April 23, 2013
Use learning contracts to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning
Create learning contracts for students in your courses with the following two purposes:
For first course assignment, ask students to create a draft of a learning contract in which the student establishes a learning goal to accomplish in your course during the term. Students should also describe the support they hope to receive from you (their instructor) and from their peers (their classmates) to help them attain this goal.
The learning contract format contains the following elements:
A statement of the learning goal that meets the following criteria:
The student should describe each of the following in his/her learning contract:
During the first class session, include an activity in which students learn to write a learning goal using Bloom´s taxonomy (see the CUTLA web site for information on Bloom’s: http://uwf.edu/cutla/assessstudent.cfm and http://uwf.edu/cutla/writingslo.cfm). During the second class session, students should give one another feedback on their learning contracts and make adjustments to eliminate actions and expectations that are not reasonable. Ask students to submit their final draft at the end of class or post it in eLearning by the end of the week.
During the term, ask students to complete a self-assessment exercise two or three times before the end of the term. In this activity, the students should evaluate their progress toward achieving their learning goals by responding to closed and open ended questions.
Suggestions for self-assessment questions:
Distribute the self-assessment to students through e-mail as a Google Form, which will enable you to collect responses in an Excel spreadsheet. Summarize the students’ responses during class to facilitate a group discussion on how the class is progressing and how students feel about their learning progress. The learning contract activity engages students in the course content and helps instructors identify aspects of the class that students perceive to help and hinder their learning. The self-assessments help students become aware of the relation between their activities and effort and their level of success in attaining their learning goals.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted to the Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Anabella Martinez, Professor of the Education Department and Director of the Centro for Teaching Excellence (CEDU), Universidad del Norte (Barranquilla, Colombia).
WKU Writer’s Consortium
April 16, 2013
Closing the term: Solicit advice from current students for future students
Recruit your successful students to serve as mentors to students in your future classes. Near the end of the term, ask your current students in your classes to write down advice they would give to students who will take the course the next term. What should these students do to be successful in your class?
On the first class day, distribute the letters. Give a different letter from a previous student to each new student. After reading their letter, ask the students to exchange letters with a nearby student. Repeat this process several times so that each student has the opportunity to read a few letters. Then have a class discussion in which students identify common themes in the letters of advice.
The student mentors will write things like, “Be sure to do the homework Dr. Jones assigns for the chapter about ____ because it really helps you understand the concepts,” or, “Get yourself into a study group to go over the material outside of class—that really helped me and all my group members make it through this class,” etc.
Current students generally write advice for new students that is positive, even if the recommendations are things like, “This is a really hard subject; you will have to work in this class. But if you follow the syllabus and ask Dr. Jones for help, you will get through.”
The fact that the advice comes from students who survived your course is a key attribute to the persuasiveness of the advice. Your new students would likely value such advice if they had a chance encounter with your former students, knew those students passed the course, and had the opportunity to get pointers on how to ace the course. This strategy ensures that current students will “encounter” several previous students.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted to the Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Jeff King, Ed.D., Executive Director, Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching & Learning, University of Central Oklahoma.
WKU Writer’s Consortium
March 19, 2013
Cognitive warm-ups to wake up student thinking skills
How can you ensure that students arrive to class on time and prepared to engage in the learning activities planned? How can you begin each class with an enthusiastic activity that wakes up your students and gets them ready to focus on the business of learning?
Cognitive warm-ups are like pre-exercise stretches for the mind and the attention span.
Warm-ups consist of an event or activity that will challenge your students, engage them in relevant thinking skills, and create an engaging transition between when students arrive and the beginning of class. A cognitive warm-up should align with course goals and relate to topics you plan to discuss that day, although they might relate to general thinking skills important to the discipline. Warm-up activities should be brief, interactive, and involve solving a puzzle or having a laugh would probably work as a warm-up.
