Remember that resolution to Stay on Top of the Grading Load this semester?

Remember that resolution to Stay on Top of the Grading Load this semester? This is often when it slips through our fingers.  No matter how many times we re-count the papers left in the stack, or rearrange them in tidy groups of 5, or calculate how many we’ll need to grade per hour to make the latest self-imposed deadline, there they remain.  And a new batch is coming in any minute.  And the “stacks” that come in online seem to proliferate at the same frustrating rate.

Do not despair!

Here are 4 things to try to make grading assignments more manageable (and maybe more effective).

  1. Put the pen down. You are not a copy editor. Correcting every error makes for very slow going, and a paper overwhelmed with corrections is actually less effective in improving student writing than targeted feedback, especially when followed by revision.  If your students are submitting drafts before the final paper, try the “minimal marking” technique with the first go-round:  Read about two paragraphs closely, marking errors with simple check marks or coded marks explained on a handout, along with a few specific comments about the whole draft. Then return the paper asking students to find and fix the errors in the next draft. This will make for cleaner (read: quicker to grade) final papers.  Even if you only see one draft, a few very specific corrections will have a better chance of making an impact than a bloodbath on the page or screen.  And by the way, if your students submit Word or PDF assignments in Blackboard, are you taking advantage of the very handy inline grading tool? Check out this TLP grading tutorial.
  2. Before the assignment is due, do an in-class review of an sample from a previous semester.  When students actually see and discuss the difference between a topic sentence and a thesis, or how to fix a comma splice, they are much more likely to get it right on their own. I often also do a micro-writing lesson (3 minutes tops) when I return a set of papers, based on common problems in that stack. This assuages my guilt about not explaining each error on every paper and has the benefit of coming at them visually and verbally, instead of just in a small, marginally legible note on page 3.
  3. Regulate the flow. When planning your courses for next semester, make sure you don’t have assignments coming in from every class in the same week.  You can also stagger the delivery of papers in a single class. If you want students to do 3 short papers, for instance, try assigning 4 and letting them choose which 3 they will do.  That way you get 4 slightly smaller stacks spaced over a longer time. Clever, right?
  4. Change coffee shops every 10 assignments. Best advice my department chair ever gave me.

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

 

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PowerPoint. Love it? Hate it? Hate it but use it anyway?

The topic today is PowerPoint. Love it? Hate it? Hate it but use it anyway?  I’ve heard students disparage both that rare instructor who “doesn’t even have a PowerPoint,” as well as the one who “does nothing but read from the PowerPoint.” I won’t weigh in for or against, but will share a few quick highlights from the growing body of literature (who knew?) around uses and abuses of PowerPoint that I poked around in recently. I discovered many Haiku-style rules vying for our allegiance: for instance, the 7/7/25 rule (7 lines max, 7 words per line max, 25 total words per slide max), the 1/1/5 rule (one image per slide, use each image only once in the deck, 5 words per slide max), and the 10/20/30 rule (10 slides max, 20 minutes max, 30-point font).

There’s a common theme here and in most of what I read. PowerPoint is most effective when we arresting with words and when we take advantage of its visual potential. While some students say they like a class in which all the information they need is bullet-pointed on the slides, there’s research that suggests that they don’t actually learn best that way. A text-heavy PowerPoint encourages students to copy all that text, which means they are transcribing, not listening or otherwise engaging. It also makes that giant slide—not the professor or the other students, or what might be happening between and among them—the focus of attention and the source of authority. When, instead, the slide features a single phrase, or a provocative image or graph, or a quote or a simple question, then students have to engage to get the payoff.  And you get to be the teacher again.

Some instructors opt for alternatives to PowerPoint that add additional dimensions to the presentation (Prezi, PowToon) or radically simplify it (Haiku Deck); you may find these tools useful for student presentation assignments as well. But whatever presentation tools we use, it’s good to remember to include a variety of content—embedding quick-write prompts, break-out discussion assignments, video clips, etc.—and to give students time to engage it.  And a final tip I wish I’d learned years ago? Be careful not to stand in front of the projector—you look better without text on your face, even if it’s only 5 words.

