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Feb 6 / Carl Sorgen

Teaching a Range of Academic Readiness

How can you turn the challenge of teaching students with a wide range of academic readiness into an opportunity?

Lecture Course

Connect learning to students’ prior knowledge, experiences, and interests.  Helping students to make meaningful connections with what they already know provides a foundation on which to build new knowledge and skills. They are more likely to apply the course content in meaningful ways.

Vary your assessments.  If possible, give students choices in how they demonstrate their mastery of the course content where appropriate.  Allow students to submit their assignment as a blog post, a journal entry, an experiment, a short video, an article, a poster, to name just a few options. Through this type of assessment students have more flexibility to work on their interests and needs, and then share their findings with the group.

Vary your instructional strategies.  Some instructors on campus have found it beneficial to incorporate more active learning strategies to effectively teach students with different academic readiness. For example, project-based learning helps students to deepen their understanding of a topic while working interdependently with peers as a part of a small group.

Consultants in the Office for Teaching and Learning are available to meet with you in person, by phone, or virtual meeting spaces (e.g., Skype or Blackboard Collaborate) to discuss strategies for teaching students with a range of academic readiness. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the OTL at 313-577-0001 or email OTL@wayne.edu.

Use the comment section below to let us know what strategies you have found most useful when you anticipate needing to respond to a range of student readiness in a course!

Jan 19 / Carl Sorgen

Facilitating Hot Moments in the Classroom

As educators, having difficult conversations in the classroom can be a transformative component of teaching and learning that can help students grow. For many students, university life brings experience that can expose them to multiple points of view and peers from many different backgrounds. While a diversity of ideas and people is a central attribute of the Wayne State University experience, instructors may value some tips on how to facilitate “hot moments” in the classroom.  These strategies can help instructors approach difficult topics in a manner productive for everyone.

 

What helps?

  • Get to know your students and help them get to know each other before taking on a controversial topic. This will also allow you to anticipate potential issues and plan accordingly.
  • Establish your expectations for the classroom climate by clarifying appropriate classroom behaviors. For example, with your students, create discussion guidelines (e.g., don’t shout, raise your hand, let people finish their thoughts, don’t hog air time, etc.).
  • Confront the potential for conflict in a direct way: students know when you are honest.
  • Link the discussion topics to learning outcome goals related to your course / discipline and make sure this link is transparent to students.
  • Actively facilitate the discussion by using multiple methods to make sure everyone has a chance to form and express their perspectives (whether they talk, or not). Use brief writing exercises, voluntary dyad discussion partners, etc.  Normalize the experience that students may feel strongly and differently about the topic. If you feel comfortable, gentle humor can help re-center a heated discussion, as that will give students a chance to stop and reflect. Strive to remain personally neutral and play devil’s advocate to facilitate multiple points of view.
  • Ask supporting questions to help students explain their opinion, and encourage students to clarify their point of view.
  • After class discussion, follow up with students to make sure they got the right take-aways.

 

Faculty Support:

To hear a podcast from faculty colleagues around the country sharing strategies they use in the classroom to make discussions of difficult topics helpful and productive, click here.

The Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) staff is available to consult with instructors on teaching strategies and learning-related outcomes associated with addressing sensitive and emotionally charged issues when these emerge in the classroom in either anticipated or unplanned ways. We are available in person, by phone, or virtual meeting spaces (e.g., Skype or Blackboard Collaborate).  To schedule an individual consultation, click here or call (313) 577-0001.

Our colleagues in the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) at the University of Michigan have prepared a useful resource, Responding to Difficult Moments. Should you decide to invite a discussion, it may help to review these guidelines for difficult topics.

Additionally, Lee Warren, from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University, describes a series of concrete strategies instructors can implement to facilitate learning in the midst of emotionally charged topics in Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom.

