Good Teaching – What Do Students Say?

May 12, 2011

Palomar College is certainly not alone in devoting time and resources to document the variables involved in effective teaching and learning. Instructors are being asked to include student learning outcomes (SLOs) on all class syllabi. We have a Learning Outcomes Council (LOC) as well as a Palomar Outcomes Database (POD).  This issue of learning outcomes and how best to promote them was the topic of a number of studies presented and discussed at the 2010 Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning.

While some have argued that students are not effective judges of what teacher variables promote student learning, most assessment programs do consider student evaluations to be important. Most student evaluations ask students to rate, on a Likert scale questionnaire, how well teachers measure up to some list of predefined characteristics. By contrast, a study conducted by Memorial University used a student survey instrument composed of open-ended questions designed to assess students’ perceptions of effective teaching. According to the report, “The primary purpose of this research was to identify the characteristics of effective on-campus and distance teaching as they are perceived by students at Memorial University, to determine if these characteristics are consistent across the two modes of delivery, and to isolate instructor behaviours that students believe are components of effective teaching in both on-campus and distance courses.” An interesting design strategy of the study was to “leave open-ended the qualities of effective teaching.” Students were not asked to rate their teaching-learning experience based on some preconceived ideas of educators but were free to discuss their perception of the experience in a narrative format. “In the analysis phase of the project, 69 adjectives that described instructor behaviours were isolated. Further analysis of these 69 characteristics, and the behaviours associated with them, distilled to nine predominant themes, indicating nine prominent characteristics and sets of behaviours . . . that are indicators of effective teaching.”


Survey Says . . .

On-campus students identified the following 9 most important teacher characteristics that best promoted their learning (1= most frequented cited, 9=9th most frequently cited).

  1. Respectful
  2. Knowledgeable
  3. Approachable
  4. Engaging
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Responsive
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

One of the research questions of the study was to determine whether or not characteristics considered important for good teaching in an on-campus environment would be similar to the characteristics important for good teaching in an online environment. The results indicated that, apparently, good teaching is good teaching irrespective of delivery modality; with some minor differences in emphases, the same nine characteristics turned up on both lists. Here is the list of teacher characteristics important to online students.

  1. Respectful
  2. Responsive
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Approachable
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Engaging
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

Those who have denigrated the concept of student ratings as being little more than a popularity contest, or a poll of which teachers tell the best jokes, might reconsider that view if other studies support this study’s results: it may be that  students are capable of identifying variables important to their learning after all.

____________________________________________________

Delaney, J., Johnson, A., Johnson, T., Treslan, D. (2010). “Students’ Perceptions Of Effective Teaching In Higher Education.” 2010 Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.


Group Exams: A Teaching Strategy?

April 13, 2011

This blog post isn’t about teaching online. It also isn’t about using technology. However, I came across a report about an intriguing strategy designed to engage students and promote learning in a way I hadn’t considered and I wondered what other educators thought of the idea.

Many instructors want to stimulate students to collaborate with each other and suggest that students form study groups, share notes, study together for tests. While students sometimes see the merit in doing those things, unless the instructor explicitly rewards this behavior, it rarely occurs.

A recent Faculty Focus report described one innovative approach to encourage collaboration – group exams or quizzes. The basic idea is that students can sometimes present course material in a way that resonates with other students in a different way than instructor-delivered lectures.

As Weimer (2011) puts it, “Because a lot of education emphasizes competition, students are slow to adjust in environments that value cooperation. They won’t offer help unless there are benefits from doing so or risks if they don’t.” At least three different ways to implement this incentive were presented.

(1) Groups of students are randomly formed. The groups are given some class time to review together for a test/quiz and encouraged to meet outside of class to continue their group review.
a. students take the test/quiz individually and the score they earn is recorded;
b. if everyone in their group receives an individual score of C or higher, each student receives x bonus points (e.g., 2 bonus points);
c. if everyone in their group receives an individual score of B or higher, each student receives x+x bonus points (e.g., 2 + 2 points).

(2) Groups of students are randomly formed. The groups are given some class time to review together for a test/quiz and encouraged to meet outside of class to continue their group review.
a. when it comes time to take the test/quiz, one group member is randomly selected;
b. that student takes the test/quiz individually;
c. the score earned by that student is recorded for all group members.

(3) Groups of students are randomly formed. The groups are given some class time to review together for a test/quiz and encouraged to meet outside of class to continue their group review.
a. each group member takes the test/quiz individually. Then they have x minutes to meet with their group to discuss the test/quiz, focusing particularly on questions with which they had difficulty.
b. finally, each group member can revisit his/her quiz and change any answer previously given.

