existing knowledge? How do they relate to last week’s important concepts, or to another course, or a book, movie or current event? Have them document these mental connections to build a cognitive web of memory and learning.
  4. Connection Sharing:  Connecting concepts can be even more powerful when we ask students to share them verbally, or in an online discussion forum, which can lead to fresh ideas, new interpretations and socially meaningful learning.
  5. Choice & Control: Students learn more effectively when they have a sense of control over their learning choices. Providing multiple assessment options for demonstrating learning can motivate students, encourage growth, and allow for more creative expression.

Source: Dr. James Lang’s Blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education

5 Ideas from 2017’s Best Educational Research

With the New Year approaching, and as we prepare to uncork the champagne to welcome 2018, let’s review some significant teaching and learning research findings from the past year. Inspired by Edutopia’s 2017 education research highlights, we’ve organized a list of ideas taken from several recent studies.

Ask yourself if you are utilizing the latest evidence-based strategies, and check out the new data to guide your teaching practices toward a Happy New Year:

  1. Are you giving students opportunities to explain and interpret concepts for each other in class?
    Peer teaching, connecting new concepts to prior learning, and repeatedly accessing a stored memory, can all support and reinforce learning. See video below or read more at: 5 Teaching Strategies for boosting retention (Edutopia)
  2. Are you offering practice tests?
    Giving practice tests (prior to high-stakes exams) can greatly improve learning and retention: “Results reveal that practice tests are more beneficial for learning than restudying and all other comparison conditions.” Read more at: Rethinking the Use of Tests: A Meta-Analysis of Practice Testing (American Education Research Association)
  3. Are you giving students strategic resources for achieving academic goals?
    Researchers designed a new Strategic Resource tool for goal-setting, “making students more self-reflective about how they should approach their learning with the resources available to them…” resulting in improved class performance. (Association for Psychological Science)
  4. Are you using clickers effectively?
    While using clickers is shown to improve fact-based retention, new research demonstrates that their benefit is not supported with more complex conceptual learning: “….students in problem-oriented course with little or no prior knowledge of the material suffered more from the negative effects of the factual clicker questions…preventing students from becoming diverted by the surface features of the information at the expense of developing more conceptual understanding.” Read more at: Clickers can promote fact retention but impede conceptual understanding (Elsevier/Science Direct)
  5. Are you mentoring a new instructor? Do you have a teaching mentor?
    Not surprisingly, new research shows that mentoring is strongly correlated with positive impacts on student achievement, and on teaching preparation, persistence, and problem-solving. Mentors who can observe classroom instruction, provide feedback, give lesson-planning advice, and assist with analyzing student work, helps to “close the achievement gap” allowing students to experience major academic gains. Read more at: The Case for Mentors Grows Stronger (Edutopia), and Mentors help new teachers be their best, and Impact of the New Teacher Induction Model (SRI International)

Leading Effective Discussions

How can instructors ensure class discussions are effective? First, let’s define some characteristics of good discussions, and why they are valuable for learning. Discussions work best when students:

  • Are interpreting concepts (and learning) from each other
  • Are bridging the gap between instructor-speak and their own understanding
  • Are engaging in active and thoughtful inquiry
  • Can incorporate instructor feedback to guide new ways of thinking

Tip 1 – Enable confidence: Evidence also shows that smaller groups, assigning discussion roles (listener, facilitator, devil’s advocate) and integrating awareness of group dynamics can all enhance learning by reducing fear and improving comfort levels during discussions.

Tip 2 – Pause often: Give time for reflection and processing during discussions. Students need to organize information, form thoughts, and develop their arguments. Example: use a quick-write to first let students compose their responses to a discussion prompt, then begin the verbal discussion.

Tip 3 – Socratic Solutions: Facilitate discovery by giving students clues instead of answers. Incite curiosity to encourage critical thinking; motivate them with fresh questions, and entice them to analyze further unknowns.


Enhancing Student Success with High-Impact Practices (HIPs)

ImpactIn case you missed it, here is a brief summary of CETL Director Brian Smentkowski’s workshop on High-Impact Practices.