 

 

Dec 5 / Carl Sorgen

WIDER Steering Committee Accepting Proposals for 2017 SSTEP Fellows

A team of faculty consisting of Andrew Feig (Chemistry), Peter Hoffmann (Physics), Robert Bruner (Mathematics), Karen Myhr (Biology), and Mathew Ouellett (Associate Provost and Director of the Office for Teaching and Learning) have been awarded a series of NSF grants to study and improve STEM education at Wayne State.  The project began with WIDER (Widening Implementation and Dissemination of Evidence-Based Reforms) and is continued with funding from the NSF IUSE (Improving Undergraduate STEM Education) program.  This program has funded a five-year project, titled “Student Success Through Evidence-based Pedagogies” (SSTEP).  The SSTEP grant is designed to fund a range of competitive, department-based awards of up to $100,000 supporting faculty-driven course reform projects.

 

In 2016, four teams of faculty were awarded SSTEP funding for their course reform projects.  These projects are:

  • Student-student and student-instructor interaction intensive teaching strategies for two fundamental proof-based mathematics courses. This project is utilizing group work and project-based learning to improve student learning and experience in two upper-level courses in the Department of Mathematics.
  • Evidence-based course sequence in “Physics for the Life Sciences.” Based in the Physics and Astronomy Department, this project includes a redesign of the curriculum and implementation of Peer Instruction in a sequence of introductory Physics classes for life science majors.
  • Effective Mathematics INstruction for lEarning aNd Teaching (EMINENT). EMINENT is reforming a sequence of math classes for pre-service K-12 teachers, including the use of group work and journaling.  This project is a collaboration between the Wayne State Departments of Mathematics and Mathematics Education and Henry Ford College Mathematics Education.
  • Student-initiated learning in engineering. This project has incorporated a team-based project in an introductory course in the College of Engineering, demonstrating real-life application of the coding skills learned in this course.

 

The WIDER Steering Committee is now accepting proposals for faculty-driven course reform projects for 2017.  Faculty in STEM departments are invited to submit proposals for course reform projects leading to the implementation of evidence-based practices and learner-centered classroom experiences.  Preference will be given to developmental and foundational courses for STEM majors, though upper-division classes impacting degree completion will also be considered.

 

Two information sessions will be held for faculty to ask questions about their proposals and the review process.  Additionally, questions can be directed to the PI, Andrew Feig (afeig@chem.wayne.edu).  The information sessions will be held:

  • December 6, 2016 at 10 AM, Maccabees Building, Conference Room A
  • January 5, 2017 at 1 PM, Purdy/Kresge Teaching Commons, Room 150

 

The request for proposals can be found here.  Proposals are due February 8, 2017.

 

Nov 15 / Carl Sorgen

Teaching and Learning Post-Election: OTL Resources for Instructors

As members of the Wayne State University community continue to absorb and grapple with understanding the implications of the presidential election, the Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) has prepared some resource materials for instructors.

As President Wilson recently said, “…whether we agree or disagree with the election outcome, we must come together for the sake of our students, our university and our community.” At the OTL we have been hearing from instructors seeking guidance and resources on how to talk with their students in this post-election time. Of course, such strategies depend on many factors and you may or may not choose to engage your students in conversation about the election results. In either case, we hope the following will prove helpful.

Huston and DiPietro (2007) suggest that instructors’ responses need not be complicated, time-intensive, or personalized for students to perceive them as helpful. They offer the following strategies as useful to consider:

  • Be yourself. Students appreciate an instructor who responds in a unique and humane way. Faculty should not feel pressured to homogenize their responses or have the perfect answer.
  • Acknowledge that members of the class may quite possibly have a direct relationship with the current event (and different perspectives on what the election may mean personally, to their families, to their communities, and to the country).
  • Consider holding a minute of silent reflection at the beginning of class.
  • Be self-reflective yet neutral. Students unsure of how to relate to events may benefit from seeing a mentor model open-ended reflection and self-control.
  • Understand that this election might resonate with prior experiences with authorities and social institutions (both in our own life and in our students’ lives).
  • Cognitive research informs us that working memory capacity is reduced during times of enhanced stress, making students less capable of focusing and learning new material:
    • Consider supporting anxious students by offering to grant an extension on current assignments for those who request it.
    • Offer to review course material again in a future class session in case students are preoccupied or distracted.
  • Consider posting campus resources for students on your course Blackboard site. A simple acknowledgement that this may be a stressful time and that seeking formal and / or informal support in addition to friends and family can be genuinely helpful.