Suggestions for cognitive warm-up activities
Warm-ups as mid-class breaks in longer class sessions
For a 90-minute class or a long evening class, you can use a warm-up activity as a mid-class refresher to help refocus attention following a break. Investing 5 minutes of class time for an activity that engages and motivates students is a small price to pay for the dividend of refocused attention.
Once you have a suitable collection of activities, you can introduce a warm-up at the beginning of the term and use a warm-up every day. Regular use can motivate students to attend class and arrive on time, if only because they are curious about what you found to introduce the current topic. You might prefer to experiment with less frequent warm-ups until you develop a collection of suitable activities for your course.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted to the Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Fred W. Sanborn, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology & Director, Teaching & Learning Center, North Carolina Wesleyan College (firstname.lastname@example.org).
November 13, 2012
Why students don’t read: Strategies to increase student preparation for class
A “flipped” class requires students to read assigned materials and complete other assigned work that prepares them to apply new learning during in-class activities that promote deep learning of course content and skills. Instructors can assign readings, but what if students do not complete these readings before coming to class?
Hoeft (2012) reports that 56%-68% of students in a first-year class reported that they did not read assigned material before class. The most common reasons students give to explain why they did not read assigned materials are:
Students who say that they read the assigned materials usually said that they were motivated to complete reading assignments because they were concerned about grades.
Students who say that they did not complete assigned readings suggested that instructors might increase the number of students who read assigned material if they
Hoeft tried each strategy in one of three different courses. She found that reading quizzes and supplementary graded work successfully motivated students to complete assigned reading (74% of students in a course that used reading quizzes; 95% of students in a course that used an assigned, graded reading journal). Although more students reported reading when the journal assignment was used as a motivator, an independent measure of reading comprehension indicated that quizzes improved comprehension more than the journal assignment. Students in the reading journal assignment class appeared to read superficially, skimming the readings to find answers to questions included in the assignment; students in the reading quiz class appeared to read more deeply because the reading quizzes tapped reading content in less predictable ways than did the journal assignments.
Instructors can implement reading quizzes by creating self-grading quizzes in eLearning as graded assignments. Close access to the quizzes on the due date for the assigned reading to motivate students to complete the reading before class sessions. Alternatively, some instructors implement reading quizzes in the first 5 minutes of the class meeting (perhaps as clicker questions). If completed during class, the reading quizzes also serve to motivate students to attend class and participate in planned learning activities.
Hoeft, M. E. (2012). Why university students don’t read: What professors can do to increase compliance. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6, (2). http://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/ijsotl/v6n2.html
November 15, 2011
Motivate students to learn by offering “extra credit” opportunities that reinforce course learning outcomes
Near the end of a term, more students will ask their instructors if they will give them opportunities to earn extra credit to improve a course grade. Instructors have many good reasons to object to these requests. Completing an extra assignment requires time that a struggling student ought to allocate to study and completion of regular course assignments. Students often expect that the extra work will earn all the credit they need to make the target grade. If a student spends time on an extra assignment and still does badly in the course, the unmet expectations create a conflict between the student and the instructor. If the extra credit activity is unrelated to the primary learning outcomes of the course, the inflated grades will fail to accurately describe student achievement on the student learning outcomes for the course.
The following assignments and activities can be used to provide students with opportunities to improve their course grade and motivate students to learn the intended course skills and content.
Thanks to Ed Gehringer, North Carolina State University, Stacy Jacob, Texas Tech University, Stuart McKelvie, Bishop’s University, and June Pilcher, Clemson University for suggestions included in this teaching tip.
September 13, 2011
Short video guides for students on effective study strategies
College students frequently waste time using ineffective study strategies because they are unaware of which strategies are effective or don’t retain the suggestions for effective study provided by their instructors. Stephen Chew, a cognitive psychologist at Samford University, created a series of 5 short YouTube videos that describe effective study strategies and explain why these strategies produce learning that lasts.
