CTL Newsletter: November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving

It’s been a great semester of teaching and learning. We kicked it off with our annual Course Development Workshop and powered through with sessions on “Microaggressions in the Classroom” and “Stereotype Threat: When the Teacher Feels It.” We also introduced the new GLCA Consortium for Teaching and Learning, an online resource designed to extend the conversation about teaching and learning across the Great Lakes Colleges Association and the Global Liberal Arts Alliance. (New this week on the GLCA CTL website: an “Article of the Week” by our own Jocelyn McWhirter.)

So thanks to all of you who participated in these sessions and lent your voices to the conversation at Albion College. Special thanks to program co-sponsors on the Faculty Committee for Diversity and Ethnic Studies as well as to our Teaching Reflections contributors Jess Roberts, Dianne Guenin-Lelle, Sam McIlhagga, and Mark Bollman. Also to Lynn Verduzco-Baker, Dominick Quinney, Eric Hill, Beth Lincoln, Carrie Menold, and Linda Clawson who helped with brainstorming, planning, and execution.

Our committee meets this week, so look for a variety of offerings in the spring. Meanwhile, mark your calendars for microteaching from 5:00–8:00 p.m. on January 27, 30 and February 6. Invitations arriving soon. And enjoy the winter break!

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Resources: IDEA and the AAC&U

Although we already shared these resources in September, it seems appropriate to share them again now that we are busy with end-of-semester assessment. IDEA stands for Individual Development and Educational Assessment. Most of us are familiar with the “educational assessment” part, since IDEA produces the “Student Ratings of Instruction” instrument that lets us know how our students rate our teaching and their learning. We can also take advantage of the “individual development” part, which includes resources for improving teachingengaging learners, and facilitating various types of learning.

The AAC&U is the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Its mission: “to make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education.” To that end, they have organized the LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) Challengecomplete with its Essential Learning Outcomes and VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) Rubrics. In the next couple of weeks, first-year seminar instructors will test-run AAC&U VALUE Rubrics by applying them to student work.

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CTL News

Microteaching Workshop. Microteaching is an effective tool for teachers to develop their classroom skills in a supportive environment. In microteaching, each participant presents a 7-minute “slice” of a lesson and then receives feedback from a small group of colleagues.The opener is set for January 27, with sessions on January 30 and February 6. We’ll start with dinner at 5:00 and continue until 8:00. Look for your invitation! Or don’t even wait for your invitation and RSVP now by replying to this newsletter.

Teaching Reflections. Contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu if you’d like to share a brief teaching reflection in one of these bi-weekly newsletters. We’d like to publish eight next semester, and yours can be one of them!

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CTL Newsletter: November 15, 2016

Teaching Reflection: A Pirate Looks at 30

(With apologies to Jimmy Buffett, that would be 30 years in college teaching, which is roughly how long I’ve been entangled in this line of work.)

Thirty years in is an interesting place to be: closer to the end than the beginning (probably, and TIAA-CREF willing), but still far enough out that there’s time for another “big idea” or two to take hold in my teaching.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what might be different about teaching in an environment where “the intentional integration of knowledge” is an explicit institutional goal. My immediate reaction was something along the line of “That’s what we do all the time in mathematics classes.” There’s a reason why pretty much every 300-level math class has 2 years of math prerequisites, and so this could be seen as an endorsement of standard operating procedure in my department.

Nothing is ever that simple.

I teach Science 285: Integrated Science for Elementary Teachers from time to time, which ought to stand as a good example of intentional integration of knowledge, and indeed, was designed that way. On the ground with actual students last time, however, I found myself having to scramble a lot to make up for serious gaps in students’ preparation, which meant that any higher purpose of integrating had to be deferred to try and raise the knowledge floor for the class. (I’ll have a lot more to say about this particular example at the next teaching and learning symposium.)

I’m a firm believer in content, and in the notion that integrated learning can’t occur before you’ve got something to integrate. Given that starting point, it seems to me that the real challenge will come in trying to bring “integration of knowledge” to our first-year students, because many of the problems that have been challenging my students and me in Science 285 stem from weak high school backgrounds, especially in mathematics and physics. One way to address that challenge might be to use the first year to build that foundation up from where students enter, and then if the institutes–current and future–are to be the home of integrated learning, only admit students to those beginning in their second year at Albion.