In the scenarios cited above an incentive is provided to students to work collaboratively. In these scenarios students understand the benefit of teaching each other, see the value in working together, and have an interest in all group members doing well on the test/quiz.

Most educators would like to believe that their course facilitates the acquisition of course-specific information, critical thinking, and, perhaps, collaborative learning. It certainly is true that effective collaboration with others is a skill needed in vocational or professional jobs. In the academic arena this skill manifest in many ways.

Many organizations rely on committees to achieve company objectives. For example, currently Palomar College has been authorized to hire a number of full-time, tenure-track  instructors.  In the disciplines affected, hiring committees have been formed to select from the qualified applicant pool. Ultimately, the selection committee must, through a collaborative process reach consensus on which applicants to forward as finalists. This basic approach occurs throughout the hiring process in other professions as well.

So would a group exam or quiz work in my class? My thinking right now is that while I wouldn’t use it for an exam, I would consider using it for a quiz. Educational research as well as my own classroom experience convinces me that more substantial student learning is accomplished when students are actively engaged in a class. To the extent that collaborative activities promote involvement that would otherwise be missing, I think they are worthwhile.

A group quiz? Sure, why not?

Resource:  Faculty Focus



Video, Video, Video

February 1, 2011

video image

Videos, particularly short videos can be excellent devices to engage students but where are some good sources for appropriate video material? And how do we use them in our Blackboard classes? This second question has become very important as of this writing because the You Tube Mash-up tool in Blackboard that generated a lot of excitement is now not working correctly. In fact, using it can cause some major problems (see Terry Gray’s tutorial below).

Listed here are a few of the many video sources available to us. Most can be easily placed into Blackboard as a web link and some can be embedded. Most of the links on this page go to video sources that are keyed to education. The last three illustrate how videos can be used to (a) introduce the instructor, (b) provide guidance to students, or (c) wrap an assignment around a short video.

Terry Gray’s Description And Solution To You Tube In Bb Problem

YouTube Videos Chosen For Educational Merit (You be the judge)

TeacherTube – Videos Picked By Educators

iTunesU – Apple’s Site For Higher Ed Content

UC Berkeley – Web Casts That May Appeal To Some

The Slap – An Example Of Incorporating A Video Into An Assignment

graphic of roomClick Here To See Renee Barrett’s Video to Students – She used the XTRANORMAL Site (You write the text, the site makes the video)

Rob Mustard’s Welcome Video to Students


Next Semester: A Really Good Discussion Board Plan!

December 30, 2010

computer classroomHere it is about three weeks away from our new semester starting and I’m planning a new, revised, and totally better online discussion board for my online classes. Never mind that I really don’t know our new Blackboard 9 system that well yet or that I’ll be teaching an online class that I haven’t taught in a couple of years – I mean I’ve got three weeks!

I’ve been a big supporter of online discussion boards for a long time so I was intrigued by an article in a recent Faculty Focus Special Report. The article by Rob Kelly was titled “A Plan for Effective Discussion Boards.” I began to read, assuming I would find my discussion board strategies validated. About half-way through I came across a paragraph that began “Too often, however, instructors simply ask students to state their independent thinking on a subject and perhaps comment on two classmates’ postings.” Whoops – that’s a big part of what I typically do; perhaps I’m not on the cutting edge of best practices after all! Not that my approach is a bad or ineffective one, but the article pointed out a number of ways to make a more effective discussion board.

One of the tips in the article was that the instructor should have an active presence on the discussion board. This may strike some as obvious but I’ve heard arguments from colleagues that the instructor should be as unobtrusive as possible: since we probably won’t post a response to every student, every time, this reasoning goes, it’s better not to post at all because responding to just some students’ posts may make the others feel as though their posts aren’t worthy of the instructor’s response. Some instructor’s handle this dilemma by posting a summary at the end of the week’s discussion board period. While I do like the summary idea, I think a good way to acknowledge to students that you will not be replying to every student post is to say you plan to choose a few representative posts to respond to each week (or module).

What I most liked about the article were the recommendations by Richard Paul that are likely to engage students at a deeper level of thinking. Paul’s six recommendations as contained in Kelly’s article are the following.

Conceptual clarification questions – questions that get students to think about concepts behind their arguments, for example, Why are you saying that? What exactly does this mean? How does this relate to what we have been talking about? Can you give me an example?