 

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

(313) 577-3398

552 Student Center

 

Office of Multicultural Student Engagement (OMSE)

(313) 577-2408

799 Student Center

 

Office of Diversity and Inclusion

(313) 577-2200

4135 Faculty Administration Building

 

Dean of Students Office

(313) 577-1010

301 Student Center

 

Consider the tools of your discipline as the point of entry. Faculty responses that required high levels of effort were also viewed as helpful, so those who wish to use the lens of their discipline to examine the events and possible future outcomes surrounding this election are encouraged to do so. Such strategies might include journal writing, listening to a story that addresses relevant themes, reading selected poems, and other activities that allow students to address the events (Huston & DiPietro, 2007).

 

Faculty Support:

The Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) staff is available to consult with instructors on teaching strategies and learning-related outcomes associated with addressing sensitive and emotionally charged issues when these emerge in the classroom in either anticipated or unplanned ways. We are available in person, by phone, or virtual meeting spaces (e.g., Skype or Blackboard Collaborate).  To schedule an individual consultation, click here or call (313) 577-0001.

Our colleagues in the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) at the University of Michigan have prepared a useful resource, Returning to the Classroom After the Election, as well. Should you decide to invite a discussion, it may help to review these guidelines for difficult topics.

Additionally, Lee Warren, from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University, describes a series of concrete strategies instructors can implement to facilitate learning in the midst of emotionally charged topics in Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom.

 

Sometimes, more comprehensive social and psychological support is warranted. Additional resources include:

 

Sep 7 / Carl Sorgen

Teaching through Technological Outages

How do you keep your classes moving ahead when technology isn’t cooperating?

 

The beginning of the semester can present technological challenges under the best circumstances.  Recently, faculty and students have experienced ongoing issues with accessing Blackboard, the WSU learning management system.  During this time of fluctuating access, consider other means to communicate with your students. For example, some instructors on campus have found email and the Academica stream helpful substitutes.

 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Remind students that you are available to them (in person, by phone, via Skype, or email). Highlight your contact information and office hours.   Assuring your students that they can still reach you will make them feel more connected to their course and you during a time of technological outages.
  • Reassure students that they are not the only ones experiencing these issues; the situation is campus wide and the university is doing everything possible to remedy it.
  • Email a copy of the syllabus, related course materials, and information on upcoming assignments so they have an electronic copy on hand until they have Blackboard access again. From there, they can choose what to print and what to save on their computer or in email.

 

You may also want to consider being flexible with your current deadlines.

  • For example, you could email your students to let them know you are extending the due date of current assignments because of the technology glitch.
  • Consider allowing students to submit assignments by email, via OneDrive, or by sharing a Google Doc.
  • If pertinent to your course, allow students multiple attempts on assignments and avoid checking “Forced Completion,” as students may not be able to complete assignments or tests if a technical glitch occurs.

 

As always, the Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) and Computing & Information Technology (C&IT) are here to assist you.  We are happy to think creatively with you to ensure a successful experience for students and instructors.

 

Have you found strategies that are working well for you and your students? Share your ideas in the comments.

Aug 24 / Carl Sorgen

Do you have a strategy for learning students’ names?

If you want your students to be active participants in their learning over the course of the semester, then on the very first day, set an example and engage them in an active learning activity!

Many times students in your classes won’t know each other.  To create opportunities for peer learning, begin with getting to know each other’s names.  Dedicate time during the first class to learn students’ names and to help them learn each other’s names. Creating a sense of community among students fosters learning both inside and outside of the classroom.  Here are some strategies for learning students’ names in courses of various sizes.

 

For classes with about 40 or fewer students

Have the students move their desks in a circle so everyone can see each other.  Ask students to say an adjective that describe them and then state their preferred name.  The adjective should start with the same sound as their name (e.g., “Charismatic Carl” or “Shy Shonda”).  Start with the person on your left and go around the circle.   Here’s the catch; have the next person in the circle repeat all of the previous adjectives and names.  The last person should be you.  It can be challenging, but hearing the names repeated multiple times and associating an adjective with each individual will help solidify the names for you as well as all of your students.

Tip: This isn’t a test!  Don’t be shy about helping each other as you go around the room.

