The Office of Faculty Development

February 2015 Tuesday Tips

3 February 2015:

Do your students know your marital status? Your pets’ names? Whether or not you’re vegan? Most of us have used stories from our personal lives to help illustrate a concept and know the power those stories can have to build trust, make connections, and revive student interest in a boggy lecture.  I’ve also seen warm and personal video introductions in online courses—including several with cats—with similar effects.

But these narratives can also create danger zones of vulnerability and discomfort for both the instructor and the students. Where’s the line between the self-disclosure that creates genuine human relationships with students and the over-sharing that becomes counter-productive, awkward, or inappropriate?

Turns out there’s research on this that supports clear and sensible guidelines, as reported in this recent post on Pedagogy Unbound(opens in new window). Student learning is positively linked to faculty self-disclosure so long as (1) we don’t do too much of it (browse Rate My Professors for evidence that students may not find our personal lives quite as fascinating as we do); (2) we observe boundaries (no sexual exploits, no religious proselytizing); and (3) we keep it relevant to the course material. This last one, I think, is the key. Last weekend I got to offer a workshop for a campus group and told a story about a recent event at my kids’ high school as the basis for a quick case study.  It was by far the best part of the presentation. The story was real, local, and personal; the subject pertained directly to the workshop; and the students got to make connections to their own experiences and the mission of their organization. Win, win, win.

Also, brevity is a virtue. Please note the 329 word count for today’s tip.

  •  Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

10 February 2015:

One way in which my teaching has changed over the years is my increasing use of rubrics as a grading and feedback tool. I used to associate them with the “miserable love of system” with which the 18th century philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher disdained the prevailing rationalism of his time. The rubric grid seemed to me to unnecessarily mechanize feedback and homogenize the students’ work, to disqualify any surprising, coloring-outside-the-lines approach to the given assignment. But I have come around, at first out of desperation to save a moment or two of grading time, later because I came to see their pedagogical value and their unlimited flexibility. Because really, a rubric is nothing more than a list of things that make for good work on a given project, and these can be defined however you like.

Rubric can be elaborate matrices that define multiple desired features of an assignment and assign points to varying levels of success in achieving them, or they can be as simple as a checklist of required elements. Developing a good rubric can help us clarify what we really want students to do, help us maintain consistency in evaluation, give students a sense of what to aim for and encourage them to reflect on their work, and actually increase the quality of feedback while reducing time spent writing comments.

Here are a few tips for using rubrics well:

  • Create the rubric when you design the assignment so that your instructions for the project or paper or presentation or discussion post are aligned with the desired outcome. If you’re looking for creativity and innovation, say so.
  • Give students the rubric before they begin the assignment. Even better, engage them in the process of creating the rubric, or of weighting its different elements.
  • If you can, personalize the rubric with a comment or two. Under a “visual presentation” heading, for instance, you might simply note “nice graphic—very effective!”
  •  Use student-friendly language. You know what “complies with discipline- and genre-specific conventions and demonstrates language fluency” means, but your students might not.

And because your colleagues have been at this a while, you needn’t reinvent all the wheels. Your department may have common rubrics for given learning outcomes, and here’s a link to our campus General Education assessment resources that include rubrics for written communication, oral communication, and critical thinking.  The AAC&U VALUE initiative has also developed a rich collection of rubrics(opens in new window) on everything from informational literacy to intercultural knowledge and competence.  These offer models or at least starting points for the creation of your own assignment-specific rubrics.  And remember that rubrics can be created in or imported into Blackboard for online assessment.

  • Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

17 February 2015:

You’ve heard of running with scissors? At this point in the semester it can feel more like spinning with butter knives:  So much activity, so few things actually completed. The relative of autonomy of faculty schedules is something we should be thankful for every day, but it can also make it challenging to distribute our energy to the right things in the right proportions.  Having spent literally hours on a PowerPoint presentation for a single, not-that-complicated class session (thank you, Google Images), and then wondered why I never finished that grant application, I wear my own scarlet P for Procrastination, or maybe Prioritization-ineptitude.
Here are three tips for getting a grip on time management.

  1. Identify your biggest time vacuum and find a way to fix it. For instance, if each incoming e-mail chime is a Pavlovian stimulus, silence the alerts while you’re working on important tasks.  Or try limiting your attention to e-mail to one or two blocks of time each day. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review(opens in new window) calls this approach “e-mail budgeting” and offers good advice for how to make it work. Maybe your biggest time sink is, like mine, class prep. Try setting a time limit on that, too. When time is up, it’s time to teach, ready or not. Odds are, you really will be ready, even if the more perfect PowerPoint graphic has to wait for next semester’s iteration.
  2. Adopt a time management system. Options include David Allen’s massively popular Getting Things Done(opens in new window); the procrastination-targeting if unappealingly titled Eat That Frog(opens in new window)and The Five Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity(opens in new window)reviewed yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education(opens in new window). If you’re a fan of digital tools, you might like timing apps designed to maximize your focus on given projects like 30/30(opens in new window) and Tracking Time(opens in new window).
  3. Protect at least 15 minutes a day for the work that fuels your passion for your discipline.  Truly, just 15 minutes. That’s the theory behind Laura Belcher’s Write Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks(opens in new window), currently in use by two faculty writing groups on campus, and it appears to be working.  Whether it’s writing a book or article, developing a grant proposal or conference paper, or working on a project with disciplinary colleagues across the country, set aside inviolable blocks of time to attend to it, even if the longer blocks are few. Just opening the file every day will keep your head in the project and nourish this vital but easy-to-lose aspect of your professional identity.
  •  Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

24 February 2015:

From “The Flipped Classroom: Not Just for STEM:” Flipping a class isn’t an all or nothing affair.  Turning just one lecture into a set of activities students do before class—typically reading and/or watching a video presentation of the day’s material—frees up class time for hands-on activities that require students to dig more deeply into the material using higher-order thinking skills—applying, analyzing, and evaluating, not just remembering.  Students might work in teams on a case study or analyze data using material or theory introduced in the pre-class activity.  In all of this work, the instructor can circulate among the students, checking for comprehension and helping deepen reflection. Keys to the success of a flipped session are that the pre-class activity has a scored component both to ensure students will do it and to set up the in-class activity; and that in-class work both use and extend the out-of-class material.  Many instructors require the students to generate a question based on what they’ve viewed, or open the class with a quiz.  It takes time and care to build an effective flipped class, so taking it one session at a time makes sense. And those of us who love our lectures needn’t give up all or even most of them to take advantage of this powerful technique.  Our ATEC Instructional Technology Consultants(opens in new window) are available to help create flipped classroom activities. Thanks to faculty presenters Denise Minor and Sarah Anderson!

From “Approaches to Learning and Teaching (Through) Writing:” Involve students in the process of defining good writing before they begin writing. Deb McCabe (CMAS) invites the class to generate a list of traits they admire in what they read and puts them on the board—understandable, engaging, easy-to-follow, etc.  Having done this before, she knows that the traits are likely to fall into certain categories so she lists them in columns (without identifying headings). At the end of the exercise, she turns to the columns of traits and notes how clearly the students have identified key areas like structure, purpose and audience, clarity, mechanics, content richness, and voice.  Not only are students now aware of the complexity of what makes for good writing (it’s not the same in a science journal and a political blog), but because they have been engaged in setting the terms, they are also more likely to think about these traits as they begin their own writing processes. Thanks to faculty presenters Deb McCabeChris Fosen, and Kim Jaxon!

  •  Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.