Using Video to Enhance Learning and Teaching: A Hands-On Workshop.

Wednesday, October 22, 12:00-1:30 PM

MLIB 002 TLP Training Lab

Description: The current generation coming through Chico State are visual learners, used to turning to YouTube videos and Video Blogs for entertainment, personal edification, and self-expression. Come and hear how one faculty member has successfully incorporated video introductions as well as video assignments into her class, then start learning how to use our free tools to enhance your own courses with video.

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

It’s week 8, and the Scantrons are flying

exams Multiple choice tests don’t get a lot of respect. But in addition to helping overworked instructors save time, they can, when done well, also be effective measurements both of basic understanding and precise discrimination.  Too often, though, they are simply a measure of how well students take tests.  Here’s an article from Faculty Focus on “7 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Multiple Choice Questions.” (Note: This is not an endorsement of the webinar promoted in the article.)

Other suggestions for writing good multiple choice questions include these from McKeachie’s Teaching Tips (available in MLIB 458 if you want to read more):

  • “The item as a whole should present a problem of significance in the subject-matter field” (78).
  • “Emphasizing in the multiple-choice test introduction that the students should choose the best answer may help prevent lengthy discussion with the student who can dream up a remote instance in which the correct alternative might be wrong” (81).

Even the discussions that follow that persistent student’s defense of her answer, though, are instructive, and should be used to refine future versions of the test.  (Another argument for reviewing tests in class.) My colleagues and I also often swap tests before administering them to weed out items that are unclear or exploitable by the test-savvy. This also allows us to show off our cleverness to each other.

Really good multiple choice questions are hard to write, but developing a bank of them for a course you teach frequently can be a good investment of your time.

This tip was:

  1. helpful
  2. a waste of time
  3. meh

Using Video to Enhance Learning and Teaching: A Hands-On Workshop.

Wednesday, October 22, 12:00-1:30 PM

MLIB 002 TLP Training Lab

Description: The current generation coming through Chico State are visual learners, used to turning to YouTube videos and Video Blogs for entertainment, personal edification, and self-expression. Come and hear how one faculty member has successfully incorporated video introductions as well as video assignments into her class, then start learning how to use our free tools to enhance your own courses with video.

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

The highlight of my CELT Conference experience?

The highlight of my CELT Conference experience?  Probably getting to physically act out the elements of the human digestive system with a dozen esteemed colleagues in a Teaching Slam.  But today’s tip—gleaned from multiple conference sessions—is less, well, gross.

It turns out that whether or not a High Impact Practice—like a capstone course or an internship or a collaborative learning experience—actually has a high impact often hinges on whether or not students have been given—and take—the time to think about what and how they are learning, and how their learning is reshaping who they are. This can be done, of course, in long, rewarding, and schedule-wrecking office hour conversations, but it can also be integrated into regular assignments: “How my mind has changed” exam questions, portfolio reviews, group process reflection questions at the end of collaborative projects, even a 5-minute end-of-class reflective quick-write. Who knew “high impact” could be so quiet?

And now:  Two faculty development opportunities for your consideration:

  • The call for applications for CELT Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) grants is now available on the CELT website. These are awards of up to $1,000 in Professional Development Funds to support dissemination of pedagogical research at a major academic or professional conference and/or attendance of a learning & teaching-centered conference or workshop.  Proposals are due Monday December 1.  See full details here.
  • Chico’s Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) program invites faculty applications to the Textbook Alternatives Project (TAP) to help research and implement alternatives to expensive print textbooks. Participants will learn about AL$ options and possibilities and will work with faculty librarians and TLP consultants focused on their class(es).  Participants will receive $1,000 stipends.   Applications are available here, or contact TLP’s Laura Sederberg for more information, lsederberg@csuchico.edu or 898-4326. This project is being co-sponsored by TLP, CELT, and Meriam Library.

And forget the coffee, you should come to the 4th floor of the library just to see the incredible student collaboration that is going on—all day—around white boards, in table pods, in squishy chairs; on chemistry, history, math, you name it. The energy is great.  Come check it out—it will make you proud to be part of their faculty.

Oh, and remember to let me know if you’re interested in being part of a Faculty Writing Circle.

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.