Probing assumptions – questions that get students to think about the beliefs that they base their arguments on, for example, What else could we assume? How did you choose those assumptions? How can you verify or disprove that assumption? What would happen if . . . ?

Probing rationale, reasons, and evidence – questions that get students to think about the support for their arguments, for example, Why is that happening? How do you know this? Can you give me an example? What do you think causes . . .? On what authority are you basing your argument?

Questioning viewpoints and perspectives – questions that get students to consider other viewpoints, for example, What are some alternate ways of looking at this? Who benefits from this? How are x and y similar?

Probe implications and consequences – questions that get students to think about the [sic] what follows from their arguments, for example, Then what would happen? What are the consequences of that assumption?

Questions about the question – questions that turn the question in on itself, for example, What was the point of asking that question? Why do you think I asked this question?

While it may not be practical for us to post responses to every student post, posting the sort of Socratic questions listed above to a representative group of student discussion board posts will encourage everyone to think more critically.

And speaking of grading rubrics . . . ok, I’ll save that for another day!

Resources

Kelly, R. (nd). A plan for effective discussion boards, in a Faculty Focus Special Report


Social Media and Education (it’s not an oxymoron)

December 9, 2010

social media toolsMaybe I’ve been too influenced by a social media class I took recently but I’ve become determined to implement some of the Web 2.0/Social Media ideas to which I’ve been exposed. BTW, for those who think the title of this blog post does constitute an oxymoron, you might appreciate some better ones as contained in The Internet’s Best List of Oxymorons . But seriously folks . . .

Blackboard 9 has recognized the utility of including Web 2.0 ideas by providing easy ways of including tools such as Slideshare, You Tube, and others right in their newest version of the course management system. Take a few minutes to review the excellent tutorials about how to use some of these new Blackboard features by checking out the Academic Technology web page (thanks, Terry).

Another really useful resource for using these ideas is contained on the Online Universities.com web site, in the blog titled 100 Inspiring Ways to use Social Media in the Classroom. This is a compilation of some terrific ideas about how to incorporate social media – all the way from K-12 to Universities.

I imagine that more instructors than before will begin to use various Web 2.0 tools in their classes and I would love to hear from any of you who do it now or who anticipate doing it in the near future.


Web 2.0 Tools

November 8, 2010

As social networking and Web 2.0 continues to grow in popularity, some are asking: What is Web 2.0 anyway? From the Teaching Without Walls website:

Web 2.0 is a common term used to describe “version two” or the “second generation” of the internet. Web 2.0 is distinguished from web 1.0 in one very simply [sic] way: content may be easily created by users who are no longer required to be technical experts. Thus, web 2.0 is exceptionally promising and liberating for educators who too frequently feel trapped or overwhelmed by the speed of technology. Further, web 2.0 tools cultivate participatory, active learning activities and/or environments for students, facilitating exciting new ways to assess learning and engage students.

In this blog post I want to describe one Web 2.0 tool that, at first, I dismissed as frivolous. I may still come around to that opinion but, for now, I’m being more open-minded about it as several colleagues see a lot of value in the tool. The tool is Wordle which is described as a tool that automatically generates a word cloud from a word list you provide. Wordle has the attraction of being the simplest tool to use you could imagine. Just enter words and Wordle generates the word cloud and shows you which words were used most frequently. The more a particular word or term is used, the larger it appears in the word cloud. The interpretation is up to you. This has some potentially interesting and educational uses. Maybe. One way I used Wordle was to capture all the student posts in a Blackboard Discussion Board Forum as you can see in the graphic below. If there is interest, I can detail how I did this in another post.

Discussion Board Posts

The word cloud of student posts on the subject of discipline brought up some intriguing discussion connections that I could use to get students engaged with the topic. For example, while the word “parents” was the largest word in the Wordle, implying it was the word most often used in the student posts, the word “mother” was much larger than “dad.” This could lead to a consideration of the relative influence of mother and father in the students’ discipline histories. Other word comparisons could also lead into deeper discussions such as the word “children” being much larger than “adolescents” – is it true for most that more discipline is required when we’re younger? But aren’t we more confrontational with parents as teens? And what do we make of the fact that spanking, spanked, and punishment were fairly large and hence more frequently mentioned? And I couldn’t help feeling somewhat reassured that words like hurt, slapped, belt and so on were not evident.

So, while Wordle is not for everyone, it may strike some as an engaging way to get students interested in examining an issue or topic


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