Students’ Perspectives on the Meaning of Course Relevance

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Kelly McEnerny, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

Imagine attending a course that seemed not to relate to your goals and showed little compatibility with your interests. For anyone who can remember furtively glancing at the clock in the back of the classroom, this exercise should be easy. Your experience would likely have involved some lack of motivation. One can argue that, when teachers make information relevant to students, they increase students’ motivation to learn. Indeed, students have commonly ranked course relevance as a top motivating factor in their learning (Sass, 1989; Weaver & Cottrell, 1988; Frymier & Shulman, 1995). But what does relevance look like in a classroom, and, importantly, what does relevance mean to students? Muddiman and Frymier (2009) asked 184 college students to produce a list of relevance increasing strategies using the prompt “what teaching strategies, tactics, and other behaviors do undergraduate students perceive as increasing content relevance of material presented in their college courses?” Several categories of strategies emerged, suggesting that students’ conceptions of relevance were broad and multifaceted. Students recounted parallels that teachers drew between course content and domains inside and outside of the classroom; they described teachers’ styles and personalities, and the methods and activities that teachers used.

The largest category, “outside course relevance” (47% of responses), referred to ways that the teacher connected course material to students’ needs, interests, and desires outside of the classroom. This category included behaviors such as sharing experiences and telling stories, using examples from media (e.g., music, TV shows, internet clips, documentaries, and sports), and referencing news stories that concerned politics, business, and environmental issues. Moreover, teachers helped students to recognize the applicability of skills learned from the course to other courses and to specific career settings. Teachers also invited guest speakers who could share insights relevant to a course topic.

A second category, “teaching style relevance,” encompassed teacher behaviors that amplified student engagement. This category consisted of behaviors such as showing consideration for students (e.g., giving positive feedback, using informal language), making use of a variety of teaching methods, showing enthusiasm, getting to know students, using humor, and allowing students a choice in the coverage of course material.

The category, “methods and activities relevance,” pertained to teaching methods and activities that extended beyond examples and scenarios. These methods and activities included discussions led by instructors and students, projects that involved applications to real word problems (e.g., community service), group activities, visual aids, and field trips.

Finally, the category, “inside course relevance,” included strategies teachers used to emphasize the importance of specific material for students’ performance in the course. These strategies included encouraging students to take notes, providing assignments, highlighting information helpful for getting good grades, holding study sessions, connecting material to larger themes, and providing up-to-date course material.

Several of the students’ perceptions of relevance were consistent with the general recommendations of experts on teaching (Ambrose et al., 2010). In their book How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, Ambrose and colleagues (2010) offered strategies for getting students to value learning. These strategies included connecting course material to students’ interests, emphasizing the relevance of course-related skills to students’ personal and career pursuits, designing real-world activities, and demonstrating flexibility.  In returning to the question, “What does relevance mean for students?” you might consider incorporating any number of these strategies into your course design process, while keeping in mind that some strategies may agree more with a given teaching style than others. You may find that your new approach motivates students to seek understanding of course material, as well as gain insight into their own experiences.

References

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Frymier, A. B., & Shulman, G. M. (1995). “What’s in it for me?”: Increasing content relevance to enhance students’ motivation. Communication Education,44(1), 40-50.

Muddiman, A., & Bainbridge Frymier, A. (2009). What is relevant? Student perceptions of relevance strategies in college classrooms. Communication Studies60(2), 130-146.

Sass, E. J. (1989). Motivation in the college classroom: What students tell us. Teaching of psychology16(2), 86-88.

Weaver, R. L., & Cottrell, H. W. (1988). Motivating students: Stimulating and sustaining student effort. College Student Journal.

Power Over or Power To?

The-Teaching-Professor-Newsletter-Cover-ImageHas the balance of power changed in classrooms full of millennial students?

Jennifer Waldeck, in a short article in The Teaching Professor*, “Reflections on Teacher Power in the Contemporary Classroom,” argues that current student behaviors challenge “traditional assumptions” about the power teachers have to influence students.  She lists conventional ways of influencing students:

          • Using “rewards” or “punishments”
          • Presenting oneself as an “expert” that students should unquestioningly follow
          • Assuming that being a “teacher” necessarily carries “authority”
          • Leveraging “good relationships with students as a way of encouraging them to comply”
          • “Managing their classrooms” to “force students to be on task,” by not allowing the use of personal electronics, talking, lateness, etc.

