What do they need to know?

Welcome to the second week of the semester!

As students settle into the rhythm of their courses they will also be settling into old patterns. You have the opportunity to intervene and many of you do by highlighting the behavior of historically successful students. Maybe your course is supported by Supplemental Instruction through the Student Learning Center and you know if they go regularly, they will probably pass. Maybe your course uses online videos and you know students who watch in advance of the class always do better. Sharing this information with students is almost always appreciated and can lead to student success, but it is our responsibility to make sure we are sharing the right information. When I taught the public speaking course I assumed the students who failed were getting low speech grades. It was actually much more common that if they were failing they were missing the weekly quizzes. This information changed the advice I gave students and how I trained my Teaching Associates.

In light of that, I have homework for you. Go back through grades from one or two semesters to look at some landmark assignments like the first exam or project. Even if you are not fluent in statistics you can probably draw some conclusions about early success and overall performance in the course. You may find similar markers like attendance or one of the things mentioned earlier. You may be quite surprised. I am urging you to be intentional about it rather than relying on assumptions. This will start to give you markers for when students are headed for trouble. In some other Universities, like Georgia State, they have used information like this to radically improve student performance. In my conversations with colleagues around campus they are often surprised to learn the number of students who fail their courses or that there is an achievement gap between Under Represented Minority students and non-Under Represented Minority students. We can only unravel these dynamics when we pay attention to why students do well and why they don’t and then fashion solutions. Most of us share advice at the beginning of the semester about how to do well and when students are headed for trouble, let’s be sure we are giving the right advice.

Digging into these dynamics can require help from Institutional Research, your Assessment Coordinator, or a colleague, but it is almost always worth it.

Dr. Sara Cooper has provided additional Book in Common Material. Check out this section of the CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.

Got feedback on this tip? Got an idea for a tip? Send it along. Check out our new and improved wordpress site here.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! Our fourth episode of the Fall is out now! Mary, Tracy, and I discuss the election with Juni Banerjee-Stevens and Mike Pence (not really, just checking to see if you were still reading). Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

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Get it Done!

Many of us will do anything to avoid grading. If you have a to-do list you need to get through and avoiding grading is that push you need to clean the gutters, finish your shopping, or clean the grout in your bathroom please disregard this email. If you are someone who actually wants to get your grading done read on!

The Faculty Grading Oasis is open and we want to help you finish your grading. Here is what we have to offer.

grading-oasis

  1. Fresh coffee, creamer, tea, and snacks.
  2. Space away from your office where no one will knock on your door, and you can get grading done.
  3. Help from our student staff Monday-Thursday 8-5. They can alphabetize exams, grade exams with direction (as long as the student name is hidden), and help with clerical tasks.
  4. Accountability from each other and from admin extraordinaire Michelle Wysocki, who comes in to MLIB 459 to peer at you with her judging eyes if you are off task.

Dr. Sara Cooper has provided additional Book in Common Material. Check out this section of the CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.

Got feedback on this tip? Got an idea for a tip? Send it along. Check out our new and improved wordpress site here.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! Our third episode of the Fall is out now! Mary, Tracy, and I explore athletics at Chico and beyond in the aptly titled “locker room talk.” Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

Use this one weird trick to finish all your grading in one day!

Today’s tip is a three-parter, and while I lack the magic solution you may have craved when you opened this email, there is a lesson to be learned; keep reading to find out!

Part One: Audience analysis, perspective taking, teaching empathy—these are all variations on similar teaching practices that cut across all disciplines. In a recent Teaching in Higher Ed podcast about this topic I was struck by one particular example. One of the guests who teaches Android application development dramatically improved his class by incorporating perspective taking and directing his students to start from the consumer perspective and design the application around their needs rather than starting with the technology. It was a powerful example because it illustrated to me the extreme utility of perspective taking, regardless of discipline. In this forum I have often urged you to think about things from the perspective of your students; this is a little different as we are trying to get our students to engage in that same practice. This practice is powerful because it is practical and personally transformative. In a world increasingly customized to our own perspectives and tastes it is easy to assume other people will adjust to us, when in reality we have to start by understanding them.

Part Two: Friday is the deadline for our Spring Programming including Faculty Learning Communities for: Write your article in 12 weeks, We are a Hispanic Serving Institution, Now What?, Improve Your Teaching Practice, Quality Online Learning and Teaching, and the Leadership Initiative. Make Spring a great semester, and get involved with a rewarding community.

