The Sound and Fury (When Classroom Discussions are Difficult)

Tree swallows arguing.

Greg, Flickr: http://bit.ly/2k3QJKc

Sometimes class discussions are difficult because students are hesitant to participate or because one student tends to dominate. And sometimes—as we’ve heard from faculty in these turbulent times—they’re difficult because emotions are running high and some students may be angry or anxious.

Here are a few resources to help faculty navigate these challenges.

Teaching Trump – Amanda Rosen

The Tricky Task of Teaching About Trump – Chronicle of Higher Education

Georgetown University Teaching Commons

Difficult Dialogues

Stanford Teaching Commons – Classroom Challenges

Getting Students to Talk to Each Other, Rather Than the Teacher

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But it had the Blackboard logo in it…

The recent political debacle involving hacking of a certain official’s computer reminds us once again of the ease and dangers of phishing. You may have been even more tempted recently to click on one of those links in an email because the phishers are getting more sophisticated, not to mention better at spelling and grammar.

E-mails that have actual logos, appear to be written in a form that mimics legitimate messages, or even that appear to come from a UVM or well-known address are all increasing in number.

Is it really so bad to click? This one came from a friend of mine so surely it’s OK? And, really, who would be interested in what’s on my computer anyway?

What kinds of things do phishers want to do? Gain access to your contacts so they can send phishing email to everyone on that list that will look that it is sent from a real account. If your friends start asking you why you are sending them fake ads or disturbing images or angry notes you may wish you hadn’t clicked on that phishing link.

Phishers and hackers may also be interested in harvesting your passwords. Many people use the same password for multiple services. A hacker who gets access to one now has a way to gain access to all. Once again, you may not mind if FaceBook posts appear to be from you start popping up but then again when your Amazon account and all the credit card information you stored there gets stolen – not so nice.

And hackers and malware? Well viruses are no fun and can be difficult to get rid of. Even worse is malware that turns your computer into a botnet whereby the hacker can use it to send malware to others.

How can you tell if an e-mail, even one that looks like it comes from a friend, is a phishing scam?

Is it telling you to click the link and provide your login information? Don’t click the link. If it’s your bank or a company that you do business just go to their website yourself and login as usual.

Does it look like it comes from a friend? Don’t click the link. If it is a full address you can copy and paste the link into your browser. Or, if it is a phrase that is a link you can right-click or control-click on it, copy and paste the link and, before hitting enter, look to see if it appears legitimate. For example, if your friend is sending you a link to a YouTube video make sure the address is http://www.youtube.com not http;//www.yuutube.com.

Does it look like official UVM business or like a note from Blackboard? Don’t click the link. UVM will never send email asking for your NetID and password. Any Blackboard alert messages will be posted on the Blackboard login page or sent from our own Blackboard admin with no request to click.

If you are ever uncertain about the legitimacy of an email message concerning your uvm.edu account, please contact the Computing Help Line at 656-2604, or submit a help request online by emailing techteam@uvm.edu.

And if you would like to report phishing, please forward the phishing email with full headers to is-spam@labs.sophos.com and to abuse@uvm.edu. (To forward a message with headers, please see http://www.uvm.edu/techteam/forwarding-full-mail-headers/)

By the way, the latest news reports that the case mentioned at the beginning of this blog post started out even more innocuous. Apparently the official in question checked with his tech supporter about the email and was told it was legitimate. A short time later they both realized that “legitimate” was a typo and the tech advisor meant to type “illegitimate.” (Please don’t tell me Auto-Correct struck again!) So, even if someone tells you it’s OK to click, resist the temptation.

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“Returning to the Classroom after the Election”

Whether or not we choose to engage students in dialogue about the election results, we should recognize that some students’ emotional responses may interfere with their ability to focus.

This blog post by the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching offers some sage advice and a few simple strategies to process the event before moving on to regular course content.

