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Read (or rather, view), on Slate.com, one faculty person’s evolving position about teaching with this tool and allowing students to present their work with it.
These annual conversations with the recipients of the Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award are always lively and interesting! Please join us this Tuesday for a conversation with the faculty who won the award in 2013: Tina Escaja (Romance Languages & Linguistics), Katharine Shepherd (Education), Allison Kingsley (School of Business Administration), and Jenny Wilkinson (Animal Science).
When: Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 from 2:30pm – 4:00pm
Where: Bailey/Howe Library, Room 303
See the calendar link here.
Tip #1: Learn names. Jonathan Leonard (CDAE) makes the effort to learn every student’s name, even when he has hundreds of students! His strategy is to open the class roster page in Banner and display the students’ photos and, while studying each face, he speaks their names aloud. Over and over. And over. Occasionally he shifts the page arrangement, by changing the row settings to, for instance, three across instead of five, and he keeps testing himself. He admits that it takes several practice sessions, but he claims the effort is well worth it. His students are completely astonished when he greets them at the door by first name. A large class it may be, but an indistinct mass of anonymous faces it is not. Individuals are being recognized and this, he says, changes the whole game.
(By the way, Jonathan isn’t the only one to stress the value of learning names. Every year when the CTL holds a panel discussion with the latest winnersof the Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award, at least one of the panelists mentions that this practice is vital to their teaching style.)
Tip #2: Get students talking. Sheila Boland-Chira (English) recommends the turn and talk method in any class, but particularly on the first day when anxiety may be running a little high. She asks an evocative question related to the course topic and invites students to turn to their neighbors and talk about it. After a few minutes, she invites volunteers to share their thoughts with the whole group. Not only does the lively buzz change the atmosphere in the room, doing this on the first day lets students know that the class is participatory and that they are going to be challenged to think.
Tip #3 Make personal connections. Char Merhtens (Geology) asks students to come to her office and meet with her individually during the first week or two of the semester, just to say hi and chat for a few minutes. However, because there are 200+ students in one of her classes, visiting with everyone isn’t practicable, so she invites only the first-years and seniors, the two groups she feels would most benefit from this (although, for completely different reasons). Char says that this simple social gesture has paid off in countless ways and many students go out of their way to thank her.
Tip #4: It’s standard practice to review the syllabus on the first day of class, but a few faculty offered tips to make this ritual more meaningful:
- Before the first class meets, contemplate your schedule again and identify the overarching themes. When you review the syllabus on the first day, share this 10,000-foot view with your students and talk about how the key themes are woven throughout the schedule. This overview provides not only a conceptual map of the course, but a rationale for the work you are going to be asking them to do.
- Make the syllabus review more engaging by including interesting visual elements, e.g., drawings, concept maps, or a humorous cartoon. Consider playing music.
- Use Blackboard’s test tool to create a short quiz about the syllabus with multiple-choice type questions (so Blackboard will do the grading for you) and make it a mandatory assignment by the second day of class. Doing this gets them to delve deeper into the syllabus and you can review the stats in Blackboard before the next class, so you can touch upon any murky areas.
Tip #5: Finally, convey enthusiasm! J. Dickinson (Anthropology) offered what might be the most important tip for the first class and every class: that it’s crucial to communicate your excitement about what you teach. Even if you’re not teaching your dream course, you should be able to muster enthusiasm for it. Foundational or introductory-level courses are exciting when you consider the potential for learning and that you just may spark an interest that has a formative effect on someone’s life. Genuine enthusiasm can be infectious.
As we head down the last stretch of the semester, it’s a good time to recheck our Blackboard course grade centers and make sure everything’s working as it should be. Here are a couple of tips:
- First, make backups! This is always recommended but of special importance now when we may be making more changes to the grade center and there is potentially more data to lose. Instructions for backing up the grade center are here.
One of the trickiest aspects of the grade center is that the columns that the instructor sees (or does not see because they’re hidden) do NOT automatically correspond with what columns the students may see or not see. To hide a grade column from the students’ view, you need to click at the top of the column and select “Show/Hide to Users.” Once a column is hidden from them, a slash icon appears in the title bar of that column. However, if instead you simply chose “Hide Column,” then you’ve selected to hide the column from your Grade Center view. The column will still be seen by students unless you first choose “Show/Hide to Users.”
The tricky part is that you can only do that if you can see the column. Therefore, you must first restore the column to your instructor view, and then choose “Show/Hide to Users.” To restore a hidden column to your instructor’s view, click the “Manage” button (while in Full Grade Center view) and choose “Column Organization.” Select (with a checkmark) any columns that appear as hidden and click the Show/Hide button, below. Then click, Submit. Once you have restored a column to your view, you can then take the step described above to hide the column from students.
Or… come visit the Dr. Is In for help! See our hours at http://www.uvm.edu/ctl/doctor
We’ve recently had fun expanding our Media Resources page. There are new links to image collections, organized by Agriculture and Natural Resources, Art, History, Science, and General Collections. There are more video links, too. Read about copyright and fair use, and then go forth… as a kid in a candy store: www.uvm.edu/ctl/mediaresources.
We just read about this networking event for early career faculty next week, on Wednesday, Feb. 20th, and wanted to pass on the word.
If your list of courses is long and overwhelming, there are solutions! You can either:
- re-sort the list so that your current course spaces show at the top, or
- hide older courses from the list (and restore them again, if desired)
To learn how, see the CTL How-to page for course list management.
(Note that after a few semesters, courses are deleted from the system so they will no longer appear on your list, anyway.)
For many instructors, the Blackboard (Bb) Assignment Tool is a helpful time saver. A few of the advantages are:
- there are no papers to haul around—they live in Bb
- feedback and grades can be distributed within Bb
- the rubric tool makes grading easier and more consistent (especially helpful for TAs)
The recency and primacy effects—long documented phenomena related to the importance of sequence on information recall—evidence that, in short, “Following a single exposure to learning, recall is better for items at the beginning (primacy) and end (recency) […] than for middle items.” 
This is relevant to teaching and learning because it’s in that middle period, when many faculty have come to the heart of their lesson, that students may be least likely to be actively learning.
In the book, Student Engagement Techniques,  Elizabeth F. Barkley poses the suggestion that lectures could be shaped around this retention curve by segmenting a class into three parts:
1) Begin the class by diving directly into teaching important content.
2) After 20 minutes or so, have students take a brief break, stand up and stretch, and then conduct the administrative business, i.e., attendance, collection of homework, distribution of graded homework, etc.
3) Finally, transition back into important content for the last part of class. Consider incorporating a “JiTT” activity (Just in Time Teaching Techniques, October 10, 2012) and close the class with a recap of the most important points.
- Primacy Versus Recency in a Quantitative Model: Activity Is the Critical Distinction Anthony J. Greene, Colin Prepscius, and William B. Levy
- A CTL favorite book: Student Engagement Techniques (p.103)