VIA Chron of Higher Ed: Carnegie Foundation’s Professors of the Year Profiled

From Heidi Kennedy in Academic Program Management, I received the following link, which is worth looking at if you’re interested in looking at the practice of the most effective teachers. The Chron profiled four professors who received the Carnegie Foundation’s top prize for outstanding undergraduate teaching.  My favorite comment came from Prof. Stephen Chew, Chair of Psychology at Samford:

The key is to know the students’ level of understanding, he said. “Professors have to meet the students where they are, understand what their beliefs and misconceptions are, and then go from there to bring them up to where they want them to be.”

He also tries to help his students develop better studying skills, talking to them about misconceptions about learning and the bad habits that undermine the learning process.

“I measure my success on what my students take from my class,” he said. “I’m interested in knowing what they can do after they have the class that they couldn’t do before they had the class.”

For those interested in reading more about this subject, I highly recommend Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do, which details the practices of the best teachers in a variety of disciplines.



VIA Chron of Higher Ed: James Lang’s Teaching and Human Memory, pt. I

Some of the material from Jim Lang’s recent plenary talk has just appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, as the first installment of a two-part series regarding cognitive theory and teaching practice.

Lang is wrestling with a problem that we in the CTE have been thinking about ever since our inception: how to align college faculty-members’  teaching experience with the long-term results of research into teaching and learning?  Lang writes:

Miller’s article in College Teaching [which is the subject of Lang’s post] opens with an explanation of why so few of us may count ourselves as even amateur enthusiasts for cognitive theory: The field remains a relatively young one and has evolved rapidly over the past several decades. If you did happen to pick up some ideas 10 or 15 years ago about learning and cognition in a how-to-teach seminar in graduate school, what you learned there might have been superseded or even overturned since then by new information and theories.

Part of the problem is the fact that faculty need well-placed mediators capable of translating these results into insights that could help generate better practice.  This is the kind of role that Lang excels at, and that multi-disciplinary CTEs like ours could perform as well.

Lang is in fact elaborating upon an important article by Michelle Miller published in College Teaching, but I’ll let you review Lang’s discussion as well as Miller’s original research findings.  In the meantime, I wonder if there are important differences in the role of the short- and long-term memory are for teaching in various disciplines?  It’s been a long time, for example, since most literature classes demanded oral recitation of memorized poems, though this was once a staple of literature instruction years ago.  And, as the commenters noted in the Chronicle, I think the immediate access to information via the internet (e.g., this post and its links), must be changing the dynamic, as well.


Using Google+ Hangouts for Video Conferencing with Students

Google Plus debuted this summer as an alternative social media platform to Facebook. Because of its hundreds of millions of registered users in other Google platforms, such as Gmail and Google Docs, Google Plus quickly enrolled over 40 million users. Some users were simply tired of Facebook’s lax privacy policies, others tired of the games, and many others simply eager to see their other Google apps integrated into one central hub, which is apparently what is happening, gradually, at Google Plus. Immediately as it was released, professors began seeing the advantage of Plus in their classrooms.

Here, I’d like to discuss the most obvious tool within Plus for teachers — the Hangout feature. Hangout is a simple video application that allows users to conference with up to ten users simultaneously, with additional tools such as text chat and YouTube sharing that can help teachers, especially, connect and conference with their students.

Overview of Hangouts

Why Use Video Hangouts

Consider one of the primary influences of student success — out of class contact with her professor. Establishing regular office hours is standard for all of us, but the reality is that often our schedules do not work with student schedules, especially UH students, who often work and most often commute to campus. Getting to a professor’s office for the one or two hours she’s available can be not only very inconvenient, but also imposing, especially for our large-class sections.

Instead, I can use Google Hangouts to establish either a fixed time every week to video conference with one or more students or even set small-group supervision meetings with them. The student needs only create the Google Plus account (with any e-mail address), and with a PC with camera, will be able to consult with me from wherever she is, and from wherever I am — office, coffee shop, or back porch.

One immediate concern is privacy — just as we would not discuss a student’s grades with a group of people, we need to maintain strict privacy with our Hangout conversations as well. I first establish the simple rule, then, when using video conferencing with my students:

In any group setting, I will not discuss grades. Period. I can discuss lecture notes, assignments, and give feedback, but not specific scores.

This is no different than a meeting in the office — we can discuss grades individually, but if two or more students are present, we simply won’t. Using video conferencing is no different here.

One advantage of Google Plus, however, is that the Hangout can be open to all in your circles, a smaller circle of just class students, or individuals. This is immediately one of the advantages of using Google Plus over other social networks — you control who sees what and who you talk to. So, I could start a Hangout with just one class, all class sections, or a small student group of five students working on a group project. Google Plus allows you to control all this.

Some Quick Homework Before You Begin

When using Hangouts, review the Help section first, to understand the (simple and free) technical requirements, and how to limit your hangout to your selected audience.

And finally, consider other uses of Hangouts for engaging students, encouraging collaboration, consulting with experts, and otherwise strengthening the learning environment of the course.

