Reinert Center Supports Research on Teaching and Learning

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214Thanks to the vision of Dr. Elena Bray Speth, the Reinert Center’s Mary L. Stephen Faculty Fellow for Scholarly Teaching, on Friday, October 17, 2014, the Reinert Center hosted the first annual Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Symposium.

The symposium showcased IRB-approved research being conducted on teaching and learning by 22 faculty members and graduate students from across the university on a wide range of topics including: aspects of the flipped classroom, auto-ethnography, assessment, and disciplinary fluency.

The symposium culminated in the 9th annual James H. Korn Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award ceremony. After Dr. Debra Lohe, Director of the Reinert Center, made opening remarks to the over 40 people in attendance, Dr. Korn presented the award to this year’s awardee, Dr. Michelle Lorenzini from the Department of Political Science.  Dr. Lorenzini shared an overview of her scholarly activities in the area of teaching and learning for global awareness and engaged citizenship.

Each year, a committee of faculty chooses the winner of the Korn Award from a pool of faculty nominations. In 2006, the Center established this award in recognition of Dr. Korn’s many contributions to research on teaching and learning. Professor emeritus in Psychology, Dr. Korn was deeply committed to scholarly teaching; he was also a member of the faculty committee that first established the Center in 1997.

For more information about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and to see the list of past winners of the Korn award and guidelines for nominations, please visit the Symposium page here.

To talk with someone in the Reinert Center about how you might study what’s happening in your own classes, please contact us at cttl@slu.edu.

“Metanoia” in PhD Mentoring

by Kenneth L. Parker, Steber Professor in Theological Studies, Department of Theological Studies

Metanoia is a transliteration of the Greek word, μετάνοια, and means “change of mind, repentance, regret.” While the Greek word means far more than the English terms “repentance” or “regret” can convey, the expression “change of mind” is too vague to carry the force of its intent. I prefer Matthew Arnold’s commentary on Jesus’s use of the word in the gospels: “the main part was something more active and fruitful, the setting up [of] an immense new inward movement for obtaining the rule of life … a change of the inner man.” (Literature and Dogma, 1873, 196).

Professors who teach in doctoral programs naturally associate this change of the inner person with the PhD students we are shaping into scholars and teachers. We seek to refashion their perspectives on our discipline and exhort them to shed former ways of engaging our intellectual project. We hope they will respond to our vision for the work to be done. Whether we acknowledge it or not, there is a form of “evangelization” in our intellectual work, and our PhD students are disciples who place themselves in our care, so that they may be prepared to carry on the work we have embraced.

Yet it may be important to step back from our role as mentors and consider our own need for metanoia. When I began teaching in my department’s PhD program in Historical Theology, I adopted the mentoring style modeled for me at Cambridge University. My supervisor assumed I would come to him when I needed help with my dissertation research. He considered the process of identifying a topic, formulating and implementing a research agenda, and writing dissertation chapters to be a solitary enterprise. I experienced the work as isolating and lonely. But I persevered, found a way forward, and finished my work in record time. That model worked for me. Yet my efforts to replicate that pedagogical style at SLU had mixed results. Students often required multiple extensions, and one dissertation student failed to complete in the maximum time allowed by the Graduate School. I felt mired in a way of mentoring that did not yield the desired results.

Seven years ago something changed. I confronted a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge was a student who had been traumatized by the isolating experience of dissertation research. The opportunity was a publisher’s solicitation of a volume of essays based on conference presentations I had made with a group of students. In the months and years that followed a new pattern of mentoring emerged, a method that I call the apprentice workshop method. I learned that by organizing a one-hour weekly pro-seminar with my dissertation students, we all thrived. They not only overcame isolation that had debilitated and impeded their progress, but also became productive scholars and teachers—publishing articles, presenting at conferences, and gaining employment. I became more productive, too, because my students became the first, best critics of my rough drafts. We learned from each other. The experience has changed me. My experience of metanoia required an openness to alter deeply engrained patterns of mentoring. The process has been life-altering, and I am deeply grateful for it.

