Saturday, October 25, 2014

Engaging Students

Some of my summer beach reading (ok, it was really reading done sitting at home in my upstairs office but I was thinking about the beach…) included books on pedagogy that had been recommended on a mailing list for faculty developers. 

One book, Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors by Linda B. Nilson, presented a thought-provoking list of principles that researchers have discovered about how people learn and the teaching strategies that build on those principles.
If you glance at this list, you’ll see that the ideas are not new to any of us—learning takes place when students are actively involved, learning something that has relevance to them and is within their “zone of proximal development.”
What stood out for me, as I thought about the concepts on this list and those presented in other books like Elizabeth Barkley’s Student Engagement Techniques and Ken Bain’s What the Best College Students Do, was the importance for student learning and retention of emotion (“affect is just as much a part of the brain’s neuronal network as cognition,” Barkley, p. 34) and metacognition (“You don’t learn from experience; you learn from reflecting on experience,” Bains, p. 163).  

I realized that I am probably not giving these two things the attention I should if I design my courses focusing primarily on the content.
I would love to hear some examples of assignments or activities you have used that get your students emotionally involved in their learning, and/or  improve your students’ metacognitive skills, helping them understand what they learned, how they learned it, how they could learn it faster/easier/better next time.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The M Word

So what is your position on motivation?  Is it our job to motivate our students, or is it our job to educate our students while they motivate themselves?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic after reading Jeffrey Buller’s interesting article in  Academic Leader entitled “Academic Leadership and the M Word.”
Here’s a small excerpt:
These discussions about academic motivation often become heated because there’s such a strong case to be made on both sides of the issue. By the time they’re in college, students should be motivated by the ideas, skills, and principles that are going to be integral to their careers. At the same time, we as faculty members should recognize that effective teaching involves a great deal more than information transfer. The argument will never be resolved, because each perspective is correct. Some of us are just pulled a bit more by one side than the other.
Buller goes on to extend the motivation issue to academic leadership—chairs, deans and leaders on up the ladder. The main point of his article is that at the administrative level, “True academic leadership isn’t just about getting the decisions right; it’s also about getting the motivation right.”

What do you think?

As a teacher, how do you motivate your students, if you see that as part of your job? (In the MHS Program, one important motivation for our working adult students has always been “Learn the theory on Saturday, use it on Monday.”)  

When you are wearing your administrative hat, how do you motivate your colleagues to work toward a desired goal?

Friday, October 3, 2014

It could happen to anyone….REALLY!! The effects of engagement/disengagement from the matrix