Part Three: The Faculty Grading Oasis is as close to “one weird trick” as you are going to get and we will be in full effect during finals week. See the flyer below for details.

grading-oasis-fall-2016-6

Dr. Sara Cooper has provided additional Book in Common Material. Check out this section of the CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.

Got feedback on this tip? Got an idea for a tip? Send it along. Check out our new and improved wordpress site here.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! Our third episode of the Fall is out now! Mary, Tracy, and I explore athletics at Chico and beyond in the aptly titled “locker room talk.” Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

Who Are these People?

Image result for large lecture hallTwo years ago was an exciting time in my life. My wife was pregnant with our first child, I had turned in my dossier for tenure and promotion a month earlier and everything seemed to be happening at once. Much of the semester was a fog for me, but I do distinctly remember going to my public speaking course at this time in the semester, looking at the faces, and asking myself “who are these people?” The format of the class did not lend itself well to developing relationships with the students so I had never made it a priority, but in Fall 2014 I was especially distant. It was impossible to get to know 500 students, most of which watched online and I would never meet, so I made the mistake of not getting to know any of them. The problem with that thinking was, I ended up missing out and in turn, so did they. Getting to know your students is a frequent refrain of mine, but a recent Inside Higher Ed article highlighted a few things for me that really resonated. I highly recommend reading the linked article as it offers practical advice for establishing classroom rapport rather than just encouragement to do so. As a tease, I do want to highlight one of their suggestions and the connection to a growing trend on our campus.

Drawing on the work of bell hooks in Teaching to Transgress, the authors suggest we model the same vulnerability we expect from our students. One increasingly popular tool for letting your students get to know you is “Digital Storytelling.” Celeste Jones and Seema Sehrawat have been promoting this tool and featured it at the recent CELT Conference as well as Academy-e Learning over the summer. The technology tools are simple and free, and the payoff is tremendous. There are a variety of tools, but one popular one is Adobe Spark. Digital Storytelling gives you a controlled environment to introduce yourself and a topic to your students with the aid of visuals. If you have questions or ideas about Digital Storytelling please contact Faculty Development. We are happy to provide help and put you in contact with people and resources.

Dr. Sara Cooper has provided additional Book in Common Material. Check out this section of the CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.

Got feedback on this tip? Got an idea for a tip? Send it along. Check out our new and improved wordpress site here.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! Our second episode of the Fall is out now! Mary, Tracy, and I explore Chico traditions just in time for Halloween! Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

The Struggling Student

Before I started in Faculty Development, I was the course coordinator for the large lecture public speaking class. In my third year, I abandoned the midterm and final for a series of low-risk open-book quizzes students took through Blackboard. I had read the research and decided to make the switch. Some aspects of student performance increased, but the failure rate for the course more than doubled. I worked with my Teaching Associates to discover why students were failing when the thing they expressed the most concern about in evaluations, the exams, had been eliminated and replaced with a user friendly assessment strategy. Almost universally, the students who did not pass the class had failed to take several quizzes. Very few of these students would have forgotten to take exams because they happen during class time. We were concerned about student success so we set up an alert system on Blackboard, reminders were built in to lectures, and we started doing periodic grade checks throughout the semester to identify students who were struggling. None of these represented magic bullets, but they did help us make progress.Image result for struggling students

12 weeks from now you will be glancing back and forth between an Excel sheet or your gradebook and Peoplesoft entering grades for Fall 2016. It can be an interesting exercise as you realize the student who was always active in class didn’t turn in half of the assignments. Maybe the student who never showed up was actually a star in every category except for attendance. You might realize, like I did, the unintended consequence of a well-meaning change. The time to help students is during the semester, not at the very end. One tool for identifying struggling students is the Retention Center in Blackboard. This can help you set up rules to identify students who are struggling. Even if this tool does not work for you, it is worth your time to scan your gradebook once a month to identify trouble spots.

Once you have identified a student, there are a variety of ways to increase their chances for success. Campus resources like the Student Learning Center, Accessibility Resources, college or department based tutoring, or peers are all available to students. Regardless of how they get help, you reaching out to them is a great first step. We have all had the student in our office at the end of the semester who is shocked their grade is low even though there has been ample information about it throughout the term. The time to help that student and avoid that uncomfortable conversation is now.