Read the post here: “Returning to the Classroom after the Election

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Knowing Thyself Gets a Hand from Exam Wrappers

Most of us can identify with the chagrin students feel when they earn a grade that they’re not happy about. But, as with most of life’s stings, the disappointment comes with a learning opportunity. An exam wrapper (or assignment or project wrapper) can help students understand what happened and what they can do to improve their learning.

A wrapper is a tool, a series of questions on a form that students fill out after they get their exam grade. In short, they’re asked to identify and reflect upon their own actions and behaviors when studying. This process helps to develop metacognition or meta learning; students increase their understanding of themselves as learners and see the correlation between their successes or their less-than-ideal grades to their personal actions and behaviors.

Some faculty follow up with a class discussion or they request that students visit them individually during office hours to talk about what they wrote. Sometimes the wrappers are returned to students prior to the next exam, in time for them to reflect again and take steps to adjust their actions.

The following steps are from Duke University’s Center for Instructional Technology:

Guidelines for using exam wrappers

  • Explain to the students why you are using exam wrappers.
  • Give the students time to fill out the exam wrapper in class. Spending class time encourages the students to take exam wrappers seriously.
  • Collect the exam wrappers.
  • Review the exam wrappers for ideas for how you can help students succeed.
  • Return the exam wrappers to your students before the next exam. You may give students a few minutes in class to read their exam wrappers and prepare a study plan.

A few of short readings about exam wrappers:

From Dede Delaughter, University of North Georgia, Using Exam Wrappers as a Learning Tool

From Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center, Exam Wrappers  (Marsha Lovett and her colleagues at CMU are credited for developing the exam wrapper)

From Carleton College, Teaching Metacognition

 

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iClicker “gotchas”

The scales have been tipped a little here at the CTL Doctor Is In program. Typically, at the beginning of a semester, the majority of our visits from faculty are about some aspect of using Blackboard, but for the first time, Blackboard was beaten out by iClickers in frequency.

One reason for this uptick is the increasing awareness of iClickers as a means to engage students in class, to support classroom discussions, to give short quizzes, and to keep track of attendance. Another is that faculty like that they can now choose to allow students to use their mobile phones. (Optional!)

As with just about all software, alas, there are a few “gotchas”—that is, pesky problems whose solutions are usually simple but frustratingly elusive.

CTL staff member, Henrie Paz-Amor, has kindly put together this list of things to keep in mind while doing the following iClicker tasks:

Syncing the Course Roster in iClicker from Blackboard

  1. Before you can choose a Blackboard course from iClicker, it must be available to students or it won’t show on your list in iClicker. Here are instructions for making your course available.
  2. Anatomy of a course number

  3. Choose the CORRECT course from the list. This image shows the anatomy of those critical numbers before your course name. Read more on this page.

Connecting to the Base Station

There are usually two choices for connecting to the iClicker base station in the classroom. If you are using the classroom computer at the podium, make sure that cable is plugged into the base station. However, if you’re using your laptop, double check that you’ve got the right cable plugged into it. It can be easy to miss. » See image

Powerpoint Slides are not Advancing

If you’ve clicked on the iClicker program to begin a poll, you have to click back on Powerpoint in order to make the next slide advance.

Another Powerpoint/iClicker Consideration

When you’re using both Powerpoint and iClicker you have to set your display to “Mirroring” [on a Mac] or “Duplicate Display” [on Windows].

Saving the Polling Data

Stop the poll with the correct button

When you’re done running a poll, you must make sure to close it properly or the data will not be collected. Click the red button to stop your poll BEFORE clicking the small “x” to close the polling window.

Using the iClicker Remote

Faculty iClickers (the blue ones) can act as a remote for advancing your slides, however the iClicker’s ID must be first be entered into the iClicker app. 

  • Click on iClicker settings and choose General. Enter the 8-digit code on the back of the iClicker into the Instructor Remote ID box.
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Election Tensions can Spill into the Classroom

The following blog post from the University of Michigan invites us to thoughtfully consider the teaching challenges and opportunities afforded by this often hostile election season. It asks that faculty from all disciplines encourage students to think critically and hold civil discourse about the many fraught topics in the campaigns both before and after the election this November.