Guest Blogger: James Wadley, MHS Program 
So I ventured into the classroom one Saturday afternoon (Yes, we Graduate Center faculty teach on Saturdays!) feeling excited about the wealth of teaching and learning opportunities in store for my class and me.  While walking into my educational sanctuary, my students and I exchanged midafternoon quips about the readings and lecture from the previous week as well as other reactionary conversational ventures about contemporary forms of life, love, and happiness.  I reached above me to turn the Smartboard projector on and then confidently moved over to the lectern which contained the computer monitor and hard drive underneath.  More students continued to walk into the room and began to chime in with their opinions about lunch, the 30th Street Megabus schedule, culinary delights and transgressions from the food trucks behind Drexel University and the like, while I gathered my materials in preparation for class.
Once I reached the “sweet spot” in front of the class behind the podium, I removed my flash drive which was attached to my lanyard necklace and casually inserted it into the hard drive of the computer.   I waited a moment for the system to boot up and nothing happened.  Turned the system off then on again; turned to monitor on, off, then on again; and fiddled with the keyboard--nothing happened.  I played around with the computer for a few more moments and slowly started to duck to an eventual crouch behind the podium looking for answers from the hard drive.  Simultaneously, I found myself ducking from imaginary stones hurled by my students because I thought that their anger was gaining strength as they waited for me to deliver my lecture.
My students continued to talk with one another and I eventually submitted that I was not going to get my computer on to start my transcendent Powerpoint lecture.  I struggled because I assumed and anticipated that this pivotal lecture would have enabled my students to become the change agents that they paid tuition for.  I could feel the temperature of body rising and my anxiety beginning to take over as I failed to have a backup teaching plan for that day besides my lecture (Shame on me!).  After several moments, I stood up and sheepishly offered the class the following, “It appears that I am unable to get the computer to work for me today; give me a few moments while I run to my office to pick up a few 3x5 index cards.” Some of my students said okay and three of them were so excited about the delay that they actually escorted me out the room.  I walked to the left and they walked to the right (towards the vending machines) and I overheard them laughingly mention that there was no need for class since I could not get the monitor to work.
I scurried to my office and found an unopened pack of 3x5 index cards in my desk.  SWEET!!  Because I had a few moments, I sat down at my desk and thought about what the next 2+ hours of teaching and learning could be.  This is what I came up with: 
  1. Pass out a 3x5 index card to all students in the classroom.
  2. Have them write out one thing that may have resonated for them in the previous lecture and/or reading from last week.
  3. Collect the cards and construct a thematic concept map using poster print (I keep always keep a large pad and Crayola markers available in my office for emergencies) about what they learned from the previous week.
  4. Separate the students into smaller groups (4-6 people) and have them take the conceptual themes and apply it to their workplace (The class is exclusively working adult learners). 
  5. Once they hear the similarities/differences of what is offered in their small groups, have them list the theoretical underpinnings that may drive the aforementioned themes. 
  6. In addition to listing the theoretical underpinnings, students list and discuss all limitations, potential consequences, and implications of the generated concepts. 
  7. Have students in their smaller groups create an educational program, workshop, or clinical initiative that may offer conceptual or pragmatic change within their agency or their community.
  8. Have students develop some sort of evaluation or assessment tool based upon the proposed action plan.
  9. Next, have students present their concept and plan of action to the class.
  10. Link what the students offer to the class to what I intended to discuss if I were able to utilize the SmartBoard and computer.
  11. Grading would be based upon completion of the index card, large and small group sharing, and classroom participation. 
The moral of this story is:  ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP TEACHING/LESSON PLAN!!!  Like all of us, machines are sometimes flawed and they can be unpredictable at the darndest times.  I would imagine that I am not the only one at The Lincoln University who has ever been challenged by the matrix.  Hmmm…  Perhaps the anxiety that I experienced while trying to get my computer to work before and during the first few moments of class was not real at all.  Maybe, just maybe, my anxiety and the inability to get my computer to work was all part of some larger force or higher power that wanted me think and teach outside the box/matrix*.  Maybe, the lesson that I planned on teaching was meant not for my students but as a teaching opportunity for me to learn how to manage my anxiety when unforeseen circumstances emerge in the matrix we call The Lincoln University…
Please share your thoughts to these questions:
  • What are some teaching strategies you use when you are unable to get your computer to work?
  • How do you know that your students are learning what they should be learning in class without waiting until the next test/exam?
  • How do you engage in ongoing assessment in your classroom?
*For your amusement, I include a clip from one of my favorite movies, The Matrix :) ENJOY!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Improving Student Performance Before the Course is Finished

Guest Blogger: Brenda Snider

I have just finished a class on analysis and design, which has sparked my interest. As a professor, you are evaluating each student’s performance. I think it would be beneficial if the students learned to evaluate their own performance in addition to the professor’s evaluation.

After each of my classes, we have to complete an evaluation form. In my opinion, there should be two class evaluations, one in the middle of the course and one at the end.  If you complete an evaluation in the middle (or a few weeks in) of the course, you may gain an understanding of how the students are feeling about the course.  You could include questions such as “Do you think you are gaining a complete understanding of the material?”  “Do you need assistance/tutoring in any area?” “Are the class presentations interesting enough to keep your attention?”

The survey can be developed and completed online at Survey Monkey ( The results will be tabulated for you without much effort on your part.

Are professors here at Lincoln doing class evaluations in the middle of the course? Do you think this would be beneficial?  What other questions would you include in an evaluation to pique student interest in the class?