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.

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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



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.


Getting Students To Read

September 6, 2010

In this Teaching With Technology post I want to address an issue of interest to all instructors, those who teach online and those who teach on campus. Most college instructors will acknowledge that a rather significant problem exists on their campuses: Students simply don’t read the assigned material. Or, if they do, it is a superficial reading that produces little integration with long-term memory. OK, we’ve all had well-prepared students who completed the assigned readings before class and who were eager to discuss the ideas in class. But in my 30 years of teaching in a community college, those students typically constitute a distinct minority.

Some of my colleagues report – and I’ve heard it too – that students often ask questions such as “Do we really have to buy the book?” and “Will you be covering the important parts in class?” Not the type of questions that reassure us that these students are taking the reading requirement seriously! While there is considerable variation across disciplines, informal estimates by faculty and data from publishers suggest that 20% or so of students never purchase the textbook. Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, up to 80% do purchase the textbook. But even students who purchase the textbook and start out with good intentions to carefully read all the assigned readings often abandon that resolution somewhere in the middle of the semester. Podolefsky & Finkelstein (2006) report, in a study done at the University of Colorado, that “less than 41% regularly read, 60% read after lecture rather than before.” This issue was brought home to me in a personal way recently. Using the clicker response pads that ensure anonymous responding, I asked my Introduction to Psychology students if they had done the required reading. Seventy percent of the students answered “No, but I plan to begin this week” (one of the possible answers). So a substantial majority of my students had not done the reading even though I emphasized the importance of reading before lectures in the class syllabus and reiterated that point during our first class meeting. Incidentally, a typical reason students give for not reading is that they expect the instructor to emphasize the important topics during class lectures, or at least that he/she will lecture about what will be on the tests. I don’t have any data about online students but based on my experience of teaching many online classes, I am much more confident that online students purchase the textbook and read it relative to on-campus students.

I have colleagues who say “Listen, that’s not our problem – these students are all adults and, if they don’t do the reading, they need to suffer the consequences.” It’s a fair point. Maybe, though, there are strategies we can adopt that will help our students to avoid suffering the consequences, because they WILL do the reading.

While mulling over the issue of how to encourage students to read, and ideally, to read before the lecture, I was excited to come across a Faculty Focus special report titled “11 Strategies for Getting Students to Read What’s Assigned.” Here I will mention just a few of the suggestions that I found useful and refer the interested reader to the free report available at the Faculty Focus web site.

  1. Make sure your syllabus has an explicit statement about the importance of reading the textbook. Jennifer Romack in “Enhancing Students’ Readiness to Learn” describes a rubric she developed to evaluate student performance. An important component of this rubric involves reading assigned material before class.
  2. Maryellen Weimer in “Getting Students to Read” refers to a “quiz mechanism” that changed students reading behavior. (I have used the clickers in a pretest/post-test format with some success.)
  3. Culver & Morse in “Helping Students Use Their Textbooks More Effectively” begin by stating “Most college students spend little time reading their texts.” They then provide a list of suggestions that encourage students to read more. While there is nothing revelatory about their suggestions, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of good ideas such as the following:

    1. State your requirements for the text on the syllabus.
    2. Communicate your expectations regarding the text frequently.
    3. Make it clear that textbook reading requires effort. (Students think that reading the text material quickly once is sufficient. It isn’t.)
    4. Use the text in class.

What strategies have you found helpful in getting students to read?

Resources

http://www.colorado.edu/physics/EducationIssues/textbooks/Podolefsky_Textbooks.pdf
http://www.psychologicalscience.org/teaching/tips/tips_0603.cfm
http://www.facultyfocus.com/