In her student-focused, group-based research, Waldeck finds that today’s students do not “identify with us,” do not seek out relationship with professors in order to deepen knowledge.  She finds that students increasingly view teachers as “employees paid to transmit knowledge as a commodity,” and that they intentionally resist “teacher influence.”  While these findings are certainly discouraging, Waldeck suggests that this discouragement can be channeled to re-define our understanding and use of power in the classroom.  Waldeck advocates for re-thinking power by shifting the balance from trying to influence students and mold them from above to seeing ourselves as collaborating with them, seeing the work from their vantage point, and connecting points of relevance in daily life.

The kind of power she calls for “is not about bossing students around” but “about influencing students to engage, motivating them to learn, and challenging them to connect the dots of course content to their lives.”  This power to influence deep learning, she claims, cannot be “mandate[d] with a policy or a statement in the syllabus.”

Instead of managing the classroom to structure student behavior, Waldeck encourages teachers to:

  • “Influence students to engage […] the material […] in the midst of” the many other pursuits they are involved in.
  • Rather than expecting students to value “knowledge for knowledge’s sake,” show students how a comprehension of the subject matter “will help them secure employment, generate income, or contribute to some other applied outcome.”
  • “Influence students by being as considerate of them as we wish them to be of us.”

Rather than viewing teacher power as a given force for students to bow to, Waldeck shifts the focus to ask how teachers may find the power to influence students through truly engaging them.  Many studies about effective student learning support this shift.  The authors of How Learning Works demonstrate that students are most engaged, and better retain what they learn when they are motivated by their own goals and values, rather than punishments and rewards.  Ken Bain’s study of What the Best College Teachers Do finds that “Trust,” an integral element of generating student engagement, “depend[s] on the teacher’s rejection of power over them” (70).  Student learning that moves beyond mere completion of tasks cannot be brought about by force, but by teachers asking “how they can help students understand all the beauty and joy of the enterprise before them” (50).

What Waldeck’s “Reflections” do not address is the ways in which these “conventional assumptions” about power in the classroom are not only challenged by contemporary student behaviors, but also by other pedagogies which critique an authoritarian model of power in the classroom as being ineffective or unjust.  Examples of such critiques of power might be found in critical, or liberation, pedagogy, like the foundational Pedagogy of the Oppressed, or feminist theorists, like bell hooks in Teaching Community.  Works such as these examine how the classroom can re-inscribe unjust social stratifications and divisions, and they offer possibilities for how it can dismantle divisive structures.  Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach argues that educational structures governed by power over students are really governed by fear.

Fear, according to Palmer, creates structures of power that divide classrooms, students from teachers and from each other, to “protect us against one of the deepest fears at the heart of being human—the fear of having a live encounter with alien ‘otherness’” (37).  It is “to avoid a live encounter with students,” that teachers “hide behind their podiums, their credentials, their power” (38).  Yet, Palmer reminds us, the “creative conflict” brought about by the meeting of “divergent truths” has power to change both teacher and students.

Consider having a conversation, first with yourself, then with your students, about how power operates in your classroom.  Engage students in an analysis of the dynamics of authority and how authority shapes knowledge.  Invite them to share power, to analyze the power structures in the syllabus and co-create rules for learning together.  Talk with them about how power might be shared in the classroom to forge connections among the class community and the course material.

Waldeck, and other thinkers on power in the classroom, remind us of an important aspect of teaching:  power is, well, powerful.  The way we wield or share the authority we have over our students has a dramatic impact on the community of learning enabled (or disabled) in our classrooms.  The agency we share with or withhold from our students has the capacity to ignite learning or to quash its flames.

*The Reinert Center has an institutional membership to The Teaching Professor available to SLU faculty and graduate students.  Please email cttl@slu.edu for instructions on how to access it.

 

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Bain, K.  (2004). What the best college teachers do.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press.

Friere, Paolo.  (2004). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

hooks, bell.  (2003). Teaching community:  A pedagogy of hope.  New York:  Routledge.

Palmer, P. (1998).  The courage to teacher:  Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life.  San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Waldeck, J. (August/September 2014).  “Reflections on teacher power in the contemporary classroom.” 28(7), 1,4.