 

Ken Parker2Kenneth Parker is a Steber Professor in Theological Studies in the Department of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University (1992-present), with a PhD in Divinity from the University of Cambridge (1984) and post-doctoral studies at the University of Fribourg (1987-1990).  He received the 2013 Donald G. Brennan Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring, and he currently serves as a Reinert Center Faculty Fellow.

Student Engagement Technique: Liven Up Class Discussions with the IF-AT Form

IF-AT testBy Elizabeth Sweeny Block, Assistant Professor, Department of Theological Studies

Have you ever posed a question to your students only to be met with blank stares and silence?  Have you wondered how you could better facilitate discussion in class?  Have you wished that you could motivate your students to participate in class conversations?  The IF-AT is the answer!

The what!?  What is an “IF-AT?”  IF-AT stands for immediate feedback assessment technique.  Simply put, an IF-AT is a multiple choice quiz.  You create the questions, and your students take the quiz using a pre-made form on which they scratch off their selected answer using a coin or paperclip.  When they have made the right choice, a star appears as they scratch their answer.  If they are wrong, the space is blank, and they keep working to find the correct answer.  Students receive immediate feedback on their quiz this way.

Now you are probably thinking, “How on earth is this going to help my classroom discussions?”  Here’s how!  In my experience, the IF-AT forms are best used in small groups.  At the beginning of the semester, I divide my class into teams that will be in place for the remainder of the term.  In a class I am teaching right now, I have four teams of five students each.  Four to seven students per team works well.  Even if your class is small, one team is all you need!  I create a ten-question multiple choice quiz, which each student completes individually in a matter of minutes.  Then the fun begins!  Each team works together, discussing their answers and deciding which answer is right, with one member in charge of scratching off their answers on the IF-AT form as they go.  If they choose correctly, they see a star on the form.  If they have erred, they keep working together, talking out the answers, until they get it right.  They get partial credit for choosing the correct answer on the second or third try.

The benefits of this technique are numerous.  Students build camaraderie.  They work in the same teams throughout the semester, getting to know each other and learning how to navigate the course material together.  In order to complete the quiz, they must talk together about the reading assignment.  By talking together in a small group first, they are much more likely to participate meaningfully in the large group conversation after the quiz ends.  This small-group setting is a safe place to test out ideas and make mistakes and to admit that some part (or all) of the reading was hard to understand.  Quiet students are often much less reluctant to speak up in this setting, especially when they realize week after week that they do know the right answer.  Vocal students realize that they ought to let others contribute to the dialogue, especially when those others seem to be getting the answers right.  The discussion often begins with more of a vote: “How many of you picked C?”  “Great, let’s go with C.”  As the weeks pass, the discussion deepens, and students give a rationale for why they chose C instead of A, even trying to convince others that this answer, and not that one, is right.  These spontaneous team quizzes, which I give no more than once a week, also hold students accountable for the reading.  No one wants to be the student who didn’t do the reading and therefore cannot help her teammates with the quiz!

From the perspective of the professor, it is a useful way to prepare for class.  As I create these multiple choice quizzes, I am forced to think about the most important points in the reading, the challenging arguments that need explanation, and the passages and quotes that warrant discussion.  I base my questions on these points because I want to ensure that we discuss all of this in class.  Creating the quiz provides a way for me to steer the class conversation.  If you are thinking, “multiple choice quizzes would never work with the material I teach,” fear not!  If I can make this work in theology classes, surely you can make this work for your subject matter!  My questions often look something like this: “Cahill makes all of the following arguments in her essay except…” or I provide a quote and ask, “Which of the following answers best explains the significance of this quote?”  Sometimes I create questions that build bridges between sections of the course: “Smith’s argument is most like which other reading from earlier in the semester?”  There really are ways to make multiple choice quizzes work for a variety of disciplines.  And once you’ve made the quiz, you have it to use again and again in future semesters.