Dr. Sara Cooper has provided addition Book in Common Material. Check out this section of the CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.

The CELT Conference preliminary program and registration link are now available. See you on October 6-7!

Got feedback on this tip? Got an idea for a tip? Send it along. Check out our new and improved wordpress site here.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

Share your ideas!

My favorite part about Faculty Development has been learning about the innovations and great work going on across campus. I get to hear about new developments all the time, but I want you to share with the whole campus and region at the 2016 CELT conference. Don’t keep your idea a secret. Today’s tip is an encouragement to share your innovations.  The submission deadline is on Friday, but submitting is easy. To get you started, I have a list of things I have heard about the past few years I would love to see at the conference.

  • Team teaching including interdisciplinary education is something we talk about at meetings, but very few of us know how to do it well. Teach us!
  • Are you utilizing a new technology? Faculty across campus are experimenting with Zoom video and finding their own open source software. Tell us about it!
  • Who has had a great idea go bad? I once participated in a redesign that went almost nowhere and many of us have good ideas that don’t work. Share your failure with the group (I promise it is therapeutic)!
  • Who is already working with the new University priorities on Civic Engagement and Diversity in their classroom? Enlighten us with your vision!
  • Are you struggling with how to manage political conversations in your classroom? Put together a panel on teaching in a divisive election season!
  • Got something to say on national controversies? Put together a few people with opposing ideas on affirmative action, campus speech codes, or reconciling institutional history with contemporary goals!
  • Textbooks are getting more expensive every year. Tell us about how you found open source material or pieced together course readings out of available research!
  • Do you work with graduate students or mentors? Share best practices with us!
  • Is your classroom a dimly lit dungeon with chairs bolted to the floor? Put together a group on teaching in difficult spaces and places!
  • Are you collaborating with Advising or Student Life and Leadership to improve learning? Tell us about how you are building bridges!

CELT Conference

The CELT conference is a free opportunity to share your innovations and thoughts on critical campus and national issues. In 2015 we averaged 15 attendees per session and we are looking for even broader exposure this year. Last year I learned things about personal productivity from Dustin Bakkie and what it takes for students to turn around their education after struggling from Josh Whittinghill and students in EOP that have changed my behavior this year. Don’t miss your opportunity to make your voice heard. Submission takes a few minutes, but the lessons learned can last a lifetime.

Got feedback on this tip? Leave a comment or email it to us. Got an idea for a tip? Send it along.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! The newest episode is on the strike that wasn’t. Link to it on soundclouditunes, overcast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

Small changes can produce big results

One of my friends once shared he was always excited in the Spring if he was teaching the same course in the Fall and would tell himself “Great! I can redesign this course now that I know all the things wrong with it.” Then, after a summer of manuscript revision or house projects he would say to himself “Thank goodness I am teaching that same course and don’t have to prep anything new.”

The prospect of course revision is often daunting, even when we know there are problems. Decisions about how things are now were mostly made with good intentions and the backing of good research. The thought of discarding all that and starting over seems like too much. Truth be told, it probably is.

James Lang certainly thinks so, and that is the starting point for his work on Small Teaching.

small teaching
Amazon Bookstore

He makes a strong case for incremental change and gives powerful, grounded suggestions for how to improve teaching without overwhelming yourself. If the book is too much, I would recommend his companion pieces in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this year about the first five minutes of class and the last five minutes. To tease one great suggestion I will offer this excerpt from the last five minutes piece

“Finish the last class of the week five minutes early, and tell students that they can leave when they have identified five ways in which the day’s material appears in contexts outside of the classroom. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they can come up with examples when this activity stands between them and the dining hall.”

The big picture take away from Small Teaching should be that course revision can be as simple as a trip to the Technology and Learning Program to learn about better grade book integration or making sure group work in your class is always followed by a debrief, it does not have to be a full scale tear down and start over.

Earlier this year a Tuesday Tip on Trigger Warnings elicited strong response from many of you. Given the wide interest I want to be sure you are aware of Jonathan Rauch’s presentation on Wednesday. This award winning scholar’s thoughts on free speech are sure to provoke discussion and his talk should not be missed.

Got feedback on this tip? A small teaching change to suggest? Leave a comment or email it to us. Got an idea for a tip? Send it along.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! The newest episode is on food on and off campus. Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

* This post does not contain affiliate links.