We–students and faculty alike–are going to have to step up our individual and collective games if integrating knowledge is going to be more than some buzzwords. It would be nice if we could meet that challenge as a college.

— Mark Bollman, Mathematics

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Resources

Teaching Blogs. There are lots of good teaching blogs out there. Just within the last week, your newsletter publisher has come across two popular sites dedicated to teaching mathematics. Have a look at Casting Out Nines by Robert Talbert, a math professor at Grand Valley State. Lately he has been posting about getting things done. Pretty helpful for anyone with family responsibilities, the desire to take time off, and a deluge of email.

Another winner is the Teaching Tidbits Blog from the Mathematical Association of America. Association members post on topics like using exit tickets to gauge comprehension and helping students to apply concepts by getting them to generate examples.

It turns out that, like mathematics, math teaching blogs are not just for mathematicians.

If you have a favorite teaching blog, please reply and send the link!

GLCA CTL. New this week: an article about content coverage in introductory courses and an opportunity to discuss how we are responding to students regarding the presidential election.

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CTL News

Microteaching Workshop. Microteaching is an effective tool for teachers to develop their classroom skills in a supportive environment. In microteaching, each participant presents a 7-minute “slice” of a lesson and then receives feedback from a small group of colleagues.The opener is set for January 27, with sessions on January 30 and February 6. We’ll start with dinner at 5:00 and continue until 8:00. Look for your invitation! Or don’t even wait for your invitation and RSVP now by replying to this newsletter.

Teaching Reflections. Contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu if you’d like to share a brief teaching reflection in one of these bi-weekly newsletters. We’d like to publish eight next semester, and yours can be one of them!

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CTL Newsletter: November 1, 2016

Teaching Reflection: Improvising in the Classroom

See if this sounds familiar to you:

You have a course that you are excited to teach. You have spent hours preparing and anxiously awaiting the time you will meet with your class, and share your knowledge with them, and you’re certain they will love it as much as you do! The hour strikes, you begin your teaching and you soon realize that all the plans you made for the lesson aren’t working. The students seem either bored or clueless, or maybe both. You push forward anyhow, because you know this is good stuff (and the students will figure it out, right?). After the class is over, you head back to your office and wonder what went wrong. How could all of your planning and preparing for class end up falling so flat?

So what gives? How is it that I can have both incredibly meaningful and disappointing moments in the same teaching spaces?

I believe the answer is jazz music! Well, more specifically jazz improvisation. Take a moment to YouTube any of the great jazz artists from Dizzy Gillespie to Miles Davis to Wynton Marsalis (yes, I play trumpet). If you watch and listen carefully, there is both control and freedom in the music. Soloists not only perform their own music, they are also communicating with their band. They are listening to what the band is “saying” musically, and responding in real time through their solo. These accomplished musicians are able to present their ideas to the band, have the band react, listen to that reaction, and respond with more ideas–and the communication cycle goes on as long as they choose.

Imagine this scenario where the soloist is a teacher. The interplay between soloist and band is now between teacher and students. Learning goals are like the written music, but that is merely a starting point. The teacher (as leader) must watch and listen carefully to students’ responses–both verbal and nonverbal cues. The teacher as “band leader” then takes that response and says something else–sometimes the same, sometimes a variation, and sometimes something totally different. Much like great jazz performances, it is in the synergy of the moments that the most meaningful learning and teaching occurs. Teaching is not a science, it’s an art. And when my teaching has gone the best it can go, I have been an artist who can improvise.

As an improviser (teacher) I must know my content backward and forward (scales, chords, mathematical formulas, historical facts, key concepts) and I must have prepared multiple ways of communicating that knowledge to my band (class). But it is not enough to know my content, I must also listen to my band (class) and react/respond in real time to what they present. Questions, comments, tangents, blank stares all require my attention and my response. When my teaching is a two-way street like this, then I am much more likely to have “the best of times” in my lesson.