Next CTE Faculty Workshop: “The Problem I have with teaching is . . . . .”; Friday, Dec. 2nd, 1-2:30 in 306 MD Anderson Library

Our next CTE workshop will be an open-topic forum that will enable faculty to come and discuss their instructional challenges with CTE board members and facilitators Frank Holt and James Garson.  For further information, please contact them at or

Hope to see you there.

SOTL CFP deadline extended to Nov. 15; anyone going?

This looks like it will be a good event.  Anyone thinking about going? I’d like to organize a UH panel, if possible.


VIA Inside HigherEd: “Student Success, In the Classroom” by Vincent Tinto

Vincent Tinto describes the current state of “student success” at most institutions:

Over the past 20 years, if not more, colleges and universities, states and private foundations have invested considerable resources in the development and implementation of a range of programs to increase college completion. Though several of these have achieved some degree of success, most have not made a significant impact on college completion rates.

This is the case because most efforts to improve college completion, such as learning centers and first-year seminars, sit at the margins of the classroom and do not substantially improve students’ classroom experience. Lest we forget, many students, certainly those in community college, commute to college and work and/or attend part-time. For them, if not for most students, the classroom is one, and perhaps the only, place where they meet with faculty and other students and engage in learning activities. Their success in college is built upon classroom success, one class and one course at a time. If our efforts do not reach into the classroom and enhance student classroom success, they are unlikely to substantially impact college success.

I agree with almost everything written here, but wondered why the learning efforts of faculty members seemed almost like an afterthought in this piece.  We hear about “professional development programs,” but very little about why faculty would want to learn how to do this work, or might resist it.  Is that a problem? Take a look at the comments and decide for yourself. DM
Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

Midterm Course Correction (conference TA panel), Oct. 14. 2011

Despite the fact that I look forward to the fall in Houston–that giddy thrill that comes the first time I step outside in the morning and have to race back inside for a sweater–I always dread this time of year: the middle of the semester.

Every year, I tell myself that this semester I’ll be ready for the inevitable rush. This semester I’ll plan ahead. This semester I won’t take up papers when I know I’ll have papers due in my own classes. But this semester, just like every semester, I’ve got a stack of grading in addition to my own work, and because it’s the fall, this semester, I don’t have a week-long break to give me time to catch up.

And I know it’s just as bad for my students, who are mostly freshmen adjusting to college coursework in addition to balancing their own family obligations and jobs. With this kind of stress, for both me and my students, it’s easy to see why disengagement grows this time of year. Students who have been performing very well are overtaxed, and their preparation for class slides downhill along with their daily grades.

Dealing with the middle of the semester is difficult. As we were reminded at the UH CTE Teaching Conference Panel on “Mid-semester Course Correction” on October 14, the middle of the semester is a time when it’s important to keep your head on straight–setting clear, achievable goals to make sure you get everything done. It’s a time to rededicate yourself to staying healthy for the push to the end of the semester. And it’s a time to reflect on what’s going well and what could be going better in the classroom.

Maybe you’ve reached the middle of the semester only to realize that your students don’t know as much as they should. Maybe your students seem to be disengaging, coming to class unprepared, or even not coming to class. Maybe you’re all bored with the same-old learning activities. Below are some of the strategies we talked about with TAs Geneva Canino (English), Al Bernard (Atmospheric and Earth Sciences), Chris Nicholson (Political Science), and Veronica Sanchez (Atmospheric and Earth Sciences), along with moderator Dr. James Lang (On Course).

Some strategies we discussed for when your classroom needs a little kick, or even a complete overhaul:

  • Introduce activities that engage students in different ways. For example, try kinesthetic activities instead of lecture and writing.
  • Don’t be afraid to go back over “old” material if your students don’t seem to be getting it. If you TA for a professor who doesn’t want to change the syllabus, tell him or her about the problems you’re seeing and see if you can’t address them in labs or discussion sections. As Dr. Lang reminded us, there’s little point in going forward over new material when the knowledge foundations are shaky.
  • Try some activities that invite easy grading (that can be done in a few minutes right after class) or that get students to grade their own or each other’s work. In-class grading has the added benefit of introducing time to discuss mistakes that might otherwise be forgotten.
  • Remember that studies have proven than minimal feedback, especially on writing assignments, is the most useful. You’ll save time by only writing down two or three things to improve on, and students will get more out of your more focused comments.
  • Hand out a simple mid-semester evaluation that asks students to evaluate and reflect on their learning over the semester–this can help you as you make changes, and can also inspire students to make changes to their own learning habits. Dr. Lang suggested three simple questions for a midterm evaluation: 1) How are you doing in this class? 2) What could you be doing to improve your learning? 3) What could I be doing to help improve your learning?
  • If you can adjust your syllabus so that you’re only taking up assignments when you have time to deliver prompt feedback, both you and your students will be better for it. Remember that the more time passes between an assignment and your feedback, the less valuable your comments become.
  • Finally, remember that taking time to do things you enjoy isn’t a waste of time–it’s necessary for your health.

What are your strategies for handling the stresses of the middle of the semester?

Allison Laubach Wright