 

Make a Habit of it

Finals are just around the corner and many of us are sprinting/struggling to the finish line. In many courses grading is the thing standing between us and a change of pace during the summer. There have probably been semesters when you moved through grading efficiently and others when you are wondering how serious those requirements on timely grade entry from the Office of the Registrar really are. Those different experiences were probably driven by different habits. Take a minute to think of your best and worst grading habits.

My best habit has always been preparation. This was the time in the semester when I would be motivated to focus in the evenings and clear my schedule of lingering grading, manuscripts in need of attention, and other projects. This allowed me to focus on grading final papers or exams when they came in without having other work to do. When I executed well I would be done with grading on Wednesday of final exam week. My worst habit was the mini-reward. I would be proud of myself for grading one or two papers and take a minute to read ESPN or check facebook, then that minute turned into 10, then I needed a cup of coffee, soon 30 minutes had passed without additional progress.

Despite commonly held beliefs, you do not have enough time to create a new habit before final exams and papers come in, but you do have time to get started. The least we should do is commit to being conscientious of our habits so we can make note for the future. This can be a challenge as habits, by their nature, are often automatic.

This tip was inspired by one of my better habits, listening to the Teaching in H
igher Ed podcast by Bonni Stachowiak and her episode on habits.

grading effectively podcast quote
Teaching in Higher Ed podcast

Her guest Natalie Houston is a regular contributor to the Chronicle and said something
that hit home for me, “habits save us tremendoustime and energy, but they can also lead us to doing a lot of things mindlessly.” It made me think about the things I do mindlessly which are not that productive.

Got feedback on this tip? A bad habit to disclose? Leave a comment or email it to us. Got an idea for a tip? Send it along.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! The newest episode is on food on and off campus. Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

 

Low Stress, High Success

SStress-Metertress seems everywhere this time of the semester. The academic year is close to an end which means student concerns about grades and graduation, too many meetings crammed into the day, celebrations that sometimes feel like obligations, and this year we are all making sense of the strike and what it might mean for ourselves and our students. Speaking of students, the stress of the end of the year can be even greater for them as they deal with a host of transitions many of us moved on from years ago.

I once worked with a graduate student whose motto was “low stress-high success” and while I have never been able to live the slogan quite how he did, the merits of limiting stress in our lives are well documented and substantial.

This week’s tips for reducing stress are brought to you by the School of Nursing. They authored the attached sheet and want to encourage you to stop by their table outside Butte Station this week to pick up a stress kit. Please encourage your students to stop by as well.

 

But I really deserve an A

I have a tortured relationship with grade appeals. I admire the investment of students in their education. It takes courage to walk into an office hour and make a case for a higher grade to what may be an unreceptive audience. Whether it is the first office hour visit of the semester or the 100th, I appreciate a student who is willing to advocate for themselves. I also dread every one of these conversations where students sometimes pry into the minutia of assignments I put behind me months ago.

Over time I have developed some strategies for dealing with this that I have shared earlier. A recent article from Faculty Focus shed light on a different way to deal with these conversations, through rubrics. The argument is relatively simple: greater clarity in the grading process decreases complaints and can increase student performance. It can also prevent you from getting sued. A student literally sued University of Massachusetts, Amherst over a passing, but apparently unsatisfactory grade in 2007. He lost the case and it is extreme, but it does highlight the commitment of some students to the grades they feel they deserve.

There are other benefits to more systematized grading as well. A 2010 study by Bickes and Schim revealed rubrics as an effective way to curb grade inflation in a nursing program by standardizing grading practices across sections. I have always found the process of creating rubrics instructive as it forces me to consider the relative value of components of an assignment. Rubrics are not the answer to all your problems, but they do offer some real benefits in the short and long term.

Looking for time to form a Faculty Learning Community and develop some program rubrics? As luck would have it, we are in the window for Learning Enhancement Grants and I encourage you to apply for any worthy idea.

Got an idea for a tip or feedback about this one? Don’t hesitate to send it to us. We are developing a wordpress site (under construction) to showcase teaching tips and your great ideas.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! The newest episode is on our new President. Link to it on itunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

*  Bickes, J. T. & Schim, S. M. (2010). Righting writing: Strategies for improving nursing student papers. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 7, 1-11. doi: 10.2202/1548-923X.1964