I walk around the room while the teams are working, listening and observing, which prepares me even better for the lecture and discussion to follow.  I get a sense of what was difficult for them, or what they understood with ease, and I can direct the conversation accordingly.  Each team scores their own quiz (no grading for you!), and there is always a little friendly competition among the teams.  Students are excited when they do well.  “Yes, we got them all right!”  We spend time after the quiz reviewing questions that were tricky, and those become jumping off points for the conversation that follows.  If there were questions I just couldn’t ask in multiple choice format, I am able to link those questions to the quiz in order to get students talking.  Students are more relaxed and ready for discussion because the team quiz serves as an ice-breaker.

Team quizzes using the IF-AT work wonders for student engagement and lively class discussion!

Where can you find IF-AT forms and learn more about them, you ask?  Right here: http://www.epsteineducation.com/home/about/

And where can you learn more about team-based learning?  Here: http://www.teambasedlearning.org/

block

Elizabeth Sweeny Block is Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics in the Department of Theological Studies.  She holds a Ph.D. from The University of Chicago in Religious Ethics.  Her research focuses on moral anthropology and conscience.

 

 

Photo of IF-AT form courtesy of Epstein Educational Enterprises

Empowering Students to Use Sources Responsibly: One Small, Powerful Book for Students

harvey_wws2_165x260by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Let me begin with a confessional tale: When I was first assigned Gordon Harvey’s Writing with Sources, I was a young graduate student, preparing to teach an undergraduate course.  The book seemed straightforward enough, and there were many things in it I already knew (e.g., the literal definition of plagiarism, the reasons one “shouldn’t” plagiarize, some grammatical approaches to incorporating others’ ideas and words into my own work).  But there were also some things in it I’d never encountered before, things like “dual submission” and “structural plagiarism,” sins I felt sure I had myself committed as an undergraduate writer without even knowing it.

First, I was horrified; I had been a good student, a rule-follower, a praised writer.  Then, I was curious: how could it be that no one in my own undergraduate education had ever talked about the more subtle “misuses” of sources with me?  After almost 20 years of working with student writers and graduate student teachers of writing, I believe the answer has something to do with the assumptions we make about what students know and don’t know about “writing with sources,” and about what others are teaching them about this important topic.

Originally prepared for first-year writing students at Harvard, Harvey’s book is relevant for students in all disciplines, at all levels of study.  It’s a thin book, just 70 pages in length. Paperback. Inexpensive for a course text.  It is also powerful in its brevity.  Harvey begins with a brief treatment of “The Role of Sources” (chapter 1), examining “the why” of using sources in the first place – and the different roles that different types of sources can play in academic work.  He then moves to a consideration of “Integrating Sources” (chapter 2), looking at some of the different methods for bringing sources to bear in one’s own work.  So far, so good.

It’s really in the third chapter, “Misuse of Sources,” that Harvey gets into the subtleties of what can constitute source “misuse” – and where he offers very practical advice to students on how to avoid these misuses.  And it’s here that he makes explicit many of the concepts related to responsible source use that so many of us leave implied.  Finally, in the last chapter, he considers several different “Styles of Citation,” which may seem, on its face, not especially interesting.  However, what’s useful in this chapter is that it gestures toward citation methods as styles, which creates an opening for further dialogue with students about why different fields of study privilege different methods and what might be at stake, disciplinarily, in those differences.

If you’re looking for a quick, manageable resource to help students better understand the subtleties of source use, this book is a good one.  It can begin a general conversation, allowing you to shape its lessons for your particular field.  While it does help students to understand matters of correctness, perhaps its most powerful quality is that it privileges the role of sources in academic writing – and the reasons behind students’ misuse of sources – in ways that are more likely to empower students to use sources in the ways we most hope they will: to expand their own ideas and arguments and thinking, to enter new dialogues and discourses in responsible ways.

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.