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[The professor's] only difficulty … was to get [students] to talk at all. He had to devise schemes to find what they were thinking about and induce them to risk criticism from their fellows.

The Education of Henry Adams

The quote on the right is from the 1919 autobiography by Henry Adams, a descendant of the two Presidents.

If the “difficulty” he refers to sounds familiar—if your classroom discussions could benefit from a jolt of energy and inspiration—you are not alone.

Some of the common class discussion challenges instructors face are:

  1. asking the right questions – ones that spark ideas and elicit thoughtful replies
  2. getting the less assertive or shy students to speak up
  3. the sound of nothing but crickets chirping after a question is proffered

We invite you to attend Tips for Great Class Discussion, from our “Sound (Teaching) Bite” series coming up on Wednesday 9/17 at noon. This one-hour event will be led by J. Dickinson, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the CTL. (Registration is appreciated.)

Helpful Resources:

From Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning

From American Astronomical Society Education Office

From Faculty Focus

We welcome your suggestions for more resources on this topic.

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, olddesks 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 winners of the Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award, at least one of the panelists mentions that this practice is vital to their teaching style.)

More resources and techniques:

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.

More ideas:

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.

Recently, President Sullivan announced a new award to recognize staff “who exemplify the qualities of the University of Vermont’s Our Common Ground, the statement of aspirations and shared values for the UVM Community.” In part, this new award seeks to make Our Common Ground a living document, relevant to UVM today and in the future.

While this statement of institutional values was endorsed the UVM Board of Trustees in 1998, the current UVM community may not be fully aware of its existence. In honor of the President‘s effort to bring everyone‘s attention back to these values, there is now a menu link to Our Common Ground in the new Blackboard course spaces, as of the Summer session, 2014. Here is the statement in its entirety:

We aspire to be a community that values:

RESPECT. We respect each other. We listen to each other, encourage each other, and care about each other. We are strengthened by our diverse perspectives.

INTEGRITY. We value fairness, straightforward conduct, adherence to the facts, and sincerity. We acknowledge when things have not turned out the way we had hoped. As stewards of the University of Vermont, we are honest and ethical in all responsibilities entrusted to us.

INNOVATION. We want to be at the forefront of change and believe that the best way to lead is to learn from our successes and mistakes and continue to grow. We are forward-looking and break new ground in addressing important community and societal needs.

OPENNESS. We encourage the open exchange of information and ideas from all quarters of the community. We believe that through collaboration and participation, each of us has an important role in determining the direction and well-being of our community.

JUSTICE. As a just community, we unite against all forms of injustice, including, but not limited to, racism. We reject bigotry, oppression, degradation, and harassment, and we challenge injustice toward any member of our community.

RESPONSIBILITY. We are personally and collectively responsible for our words and deeds. We stand together to uphold Our Common Ground.”

See the webpage.

Blackboard Jungle 7 kicked off this week with a keynote by Charlayne Hunter-Gault on Monday and continues this Friday, March 28th, with a day of workshops and presentations. (See schedule)

In support of Blackboard Jungle, the CTL is offering two workshops in collaboration with Writing in the Disciplines.   They’ll take place on April 4th from 9:30am -12:45pm at CTL in room 303 Bailey Howe. Follow the links below to register for one or both of the workshops.

–April 4, 2014, Bailey/Howe 303
Bridging the Gaps: Creating More Inclusive Teaching Environments

Part I

9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
This workshop will cover techniques and strategies on how to create more inclusive physical and virtual teaching environments.
Facilitators: Henrietta “Henrie” Paz-Amor and Holly Buckland Parker
» REGISTER HERE

Part II

11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
This second part will focus on development of curricula for face-to-face and online courses using the principles of Universal Design for Learning with the goal of making learning accessible for ALL students.
Facilitators: Holly Buckland Parker and Susanmarie Harrington
» REGISTER HERE

If you’re interested in teaching a hybrid course, the chance to apply for training and support from the Hybrid Course Initiative will be available for just a few more days. The applications to be part of the next cohort (starting in Fall 2014) will close on Monday, March 31st, end of day. This cohort will be developing courses to be taught in either the Spring or Fall 2015.

» Read an article about Anthropology Professor Emily Manetta’s experience going through the program and teaching a hybrid course.

» Go to the application information webpage.

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.

UVM’s Hybrid Course Initiative, conducted by the CTL, is now into the second implementation phase. There are currently three cohorts of faculty who are either teaching or in the process of designing/redesigning hybrid courses. By the end of this second phase of the initiative, we’ll have assisted in launching nearly 30 hybrid courses! (Learn about hybrid teaching and about the UVM initiative, here.)

We’re currently welcoming applications for the next faculty cohort that begins meeting in August ‘14. Participants in this cohort will be eligible for a support package that includes a laptop, a grant to aid in the development of their course, and support from the CTL staff. **APPLICATION DIRECTIONS** and more detailed information about support packages for each phase of the initiative can be found on the Hybrid Course Initiative page. Applications are due by March 31st.

If you’re interested and want to learn more, we’ll be holding an informational session, “What ’s the Hype About Hybrid?,” on Thursday, March 20th. (Read more and register for this session, here.)