The AACU explains the problem in their HIPs overview:

“On almost all campuses, utilization of active learning practices is unsystematic, to the detriment of student learning…”
                                                  – The American Association of Colleges and Universities 

High-Impact Practices (HIPs) help to effectively broaden active learning opportunities across the campus.

  • What are HIPs? High-impact practices (HIPs) are curriculum-integrated active learning experiences and large-scale programs designed to maximize student engagement and participation.
  • Examples of HIPs: Service learning, Internships, Study Abroad, Undergraduate Research Projects, Capstone & Culminating courses, First-year Learning Communities, General. Ed. Common Read, etc.
  • Why are HIPs effective? HIPs work because they drive student engagement and encourage big accomplishments in active, collaborative programs. Students become immersed in rewarding, challenging tasks that promote community-enhanced learning.
  • HIPs key elements: High-expectation, high-visibility tasks over extended time periods leading to deeper learning; substantive interactions with peers and faculty, frequent and constructive feedback; structured opportunities for reflection; integrates complex, relevant and real-world learning.

Although HIPs are often characterized by broad-reach programs, elements of HIPs are also effective on a smaller scale with active learning strategies such as peer feedback, design projects, and team problem-solving assignments.

Contact CETL if you’d like to learn more, or read how HIPs are being implemented in the resources below:


Designing For Visual Learning

Visual_LearningWhen thinking about ways to improve your course design, don’t underestimate the power of visuals. As we learn more about cognitive science, it’s becoming clear that visual learning should have a very significant role in instruction.

There is some compelling evidence on the benefits of incorporating meaningful visuals to enhance learning. Educational studies show that we are “wired” to quickly comprehend and remember visual information, bolstering the theory of ‘dual-coding.’

Visit Vanderbilt University’s website Visual Thinking to see how visuals can work their magic in presentations, student note-taking, and assessment as part of data analysis, research, or creative design projects.

Similar to the drive to implement digital literacy in our coursework, students are starting to clamor for more educational emphasis on visual literacy as they recognize its enormous influence in our changing world.

(Sources:  Hyerle, 2000)

Avoid These 5 Big Problems in Online Teaching

What are some of your biggest challenges with online teaching?  Here are some common problems that we hear about, and how you can easily avoid them.problems

1. The Absent Instructor. After all the upfront work required to prepare an online course, it can be tempting to let it run on “auto-pilot” once the semester starts. This is one of online students’ top complaints; they may feel isolated and alone in the online environment. The Fix: Communicate your presence early and often, with frequent announcements, content updates, and comments. Share your observations about student learning. Let students know you’re there and are actively monitoring their progress.

2. The Confusing Assignment. Vague assignment criteria in online courses can cause double trouble. First, students won’t know what you expect them to do, leading to frustration and paralysis. Then you may get an avalanche of emails requesting clarification. The Fix: Provide crystal clear criteria for each online assignment, including rubrics and examples. Try to anticipate what might cause confusion, and add details and FAQs to avoid this common problem.

3. The DFWOnline students are known to Drop, Withdraw, and Fail more frequently for predictable reasons. They might lack technology skills, or not yet have the discipline or time management abilities required for online courses. The Fix: Mitigate this by building a supportive learning community with Q&A forums, or optional live sessions where students can get help informally to stay on track and succeed. You can also check your Blackboard analytics (Performance Dashboard) to identify who’s not logging in, then reach out to them privately for support.

4. The Engagement DoldrumsOnline students can quickly lose motivation to complete required work if the course is not engaging them, leading to more DFW problems. To Fix: Use adult learning principles to engage. Provide multimedia content options and open-ended discussions that foster new ways of thinking. Relate learning tasks to students’ professional experiences, and give several real-world challenges, problems, and project choices to get them excited.

5. The Contrived Discussion. Rigid post & reply discussion requirements can lead to stale responses and feed into negative online teaching stereotypes. The Fix: Make online discussions purposeful with meaningful experience-driven questions that encourage storytelling and genuine dialog. Students can also practice leading online discussions to demonstrate their team facilitation prowess and hone effective communication skills.

More information: How Not to Design Your Online Course, Design For Learning: 10 Best Practices