In each video, Chew provides context and defines terms so that an instructor can direct students to an individual video for good advice on studying. However, because each video builds on concepts explained in detail in earlier videos, the greatest benefit will be gained by asking students to view all of the videos in sequence. The following annotated guide to the five videos is based on descriptions provided by Stephen Chew.
Video Guide: How to Study Long and Hard and Still Fail…or How to Get the Most Out of Studying
The overall theme of the videos communicates two important ideas. First, students who use ineffective or inefficient ways of studying will discover that they study long and hard and still fail. Second, students who use effective strategies will get the most learning out of their study time and will be more likely to succeed.
Video 1: Beliefs That Make You Fail…Or Succeed
Chew examines common mistaken beliefs students often possess that undermine their learning. The video tries to correct those misconceptions with accurate beliefs about learning.
Video 2: What Students Should Understand About How People Learn
Chew introduces a simple but powerful theory of memory, Levels of Processing, that explains why some strategies are more beneficial than others for learning. Application of the Levels of Processing model when selecting study strategies can help students improve their study.
Video 3: Cognitive Principles for Optimizing Learning
Chew operationalizes the concept of level of processing into four principles that students can use to develop effective study strategies.
Video 4: Putting the Principles for Optimizing Learning into Practice
Chew applies the principles of deep processing to common study situations. Chew describes the conditions in which the student’s method for taking notes in class or highlighting text while reading corresponds to either shallow or deep processing, with predictable consequences for quality of learning.
Video 5: I Blew the Exam, Now What?
Chew addresses what students should and should not do when they earn a bad grade on an exam.
The first four videos are based on a presentation Stephen Chew makes to freshmen at Samford, which he described in a publication of the Association for Psychological Science Observer (2010).
Chew, S. L. (2010). Improving student performance by challenging student misconceptions about learning. Observer, 3 (4).
Available at the following URL:
January 4, 2011
Engage students in your course by placing it in the context of the student’s major
Students enroll in courses for a variety of reasons, some intrinsic, some extrinsic. They might be curious about a topic or discipline. They might have heard positive comments about an instructor from other students. Or the course might be required, either for all majors in a discipline (or related discipline) or as an option to meet a graduation requirement.
Students who register for a course for intrinsic reasons arrive on the first day excited and motivated to engage in the course. Students who register primarily because a course satisfies a requirement might feel coerced in their choice and be resistant to engaging in the course. How can instructors engage and motivate students who arrive with ambivalence about the course?
Students sometimes select a major without fully understanding the breadth and skill expectations of the discipline. They might regard some required courses merely as obstacles to their goals rather than as important components of the knowledge and skills that characterize the discipline. The first day of a class is a good opportunity to place the course in the context of the major and clarify the importance of the learning outcomes associated with that course for development of professional skill in the discipline.
Courses that function as service courses to a variety of majors may present additional challenges, although the subset of learning outcomes that align with the program outcomes the course serves should be identified. Instructors might benefit by learning which students are enrolled in their course to pursue a major in the discipline and which students are enrolled for other reasons. This information can be useful later in the term when selecting specific examples of applications to discuss in class. Including applications that are relevant to service programs as well as applications within the major discipline will help keep these students engaged throughout the term.
October 26, 2010
Balance flexibility and fairness when designing courses
Learner-centeredness shifts responsibility for learning to students by creating varied learning opportunities and multiple evaluation options that allow students to make choices and determine how they will demonstrate their learning (Weimer, 2002). Learner-centered course designs simultaneously hold students responsible for their learning and provide allowances for flexibility when life “interrupts” their studies, while preserving our “lines in the sand” for academic standards and our sanity.
Students need to know that submitting work late creates obstacles for getting and using feedback effectively. Still, life sometimes gets in the way of the best of intentions. Instructors who provide flexible solutions for these situations create opportunities for students to manage deadlines and learn material without delivering instructions or course material multiple times.