From the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching & Learning:
» Teaching and Learning in a Tense Election Season

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First Day of Class

class2Even if you have extensive teaching experience, the first day of class can create some nervous jitters. So, we’ve collected a few suggestions, tips, and resources here that will help your class get off to a good start.

  1. One of the most frequent recommendations we hear from faculty is to arrive at the room both early and well-prepared. If you’re using classroom technology, have it connected before the students arrive. (If possible, visit the classroom the day before, to make sure you know how to do that.)
  2. Susanmarie Harrington (UVM, English) says that conveying your own excitement about the topic of the course can make all the difference. “You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and the best way to help your students feel excited about your class is by being enthusiastic about it yourself.” While it’s common to spend time on preliminaries like going over the syllabus, try to leave time to dive into teaching. This lets your students know that you intend to make every class worthwhile and they leave feeling that they’ve already begun learning.
  3. As mentioned above, if you like to review the syllabus here are a couple of ideas to make this more meaningful.
    • Before the first class meeting, revisit and contemplate your learning objectives and your schedule 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 will be asking them to do.
    • Make the syllabus review more engaging by including interesting visual elements, e.g., drawings, concept maps, or funny cartoons. Consider playing music. Helpful links: The CTL syllabus resources developed by the UVM Faculty Senate. Tulane University’s resources for designing an accessible syllabus.
  4. Icebreakers: If you don’t have much time, simply ask students to turn to their neighbors and introduce themselves, but if more involved icebreakers appeal to you, here are 37 Icebreaker Activities from the Center for Teaching & Learning, Lansing Community College.

  5. The following activity can help students understand how their own behaviors contribute to a meaningful class experience. From The Teaching Professor Blog by Maryellen Weimer, PhD:

    Best and Worst Classes – I love this quick and easy activity. On one section of the blackboard I write: “The best class I’ve ever had” and underneath it “What the teacher did” and below that “What the students did.” On another section I write “The worst class I’ve ever had” (well, actually I write, “The class from hell”) and then the same two items beneath. I ask students to share their experiences, without naming the course, department or teacher, and I begin filling in the grid based on what they call out. If there’s a lull or not many comments about what the students did in these classes, I add some descriptors based on my experience with some of my best and worst classes. In 10 minutes or less, two very different class portraits emerge. I move to the best class section of the board and tell students that this is the class I want to teach, but I can’t do it alone. Together we have the power to make this one of those “best class” experiences.

  6. If group work is emphasized in your course, an icebreaker similar to the one above may be valuable for preventing some of the common problems that students have when working in groups. Ask students to form casual groups of 4–6 with one person designated as the recorder. Give each group a sheet with 2 columns titled:

    “Group behaviors that are helpful”
       and
    “Group behaviors that are not helpful”

    Have them spend 10 minutes discussing this and listing their ideas in each column. Spend another 15 minutes or so sharing these lists with the whole class.

    From: Barkley, E. F. (2010). Tips and Strategies for Promoting Active Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Here are some links to other Universities’ pages on the topic of the first day of class:

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Hone Your Skills with Lynda.com

Lynda.com logo and video link
Brief intro by Lynda, herself

If you’ve heard of Lynda.com, you’ll probably be very happy to know that UVM now has a full subscription to the service!

Lynda.com began in 1995 and has since grown to be one of the world’s leading providers of online trainings for creative, business, software, and technology skills.

On the topic of Blackboard, for instance, there are courses with video tutorials on topics such as how to use the course control panel, (note: these links will work after you’ve logged in. See the log in link, below) setting course availability, viewing grade historyweighting grades in the grade center, and test availability and deployment.

Other topics that may be helpful are:

» LOG IN: will take you first through the UVM authentication page.

Tips for Using the Site:

This course, titled “How to Use Lynda.com,” is great for learning how to search and navigate the site. (Helpful Tip: Clicking on text in a video’s transcript allows you to skip to that part of the video.)