 

Image courtesy of http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/the-teaching-professor/

What’s on our minds: How current events can help inform our approach to teaching and serving students

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

With the recent events in Ferguson, many educators have been looking to find useful resources to help teach about race, racism, inequality, and justice.

In response, Marcia Chatelain, a historian of African-American life and culture at Georgetown University, created the Twitter hashtag, #Fergusonsyllabus. Since the hashtag’s creation, there have been hundreds of ideas shared by educators across many disciplines.

Rebecca Schuman, education columnist for Slate.com recently wrote a piece about the #Fergusonsyllabus hashtag stating, “The immediacy and importance of the Ferguson syllabus is another useful reminder that the academic world and the so-called ‘real world’ are actually the same world (2014).”

Over the last few years, many other hashtags like the #Fergusonsyllabus hashtag have helped establish Twitter as a useful resource for educators. More importantly, the use of the hashtag serves as a subtle but significant reminder for how educational technology can provide learning experiences interconnected with current events.

There are many education-related hashtags available to provide educators with a useful destination for dialogue, resources, and ideas. Below are just a few examples of hashtags where users can share ideas and resources, as well as help connect educators interested in the same discipline or topic. Although there are many hashtags devoted to a specific academic discipline, below are a few related to pedagogy:

  1. #ntchat (new teachers)

  2. #highered (regarding higher education)

  3. #stem (science, technology, engineering, mathematics instruction)

  4. #flipclass (flipped classroom teachers)

  5. #blendchat (blended learning)

  6. #edtech (educational technology)

  7. #digped (digital pedagogy)

  8. #Education (general education news)

  9. #phdchat (resource for PhD students)

  10. #pedagogy (teaching strategies)

To learn more about the #Fergusonsyllabus, visit the following articles:

Chatelain, M. (2014). How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson. The Atlantic. Retrieved 8 September 2014, from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/08/how-to-teach-kids-about-whats-happening-in-ferguson/379049/

GONCHAR, K. (2014). The Death of Michael Brown: Teaching About Ferguson. The Learning Network. Retrieved 8 September 2014, from http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/03/the-death-of-michael-brown-teaching-about-ferguson/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Schuman, R. (2014). The Birth of the #FergusonSyllabus in American Colleges. Slate Magazine. Retrieved 8 September 2014, from http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/09/ferguson_and_college_education_sociology_and_history_professors_teach_the.html?wpsrc=fol_tw

Van Noorden, R. (2014). Online collaboration: Scientists and the social network. Nature, 512(7513), 126-129. doi:10.1038/512126a

Channeling Student Motivation

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

Student motivation can be an elusive creature.  Many of us have come up with the perfect lesson plan to convey the most exciting subject matter that our discipline offers…only to look out upon a sea of lifeless faces.  Yet, when we step out into the sunshine and see students tossing Frisbees and exchanging ideas on the lawn, we know that they are full of energy.  How do we channel that energy into the classroom?

The authors of How Learning Works: Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching take principles from the science of learning and distill them into practical strategies to help channel student motivation.   Here’s a glimpse of three of these learning principles and the practical strategies that flow from them.

1) Students are motivated by “personal investment” toward reaching a goal.

Students have many competing goals, often in competition with our goals for them.   At any given time in our classes, students may “seek to acquire knowledge and skills, make new friends, demonstrate to others that they are intelligent, gain a sense of independence, and have fun.”  Our goals for our students are focused around their learning.  We may aim for them to gain understanding that comes from “intellectual risk-taking,” or see connections between the subject matter and everyday life. By getting to know our students, and learning what they value, we can connect the learning goals we have for them with the areas they are already invested in.

2) “When confronted by multiple goals,” students will pursue that which they most value.   

We can use this commonsense reality in our classrooms by connecting for students the intrinsic value of our subject matter—those inherently pleasurable habits of thinking and questioning in our disciplines—with the extrinsic value of a college education—the good grades, the path to a profession, the ability to connect with others, which students often focus on.  The authors suggest these strategies to connect the intrinsic value of our subject matter with what students value:

  • Connect material to student interest.  How is the material you are teaching relevant to them?  How can you bring that relevance into the classroom?
  • Provide authentic, real-world tasks.  Can you create assignments that require students to use the knowledge of the course to solve or enter into real-world problems?  Engaging in these assignments will build their understanding of the material as intrinsically important to them.  Connecting them with real-life situations can also connect with their other values, such as making professional connections.
  • Show how your course is relevant to other academic experiences.  While you may see the connections between your course and other courses students may take, they may not be making those connections.
  • Demonstrate the relevance of the skills they are learning to their future professional lives.   What are they learning that they will carry away with them?  How can you show them that these skills are important for their future careers?