Acknowledge that there is some swirl during the beginning of the semester and students will continue to come and go for the first few weeks.  During this time, use a couple of minutes at the beginning of each class session for new students to introduce themselves.  This communicates a desire to create an inclusive learning environment where they’re not just another number. 

 

For larger class settings

  • When students ask a question, have them say their name first.
  • Use a seating chart.
  • Have students make name cards that they place in front of them.
  • Use a class list to randomly call on students.
  • Ask students to turn to their left and right (forming a small group of three) and introduce themselves.

Tip: Although it can be difficult to learn every person’s name in large classes, even trying with some success has an impact on students.

At the appropriate time, ask students to identify someone if they’re going to miss class so they can get the notes.  Even in a large lecture setting, you can ask students to turn to a partner and introduce themselves.  This helps to breakdown a sense of anonymity in a large lecture setting.  Of course, make this a voluntary activity.  Students who do not wish to share their contact information are permitted to opt-out.

Do you use a different strategy for learning names?  Share it in the comments!

 

Jul 26 / Carl Sorgen

Building Effective Scholarly Writing Habits

How well are you making progress on your summer writing projects?

Instructors writing

Productive scholarly writers share similar habits for long-term writing success. Here are some suggestions for maintaining productive writing practices:

  • Write a little bit every day. Even writing for 30-45 minutes a day makes a difference. In time, you will replace the habit of writing when inspiration strikes with writing as a habit.
  • Track your writing. End each writing session with what you would like to achieve the next day.
  • Use a timer. It will release you from watching the clock.
  • Figure out when you’re most creative. Begin blocking that time of day for writing as you would for other appointments.
  • Minimize distractions. Consider going to a “third space” outside of your office and home.  Use an app that blocks access to Facebook and other distractions for during specified times.
  • Create smaller milestones by taking a big project and breaking it down into small pieces. Celebrate small successes and reward yourself when you complete each one.
  • Join a writing group. Find a couple of people with similar writing goals and meet regularly.  Being a part of a writing group will help hold yourself accountable and you will find support and encouragement in the comradery.
  • Attend a retreat. Consider setting aside one day each month to be away from your home and office for a writing retreat.

 

Are you interested in learning more about scholarly writing habits?  Here are some selected resources for writing productively:

  • Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus. Needham Heights, MA:  Allyn & Bacon.
  • Gray, T. (2015). Publish & Flourish: Become a Prolific Scholar (2nd ed.) Las Cruces, NM: Teaching Academy, New Mexico State University.
  • Academic Writing Club is a proprietary service to help you keep on task with your writing projects. http://academicwritingclub.com/
Jul 5 / Carl Sorgen

Catching Up During the Summer – A Summer Checklist

Do you have a mountain of projects that you built throughout the academic year hoping you’ll find time to complete during the summer? We want you to be ready for another successful year, so we put together a summer checklist. If you already have a checklist, you may find more suggestions below. If you don’t have one yet, this might be a great starting point.

 

  • Update and organize your teaching portfolio
  • Update your CV and biographical statement
  • Review your SETs from previous semesters
  • Collect and organize your course materials
  • Make notes on changes you would like to implement in future offerings of your courses
  • Prepare syllabi and course materials for courses you’ll be teaching in the fall
  • Caption your videos and make other materials accessible
  • Start working on your summer writing projects
  • Create a blog
  • Participate in a workshop or webinar
  • Plan travel for the Fall and Winter semesters
  • Focus your research goals for realistic progress
  • Outline your summer goals and break large tasks into smaller steps

 

We found some of the ideas for this checklist on these websites.  For more details, please click on the links.