Examples of course design ideas that accomplish this:
Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
This tip was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium, (sponsored by Western Kentucky University) by Mark Potter, Center for Faculty Development, Metropolitan State College of Denver (http://www.mscd.edu/cfd/).
September 21, 2010
Textbook affordability: Encourage students to read by making sure they have access to a text
Many students have difficulty acquiring course texts, especially at the start of the term if they must delay purchasing texts until after their financial aid has been disbursed. Instructors have several options to help make textbooks more affordable for their students.
Information about accessing the textbook rental program is available at: http://www.bkstr.com/CategoryDisplay/10001-529757-10759-1?demoKey=d
Visit the FAQ page for the Florida Orange Grove for additional information, including pricing information: http://www.theorangegrove.org/OGTtest.htm
April 6, 2010
Help students organize their learning by identifying the “big questions” for your course
Gerald Nosich (2009) points out that any large body of knowledge has a core belief, “a fundamental and powerful concept . . . that can be used to explain or think out a huge body of questions, problems, information, and situations.” Fundamental concepts are useful for instruction because they help students understand and organize the course content. Blythe and Sweet note that they begin their courses in World Literature each semester with a discussion of one fundamental idea that illuminates the overall content of the course: Art reflects its culture. In each subsequent class, they discuss how the work studied that day reveals something about the culture that produced it.
Identifying a few fundamental concepts for your course serves two purposes. First, it demonstrates your own mastery of the subject. Second, it creates a touchstone for your students to organize their understanding of new content throughout the semester. These fundamental concepts will also transfer to other courses within the discipline. When students complete a course in World Literature and then take a course in English or American Literature, they will begin these courses with the advantage of knowing that the works they will study will reveal aspects of English or American culture.
Tip contributed by Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY.
Nosich, G. (2009). Learning to think things through: A guide to critical thinking across the curriculum (3rd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
March 23, 2010
Improving student learning by helping students understand the value of errors for improvement of self-regulated learning
Self-regulated learning involves acquiring skills such as setting goals, monitoring progress during study, and evaluating and modifying study strategies to improve performance on a learning task.
Two problems plague student learning:
Barry Zimmerman (CUNY) argues that students can be coached to evaluate their study strategies and monitor their learning progress realistically to improve learning and overall skill in learning new material.
Effective coaching requires that instructors provide accurate feedback about learning so that students can assess strengths and weaknesses in their study strategies. When students make mistakes, they need coaching to help them reflect accurately on what went wrong. It isn’t enough to simply provide accurate feedback to students. Ensure that students process this feedback by requiring them to demonstrate that they understand the feedback they receive.
One way to encourage students to reflect on feedback is to ask them to respond to the following questions after getting feedback on exam performance:
This approach is particularly effective when it is connected with specific content because the strategy that will work when solving one type of problem might differ from the strategy that will be effective when attempting to solve a different type of problem.
Barry Zimmerman (Ed. Psych, CUNY) runs a self-regulated learning project at CUNY. This tip is based on an article on Dr. Zimmerman’s project published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, February 12, 2010.
January 12, 2010
Help students succeed in your course by sharing effective study strategies
As experts in academia, faculty sometimes forget that the study habits that enabled them to be successful as students and distinguished them as competitive applicants to graduate programs were (and continue to be) rare skills among undergraduate students. Share your expertise as a student with your students and describe the skills and habits they should acquire to be successful in your course.
An example of this sharing of expertise is the following handout that Julie Ann Williams provides to students in her Operations Management course at the beginning of the term. Although some of her advice is specific to successful completion of this course, much advice is transferrable to other courses.
How to Be Successful in MAN3504
Thanks to Julie Ann Williams for sharing this handout.
Julie Ann Stuart Williams, Ph.D., P.E.