3) Students are most “motivated to pursue goals and outcomes that they believe that can successfully achieve.” 

In order for students to believe that they can achieve the goal of doing well in a course, they need to believe a) that doing the work will result in doing well in the course, b) that doing the work will require substantial, challenging effort, c) that they are “capable of doing that work,” and d) that they are supported in their efforts.  This principle calls for teachers to achieve the tricky balance of helping students expect that they have the capacity to do well, while at the same time challenging them enough so that they need to really put themselves into the work.  Challenging but attainable is a difficult balance to strike.  Too challenging may tip them into discouragement; too easy to attain may let them slip into apathy.   The authors suggest the following strategies to help students build “positive expectancy”:

  • Align your learning objectives, assessments, and “instructional strategies,” and be transparent about what these are.  Let students clearly know what the goals of the course are, and how those align with what you are doing on a daily basis.
  • “Identify an appropriate level of challenge.”  In order for students to feel challenged, you need to know what their prior knowledge and capabilities are.  Give early, informal diagnostics to assess the level of knowledge and skill of the class.  Talk to colleagues about what their students have been able to do in similar courses.
  • “Provide early success opportunities.”  Student expectations that they will succeed are based on doing well in the past.  Short, early assignments—with feedback from you—can show students the level of effort they need to put forth in order to succeed.
  • Provide Rubrics.  Explicitly represent your expectations for any given assignment.  Rubrics show visually what characterizes work of a given quality.  They also may help you to establish for yourself what you are looking for—what are the components of the task, what are the expectations for performance.
  • Provide “targeted feedback.”  Feedback is most useful when timely and constructive.  Give feedback as soon as possible to the performance/task, so that it is fresh in their minds.  Provide students an opportunity to do something with the feedback—revise or reflect.  Giving them the option (or mandate) to revise a paper or a providing a structured reflection on exam performance, such as an exam wrapper, can help students to process feedback.

Tap into your students’ energy by showing them how your course is relevant to their academic, professional, and personal lives.  Motivate students to rise to the challenge of your course by showing them clearly what your objectives are, making it clear what they need to do to meet those objectives, and giving them support along the way.

 

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

See also the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation webpage on learning and teaching principles:  http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/principles/index.html.

Context Matters: Understanding Today’s Students and the Implications for Teaching

3736245238_fb8b0ba2b2_mIf we kept a running total of words we use in the Reinert Center, “context” would without a doubt be near the top of the list.  It appears early in conversations with the teachers we work with, through questions such as: “So tell me about your course. Who are your students? What can they typically do coming into your course?  What are their challenges? Who do you want them to be and what do you want them to be able to do when they leave your course?”

Given that so much depends on the context of the learner, we are pleased to announce our theme for the 2014-15 school year, “Teaching Today’s Students.” We hope that the theme will facilitate a campus conversation to help all teachers better understand the mindset, interests, and aptitudes – in a word, context – of all learners.

It is easy to gather demographics about today’s students. The annual Mindset List from Beloit College is an interesting place to start for trivia such as the fact that this incoming class was born the year of the Oklahoma City bombings. The popular media’s view is also easy to summarize: a generation drowning in student debt with fewer job prospects than ever before, glued to technology that shortens their attention span.

Closer to home, the Saint Louis University Fact Book published in Fall 2013 tells us that our students are increasingly international, female and socioeconomically diverse.

So what does all this contextual information mean for the classroom? How many of the generalizations are true for this post-millennial generation of students? What else should we know about these learners? What is your shared context with your students? Which teaching strategies connect these students with the learning in your courses?

We invite you to spend the year with us exploring what it means to “Teach Today’s Students” through a series of conversations, workshops and seminars. The complete schedule is available here.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com.