Marr, M. (2015, June 25). Ideas for faculty: Making the most of your summer.  Retrieved from http://blog.utc.edu/walker-center-teaching-learning/2015/06/26/ideas-for-faculty-making-the-most-of-your-summer/

Kelsky, K. (2014, August 18). The professor is in: The “I’m about to start a tenure-track job” summer checklist.  Retrieved from https://chroniclevitae.com/news/664-the-professor-is-in-the-i-m-about-to-start-a-tenure-track-job-summer-checklist

Jun 14 / Carl Sorgen

OTL offers resources for teaching through tragedies

As part of a metropolitan research university, the diverse members of the Wayne State University community can be affected by local, regional, national and global events when a disaster or devastating events strike. It is possible that there will be occasions in our classrooms when students and instructors may benefit from acknowledging such upheavals and addressing appropriate opportunities for talking about aspects of tragedies. Huston and DiPietro (2007) suggest that instructors’ responses need not be complicated, time-intensive, or personalized for students to perceive them as helpful. They offer the following strategies as useful to consider:

  • Be yourself. Students appreciate an instructor who responds in a unique and humane way. Faculty should not feel pressured to homogenize their responses or have the perfect answer.
  • Acknowledge that members of the class may quite possibly have a direct relationship with the current event.
  • Consider holding a minute of silence at the beginning of class.
  • Be self-reflective yet neutral. Students unsure of how to relate to tragic events may benefit from seeing a mentor model open-ended reflection and self-control.
  • Understand that these incidents might resonate with prior experiences of violence (both in our own life and in our students’ lives).
  • Cognitive research informs us that working memory capacity is reduced during times of enhanced stress, making students less capable of focusing and learning new material:
    • Consider supporting anxious students by offering to grant an extension on current assignments for those who request it.
    • Offer to review course material again in a future class session in case students’ are preoccupied or distracted.
  • Faculty responses that required high levels of effort were also viewed as helpful, so those who wish to use the lens of their discipline to examine the events surrounding a tragedy are also encouraged to do so. Such strategies might include journal writing, listening to a story that addresses relevant themes, reading selected poems, and other activities that allow students to address the events surrounding the tragedy (Huston & DiPietro, 2007).

Huston, T. A., & DiPietro, M. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. To Improve the Academy 25, 207-224.

 

The Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) staff is available to consult with instructors on teaching strategies and learning-related outcomes associated with addressing sensitive and emotionally charged issues when these emerge in the classroom in either anticipated or unplanned ways.

We are available in person, by phone, or virtual meeting spaces (e.g., Skype or Blackboard Collaborate).  To schedule an individual consultation, click here or call (313) 577-0001.

 

Sometimes, more comprehensive social and psychological support is warranted. Additional resources include:

 

Selected Campus Resources:

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

(313) 577-3398

The Thompson Home

4756 Cass Avenue

 

Office of Multicultural Student Engagement (OMSE)

(313) 577-9193

Student Center, 7th Floor

 

Selected Resources on Classroom Strategies:

American Psychological Association. Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting. A Tip Sheet with useful self-care strategies prepared by members of the APA after the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northeastern Illinois University. (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/mass-shooting.aspx)

 

Counseling Services. Coping with and Responding to Traumatic Events. University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Brief description of typical responses, signs that counseling might be indicated, strategies for self-care, and possible actions with others. (http://www.uwec.edu/Counsel/pubs/selfhelp/coping.htm)

 

Warren, L. (2002). Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom. Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. Describes a series of concrete strategies instructors can implement to facilitate learning in the midst of emotions and “hot moments.”  (http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/hotmoments.html)

Apr 26 / Carl Sorgen

Two Strategies for Engaging Students

Mathew L. Ouellett, Associate Provost and Director of the Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) at Wayne State University was interviewed by the Idaho Statesman newspaper while attending the 2016 Summit for Transforming STEM Teaching in Higher Education. Hosted by Boise State University, the summit brought together over 75 higher education professionals from across the United States to share practices for enhancing STEM education. In the video, Dr. Ouellett discusses two active learning strategies, think-pair-share and polling, that instructors can implement in their classes. These techniques don’t take a lot of time and can be very helpful for sustained learning. Click here to read the article and view the video.

Consider using pedagogies that engage students actively, like think-pair-share or polling. Questions about active learning? Click here to see a list of FAQs. Moreover, consultants in the Office for Teaching and Learning are available to meet with you in person, by phone, or virtual meeting spaces (e.g., Skype or Blackboard Collaborate) to discuss strategies for increasing interactivity in your courses. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the OTL at 313-577-0001 or email OTL@wayne.edu.

Do you have a favorite way of actively engaging students in your courses?  Share your ideas in the comments.