Department of Management/MIS
University of West Florida
November 18, 2008
If an activity is good for student learning, make it a requirement
Creating an engaging and beneficial student activity is no guarantee that students will make use of this activity. We can ensure that students will benefit from these activities by making activities that improve learning required. Include explicit credit for participation in these activities, if only as a participation grade worth 10% of the final grade, to motivate students to engage in these activities.
Carol Twigg (2003) describes a course redesign project at the University of New Mexico in which a collection of supplementary online activities (interactive web-based activities, online quizzes, and programmed self-instruction modules) was added to the General Psychology course (with a reduction in the amount of face-to-face time in lecture). The redesigned course was more difficult than the traditional lecture-only course. For example, the course covered the content in all chapters in a high-level text (versus the common practice of deleting one or two chapters because constraints on lecture time). In one semester, students in all sections of this course had access to the online materials and were encouraged to use them. Students in one section were required to use these materials and earned course points for their participation whereas these activities were optional in the other section. Students in the section with mandatory participation outperformed their peers in the voluntary participation section on identical exams administered in face-to-face settings: 37% of students in the traditional course earned A’s and B’s on these exams whereas 77% of students in the course with mandatory participation earned A’s and B’s on the same exams.
Want to help students improve study habits and develop personal life skills that will help them succeed in academia? Each semester, the UWF Counseling and Wellness Services offers weekly Living Well Workshops. Students can learn about time management, study skills, managing test anxiety, and other topics that can improve their academic performance. Consider encouraging students in your course to participate in one or more of these workshops by providing an incentive for participation in your course syllabus.
Review the Living Well Workshop schedule to identify workshops that might be relevant to your course or helpful to your students:
Twigg, C. A. (2003, July). Build it, but will they come? Learning Market Space. Electronic newsletter published by the National Center for Academic Transformation. Retrieved from http://www.thencat.org/Newsletters/Jul03.htm#1
November 10, 2008
How to Deal with Uninterested Students?
Students may be disengaged and uninterested in courses when they believe they only enrolled in the course because it was required. One way to engage these uninterested students is to discover common ground between their interests and the course content. During the first week of class, gather information about your students’ interests. In addition to gathering their names, majors, and e-mail addresses, ask them the question: What do you do? Students will describe their jobs and out-of-class interests, which might be connected to course content through specific examples. If students in a course include a large number of non-majors (e.g., if the course is frequently used as part of another major or if students in another discipline frequently select your course as part of a minor), illustrate course topics with examples that are related to these other disciplines to engage these students with the course. If you know that a number of students are interested in video games or work in restaurants, you might be able to create assignments or use examples in class that connect to these experiences. Students can be asked to create these connections themselves as part of an assignment. Ask students to identify and describe relations between specific course material and an interest or issue they encounter in their daily life.
Arvidson, P. S., (2008, October 3). Students 101: How to tailor your teaching to the interrupter, the hijacker, and other familiar types. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
http://chronicle.com/temp/email2.php?id=pXTd9YygrhV8dXbv4fssJZnRxYpK4csh (accessed 9/30/2008).
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Relate the material you are teaching to real-world contexts and potential careers. Information in textbooks can often be abstract or very theoretical in nature. Students will understand, appreciate, and remember information a lot better if they can relate it to current events, how it is used in real settings, how it relates to what they will do after they graduate, how it relates to other topics in their field or even other disciplines, etc.
Another strategy to encourage students to actively engage with class material is to ask students to bring a standard 3X5 index card to each class for a brief “quiz.” Present a question on the topic of the day that requires the student to consider how the topic relates to something real in their lives. This strategy requires the student to consider the relevance and implications of the course material to their lives outside of the class. Any response that indicates reasonable consideration of the issue is regarded as “correct” and receives credit. In addition, because the quizzes comprise a portion of the final grade for the course, this activity encourages attendance and affords an easy way for the instructor to take attendance for record keeping.
Thanks to Eman El-Sheikh (Computer Science and CUTLA Fellow) and Ron Belter (Psychology) for these suggestions.
Updated 05/17/13 cdw
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