Teaching in a Time of Crisis: Moving from Reaction to Response

theRiver

by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Even before the events of last week landed Ferguson (and, by extension, St. Louis), Missouri, on the national stage, I had been thinking about the distinction between reaction and response.  The two words are fairly similar in meaning; some may argue that they are roughly the same thing.  But when confronted with difficult topics and experiences that require us to hold multiple (sometimes even conflicting) views in our minds at once, I think we do well to consider their subtle differences.

To react feels more one-sided to me, and more instinctual.  Less planned and more spontaneous than response, but also focused (whether intentionally or not) on exerting a force over something or someone.

But to respond feels more deliberate, the result of a discernment process through which we consider possible actions in response to a stimulus and choose the one best suited to achieve a particular effect.  In this way, it feels more like dialogue to me, the interaction of multiple perspectives that lead one to a clear answer to the question, “How shall I proceed?”   Indeed, as the OED confirms, the origins of the word involve answering a question, engaging in a correspondence.

In the context of a university – and especially a Jesuit university – we are called to empower our students to move from a reactive relationship to the world beyond our walls to a responsive one.  We are called to educate the “whole person,” to form women and men who can be in solidarity with others.  If we are to help them make sense of our flawed and broken communities, and to find their own foothold for advancing the cause of justice in those communities, then we are called to help them move from reaction to response.

One way to move from reaction to response is through reflection.  Crucial to Ignatian spirituality (and therefore, to Ignatian pedagogy), the act of reflection provides the space and occasion for experiencing our own initial reactions and interrogating them before we act.  It requires us to examine where our reactions come from, what personal experiences and feelings trigger them, and what kind of consequences might accompany them.  Reflection also slows us down, teaches our brain to take a pause and creates a space in which we may listen for alternative views.

In preparing to teach this fall, give some thought to ways you might help students move from reaction to response.  As our region and our nation again roll up their collective sleeves and set about the difficult work of rebuilding broken relationships and broken trust, let us aim to model responsive dialogue, not reactive monologue, and to make visible for students the importance of tackling hard, real-world challenges with reflection and response.

Beginning with Accessibility

Printby Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center I had a paradigm shifting experience a couple of years ago. I dabble in web development and have built a number of websites over the years for friends, companies, and for my own projects. My friend Jay asked if I could build a basic website where he could showcase his music but be able to navigate and update the website himself. I enjoy building websites, but I loathe managing and updating them, so this sounded like a good idea to me. But, this was going to be a new challenge for me; I liked to think I build accessible websites, but I have never been held accountable for accessibility. Jay’s website would have to be 100% accessible to a screen reader because he has been blind for the past forty years. I have watched Jay navigate his computer and music recording software using the JAWS screen reader. Or, more accurately, listened to him navigate because he doesn’t have a computer monitor. It’s really quite impressive. Listening to him navigate his website really emphasized the pieces that were easily accessible, and the ones that were hidden from his screen reader. It took about six weeks or so of building and testing to get all the features worked out. As I was building the website, my work-world and my outside-of-work-world collided when I had the thought, “Would Jay be able to access the course materials for my class?” Universal Design in education is really just about giving all individuals equal opportunities to learn. As I started looking through my course materials, both online and traditional courses, I got pretty overwhelmed thinking about how I could go about making all my materials accessible to all people. After a few moments of panic, I decided that while I may not know enough to make all my materials accessible to all people, I certainly know enough to make them more accessible to more people. You gotta start somewhere. And a good place to start is looking at the three principles of universal design and sharing some ideas of how they can be expressed in education. The first principle of universal design (UD) is providing multiple means of representation. This is also sometimes referred to as the “what” of UD because it’s how we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear, and read. This can function in an educational environment by having multiple means of accessing the same information. For example, creating short videos to help explain confusing processes can give students a reference point for when they are squirrelled away in their residence halls, trying to make sense of their homework. But, a person with a hearing impairment isn’t going to be able to benefit from that video as much. So to applying the multiple means of representation to this instructional video would mean creating a full transcript of the video and making it downloadable. This is also a benefit to language learners as they can revisit the lesson at their own pace, or for students who study in places less conducive to playing videos such as a break room at work. It’s the same information, just multiple ways of accessing it. The second principle of universal design is providing multiple means of action and expression. This is sometimes referred to as the “how” of UD because it’s how we organize and express our ideas through strategic tasks like writing an essay or solving a math problem. An example of the second principle in action would be offering multiple ways to fulfill the requirements of an assignment. Having the option to create a presentation or write a paper as opposed to just writing a paper can offer some learners (like those with dyslexia) the opportunity to express what they have learned in a more fluent manner without getting as distracted by the mechanics of the writing process. This principle is not about giving some learners an “easier” assignment than others, it’s about leveling the playing field among learners and allowing each person to fluently express what he or she has learned. The third principle of universal design is providing multiple means of engagement, and can be referred to as the “why” of UD because it deals with how learners are challenged, excited, interested, and motivated to keep engaged. Having a system for anonymous classroom responses (iClickers, Poll Everywhere, or even Twitter) can offer learners whose cultures’ view students speaking up in class as disrespectful an opportunity to offer real time feedback in a less intimidating manner. As a Jesuit University we strive for education of the whole person, and universal design can be a practical and powerful piece of that vision. I know approaching the topic of universal design can somehow be both encouraging and intimidating at the same time, but like I said earlier, you gotta start somewhere. If you are interested in making your courses more accessible to more people, Colorado State University has a very practical checklist to help you get started as you look through your courses. It’s called “How Do You Teach?” And if you would like to dig deep into universal design check out some of the experts in it at the CAST, (Center for Applied Special Technology) website here: http://cast.org/index.html. And lastly, the Reinert Center at Saint Louis University has also developed an inclusive teaching resources webpage that includes UD, but also various other resources to develop an inclusive classroom.