2014 dates to keep in mind:

  • March 20th – Information Session: “What ’s the Hype About Hybrid?
  • March 31st – Applications due for the Fall ’14 faculty cohort (info here)
  • April 15th – Applicants notified of acceptance by end of day
  • Welcome and informational luncheon in late-April
  • Cohort meetings begin in August

If you can’t make it to the March informational session, feel free to email the co-directors of the program: Jennifer Dickinson (jadickin@uvm.edu) or Henrie Paz-Amor (hpazamor@uvm.edu) to set up some time to talk about your interest in the program.

Do you sometimes feel like you are trying your best to teach to all the students in your classroom, but something isn’t working because, on the midterm exam, half the class gets below a 70?  How could this be?  In fact, traditional post-secondary teaching methods such as lectures and multiple-choice tests are good learning tools for only a small percentage of today’s college students. A research-based framework for course design called, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help.  

What is UDL?

UDL is an extension of a movement in architecture called Universal Design, conceived of by Ron Mace at North Carolina State University. The theories specific to UDL are based on research in the neuroscience of learning.  David Rose and Anne Meyer (2002),  first coined the term “Universal Design for Learning” in the book “Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age.”   (Available to read online at the CAST website, http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/tes/.)

Rose and Meyer (2002), developed guidelines based on three neural networks: the recognition network, the strategic network, and the affective network. Each of these networks work together to help the whole brain learn. A person’s brain is as unique as a fingerprint in the way it learns and builds its own learning schema, according to David Rose. However, certain regions of the brain are activated when doing similar kinds of learning tasks. This means a faculty member can use the knowledge of how the brain learns, and the framework of the UDL principles and checkpoints, to create learning opportunities in the classroom that work for all learners.

The UDL principles on each brain network are:

  1. Recognition Network: Principle One – Provide Multiple Means of Representation
    A couple of examples:

    • Create a concept map of the class that spans the semester
    • Use images, maps, graphs, videos and other visuals to help present a difficult concept to students
  2. Strategic Network: Principle Two – Provide Multiple Means of Expression
    A couple of examples:

    • Give students options for the kinds of homework assignments or projects they can submit
    • Provide multiple ways of engaging with each other in the class
  3. Affective Network: Principle Three – Provide Multiple Means of Engagement
    A few examples:

    • Use iClickers
    • Do in-class activities such as small-group work or “think, pair, share”
    • Assign larger, semester-long group projects
    • Create a safe environment for learning
    • Be approachable and available for students during office hours

Overall, the idea of UDL in post-secondary education is to support learning at various levels of acquisition and provide opportunities for students to show you what they are learning in a variety of methods, so you may offer appropriate “scaffolds.”  We offer suggestions for each of the above principles as just a place to start. We encourage you to use the linked resources as well as make an appointment with a CTL faculty professional development specialist to assist you in incorporating UDL in your courses.

Additional Resources:

San Francisco State University – Best Practices in Teaching:
http://ctfd.sfsu.edu/best-practices-in-teaching

National Center on Universal Design for Learning
http://www.udlcenter.org/implementation/postsecondary

Information on creating a video transcript:
From Colorado State University:
http://accessproject.colostate.edu/udl/modules/multimedia/tut_video_transcript.php?display=pg_2

It often feels like there are not enough hours in our days to get everything done. To make life a bit more manageable, we need some system(s) and process(es) to help take the stress out of the workload.

Here are a few ways to help you manage your projects, large and small, and ultimately allow you to become more efficient:

Note: All links below will open in a new tab (or window, depending on your browser settings).

  1. Make a list of your priorities. Here are a few ways to do that:pencil and paper
    • Do a “brain dump.” Take a few minutes and grab a stack of sticky notes and write each task that comes to mind
    • Organize tasks by categories (e.g. home, work, class)
    • Choose a project to focus on
  2. To-do listSet some goals for yourself, organize your lists…
    • by priority (H-high, M-medium, L-low)
    • by project or location (work, home, school)
    • by deliverables (what is due first)
    • by importance (what matters most)
    • by time needed (how long will each task take to accomplish)

    Write down the tasks associated under each priority.

  3. Schedule your day! Follow this resource to learn how.
  4. For projects, plan out the pieces and parts – here is a resource to get you started.
  5. checking things off the list Read this blog post to find some resources to help get organized
  6. Cross off tasks as you complete them.
    • Keep your lists close by and easy to find
    • Use paper or find a program that helps keep you organized
    • At the beginning of each week update your plan and set some goals for the week
    • Every morning review your list to see what needs to be done (this also helps me get grounded for the day of work)
    • Delegate, schedule and, re-schedule anything that does not get accomplished

Resources to learn more:

Learn how to prioritize in 12 steps
http://www.wikihow.com/Prioritize

Prioritizing Projects in 3 steps
http://www.wikihow.com/Prioritize-Projects

Time Management for Students
http://www.cob.sjsu.edu/nellen_a/time_management.htm

Time Management: Tips to reduce stress and improve productivity
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/time-management/wl00048

CTL Blog Post on Time Management (with links to task management tools: Wunderlist, Got Milk, Google Keep)
http://blog.uvm.edu/ctl/2012/12/17/time-management-resources/

Additional Task Management Tools:

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, students 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.