 

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The Outcomes of Using Collaborative Learning Experiences to Support Student Success

This post is contributed by Dr. Ellen McShane, Director of Academic Success Programs at UVM

On December 11, 2015, I posted a discussion of peer-to-peer collaborative learning experiences implemented through Academic Success Programs (ASP) at UVM. I promised to share the outcomes of our work, which are below:

The College of Nursing and Health Sciences (CNHS) provided ASP with the impact on Grade Point Averages (GPA) for first-year CNHS students in 2015 who were offered peer-tutor-led study groups. Table One below shows that the peer-tutor-led study group project impacted the number of students who earned a 3.5 GPA or higher.

Table One:
Outcomes of CNHS Peer-Tutor-Led Study Group Project
Year Number of
Participants
% of FTFY with
3.5 GPA or Higher
2013 0 29.8%
2014 183 31.4%
2015 246 46.6%

 

In addition, we discovered that our 4-year graduation rate for UVM’s Class of 2015 who received tutoring in their first year at UVM graduated at higher rate than the rest of the class as illustrated in Table Two.

Table Two:
Comparison of 4-Yr Grad Rates for Students Tutored in
the First Year & all FTFY
Entered 2011 Numbers 4-Year Grad Rate
Tutored 643 68%
All FTFY 2,423 62%

 

For the returning sophomores in 2015 who had tutoring in their first year, we are pleased to add Table Three to demonstrate the power of peer-to peer collaborative learning.

Table Three:
Comparison of 2nd Yr Retention Rates for Students Tutored in the First Year & all FTFY
Entered 2014 Numbers 2nd Yr Retention Rate
Tutored 1,203 89.3%
All FTFY 2,310 85.9%
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Using Collaborative Learning Experiences to Support Student Success

This post is contributed by Dr. Ellen McShane, Director of Academic Success Programs at UVM.

Author George D. Kuh (2008) has identified collaborative learning experiences as a “high-impact practice” that allows students to succeed in college. Collaborative learning experiences can include study groups in courses, team-based course assignments, peer tutoring, and cooperative learning projects that include research.

Sierra Kloutz, Class of 2015, tutors a student.

Sierra Kloutz, Class of 2015, tutors a student in the Learning Co-op. Sierra served as the study group leader for Psych 001 in Fall 2014 for CNHS first-year students.
Photo by Paul O. Boisvert

UVM’s Academic Success Programs (ASP) witnesses the impact of collaborative learning on a daily basis through the Learning Co-op’s Tutoring Program. Our statistics show that students who use tutoring services graduate in four years at a higher rate than students who do not use tutoring (Institutional Research, 2014).

Over the last two years, the Learning Co-op and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences (CNHS) have collaborated to place all first-year CNHS students in peer-tutor-led study groups through the college’s first-year experience course, NH 050.

co-op2

Learning Co-op Tutors and Staff
Photo by Paul O. Boisvert

This year, the entirety of the first-year cohort participated; 246 first-year students were officially scheduled into study groups. Out of that group, 186 of them completed the requirement of attending six total study group sessions throughout the semester.

Of those who fell short, many of them attended four or five sessions. Of the 246 students we scheduled for sessions, only seven of them had zero contacts. In the end, over 97% of first-year CNHS students had at least one point of contact with a tutor this semester, with over 72% spending six or more hours with tutors. Some students chose to spend as much as ten hours in study groups.

We can say with certainty that no other college comes close to that amount of time spent in structured learning environments outside of lectures.

How has the collaboration between the Learning Co-op and CNHS impacted student success and retention? Stay tuned for another blog post next semester. We plan to gather data over the next several months to see how these efforts have impacted retention.

If you are interested in exploring a college-wide or course-specific collaborative learning experience, please contact Keith M. Williams in the Learning Co-op
at 656-7964.

Kuh, George D. High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges & University Publishing, 2008.

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