Teaching without Talking

3503494291_651161974f_mby Gina Merys, Assistant Director, Reinert Center

In a recent article, “The Silent Professor,” Joseph Finckel reflects on his experience teaching on a day when he had lost his voice. Of course, the experience of teaching without a voice is not a singular one; most of us have dozens of examples of teaching while ill or incapacitated in some small way.  With the quick pace of the academic calendar, these circumstances are nearly unavoidable.

What does make these experiences useful and interesting to contemplate are the ways in which we can use them to refocus our attention on student-centered learning. There are many ways we can keep the learning center on us as teacher even when we do not have a voice by writing on the board, using power point slides, or the like, but doing that misses an opportunity to realign the learning centered on the students.  Here are two activities to consider whether you cannot speak or just decide you will not speak:

 

Create impromptu student led discussions

Ask all students to write out one open-ended question about the day’s topic and sign their name.  Once you have collected all the questions randomly choose one question and write the student’s name on the board.  That student is responsible for facilitating the discussion on that question.  If the discussion wanes, choose another question.  It helps to set time limits on discussions, such as 10 minutes per question, so that students practice their facilitation and discussion skills, while also making time for several questions.

Plan a set of learning experiences that build on one another

Create a set of slides that gives the directions for each task or each part of the experience. The information on the slides may include all of the most important information, but leaves enough room for students to “experience full discovering, struggling with, or working through a question or concept.” Project each slide at the appropriate time in the process to keep students moving through the stages of the experience to the next task.

During these or any other activities you choose to undertake without speaking, using the full range of “physical motions available to you, particularly those that communicate a desire for elaboration or that suggest a relationship between what two students have said” such as nods, shrugs, clapping, snapping, and hand gestures can help you to assist in facilitation or signal something important to students about what they are learning from each other.  Additionally, as Finckel points out, “your capacity to observe what happens in your classroom will increase exponentially when you relieve yourself of the pressure to speak.” This gives you an increased ability to read students’ facial expressions and body language, and to listen to what they say to each other. Teaching without talking can change not just the focus of learning in the class, but also might improve your focus as well.

Finkel, Joseph. “The Silent Professor.” The Teaching Professor. 28:6, June/July 2014.

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/alisonlongrigg/

Using the Pomodoro Technique to Help You and Your Students Be More Productive

Pomodoro Techniqueby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The Pomodoro Technique can be a useful approach to help dedicate time and energy to a specific task.  Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s, the technique has become a popular method to set goals, boost productivity, and improve concentration.

Named after Cirillo’s tomato shaped timer, the technique involves working in 25-minute intervals (or pomodoros), followed a 5 minute break. After the break, participants start another 25 minute pomodoro.  After 4 pomodoros are complete, a person takes a longer, 20-minute break.

Another key aspect to the Pomodoro Technique is keeping record of the the amount of pomodoros done to complete a specific task.   Cirillo states keeping inventory provides an “objective metric” that helps identify what activities need to take priority and what activities can be amended, combined, or eliminated (2009).

For faculty, the Pomodoro Technique can be a useful time management tool to help balance the amount of time spent on each students’ work.  Using the technique can help faculty prioritize feedback on assignments and prevent grading “burn-out.”

As self-regulated learning becomes a bigger focus to help today’s learners (Goleman, 2006; Nilson, 2013; Tough, 2012; Zimmerman, 2002), faculty can incorporate the technique into class assignments.  Students can record the amount of pomodoros needed to complete class assignments in order to assess their writing and studying habits.   The process can help students with goal setting and self-monitoring as well as help students develop useful time management skills.

Over the last couple of years, I have found the technique helpful to help prepare for comprehensive exams, write research articles, and to remain mindful of how much time I am staring at a computer screen.

Although the Pomodoro Technique has been discussed on many websites and “lifehack” blogs, there has been a rapid growth in the amount of apps and tools devoted to the approach.  While I prefer to simply use the timer on my iPhone, below are a few examples that are free, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing:

 

For iPhone:

Flat Tomato – Time Management:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/flat-tomato-time-management/id719462746?mt=8

For Android:

Clear Focus – A Pomodoro Timer:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=personal.andreabasso.clearfocus&hl=en

For Apple OS:

Add a Pomodoro time to the taskbar on your computer: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/activity-timer-pomodoro-edition/id882713754?mt=12

Tips for Sustaining Collaborative Learning


by Dipti Subramaniam, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Reinert Center

Implementing collaborative learning in the classroom is an exciting process. However, one can quickly learn that incorporating new efforts can be a daunting task for many instructors, especially for first timers. Here are four useful tips for sustaining collaborative learning in the classroom:

1. Plan

  • Think about when and how you would like to introduce a specific type of group work (e.g., large group discussions, small group panels, partnering, mind-mapping, etc.) during each phase of the course.
  • Example: For example, in an instance when an instructor is interested in gauging students’ understanding of the topic and the type of connections they are making, mind-mapping can be a useful collaborative activity. For mind-mapping, pick one topic and ask students to write up/list as many ideas connecting to the main topic. Take at least 20 minutes (depending on size of class) to list their ideas on a large white board.

2. Experiment

  • Do not be afraid to try new approaches early on in the semester. This generally will also give you an idea of what keeps the students interested, engaged, and involved.
  • Example: Do not wait until mid-semester to start using group activities. Change one traditional lecture to incorporate a different type of group activity within the first few weeks of class. Be sure to prepare students with expectations beforehand, especially if they will need to come to class with specific preparation.

3. Set rules

  • Establish appropriate guidelines and evaluation tools for contribution and participation for group activities as well as assignments.
  • Example: Ask students to sign a contract (i.e. Memorandum of Agreement) stating that they will be responsible in completing the specific duties expected for their particular role in the group activities. Also, using evaluation tools such as self-assessment and peer assessment forms helps student learning and accountability in collaborative learning.

4. Reward

  • Create a structure that allows students to be recognized for their contributions and accomplishments.
  • Example: Take the time after group activities to acknowledge students’ effort and work. As the instructor, you can acknowledge your students by providing specific feedback, words of encouragement, and support to motivate them as they work together.

groups of students working together with a marker board full of different colored post it notes.

Image source:

“Teamwork Win.” Flickr. Yahoo! Web. 22 July 2014. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/goldberg/8090949780/in/photolist-fKQiPx-djYeu9-fJHY4s-fJrrjz-fJrrjB-6DooxG-fKQiKD-2J9J8G-fPMrk5-fPMr9W-bwPCM-8PaNHU-7A1y5v-8QSYWZ-4BQ4RJ-fJrr4V-4mnXV9-fJHXxQ-fL7UwU-fKQjfR-fKQiSp-fJrqHz-fJHYf9-fJrqQx-fL7U7s-fJrq6D-fJHXqC-fJHXrJ-fJrrgH-fJHXJq-fJHXyU-fJHYco-fJHXX5-fKQjWp-7VjTLs-2JATjc-9kd6eQ-eUrmgj-ioMHVR-9mD6Hr-bsiJnY-6rz2kr-64qaiW-bhrAqD-4Y4M66-xkiu4-2J9LwN-XfkEJ-4fUspW-ioMnEm/>.