— Sam McIlhagga, Music

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Resources

Student: What went wrong on the mid-term? How can I do better for the final? Maryellen Weimer shares some helpful answers in her Faculty Focus article on “Getting More out of Exam Debriefs.”

Teacher: What’s going wrong with my life? How can I maintain some balance? Kerry Ann Rockquemore offers five steps to realistic balance in her Tomorrow’s Professor posting, “Is Balance a Myth?

Acing the Conference. Todd Zakrajsek (UNC; formerly of Albion College) has created a workbook that will help you get the most out of conferences. You can find an online version at the POD website. Just adapt it to your particular conference and you’re all set!

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CTL News

Microteaching Workshop. Coming up in January/February 2017. Details forthcoming.

Teaching Reflections. Contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu if you’d like to share a brief teaching reflection in one of these bi-weekly newsletters.

Talking about Teaching. Pair up with a colleague. Pay each other a classroom visit; then have a Lower Baldwin lunch on the CTL and talk about teaching. To sign up, use your Talking about Teaching invitation or contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu.

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CTL Newsletter: October 18, 2016

Teaching Reflection: Assessment as Language

My new role as Associate Provost of Advising and Assessment has opened up some new avenues of reflection for me. I have been quite surprised to realize that for me learning about assessment is a lot like learning a new language. I see the standard assessment procedures as not much different from what we have done in the past. But now we are called to supply evidence of student learning through a different means, using a different language. In trying to “walk the talk,” I’m applying some of what I have learned on this subject to my own teaching.

For example, I have begun to use AAC&U VALUE Rubrics as a component in evaluating students’ learning. I have found that students understand the words as they appear on the rubrics more clearly than they understand my words of critique. The rubrics connect the lessons in my class with the standards that I use to evaluate their work in a language that students understand. A recent example comes from my French 301 class, where for the first time ever students gave oral presentations that were really oral presentations: memorized and flowing, including eye contact with the audience and an ease of engagement that I had never seen before. This was the first time in my teaching French 301 that students didn’t read a written text or rely on note cards.  The only difference with my past guidance for students as they prepared for this presentation was that we went over the rubric for oral communication in class beforehand. I was astounded.

Since the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics are used on the majority of other campuses in the United States, they also now represent a common discourse throughout higher education. They have become the common language of accreditation, program review, curricular revisions, and strategic plans. We will have to see how such practices as the VALUE Rubrics play out and inform our own discourse at Albion College and how we communicate evidence of student learning to our own constituents and accrediting agencies. This will be the work of the Committee on Student Learning Outcomes, C&RC, and the administration.

But frankly, the most surprising lesson for me in this new position is seeing how much this administrative job has opened up new avenues in my own teaching and in how I relate to my own students.

— Dianne Guenin-Lelle, Modern Languages and Cultures

(A digital copy of the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics is attached to this newsletter.)

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Resources: The GLCA Consortium for Teaching and Learning

The Great Lakes Colleges Association Consortium for Teaching and Learning is live online! This is our resource for pedagogical development and collaboration with our colleagues in the GLCA as well as the Global Liberal Arts Alliance. Features include:

  • Articles of the Week (brief thought pieces on particular elements or teaching approaches);
  • Essays for Action (research-based essays addressing aspects of teaching with implications for educational practice);
  • Research Annotations (two or three paragraphs describing a salient contribution to the research literature on a topic of pedagogy); and
  • Try This! (a summary account of a research project in which a faculty member adopts an alternative approach to teaching a class).

The home page also showcases videos like “Teaching Tips” and “Meet Your Colleagues” along with a calendar of events from across the consortium.

So let’s get Albion College teachers onto the new GLCA CTL website! Let’s dust off our Teaching Reflections and brush up our research. Let’s share our insights by submitting them to either of the Center’s co-directors, Steven Volk and Greg Wegner. Look here for guidelines and instructions. And look in your email inbox for more information about this innovative effort to share expertise across a global community of teachers.

For more information about the new GLCA CTL, contact your campus liaison Jocelyn McWhirter (jmcwhirter@albion.edu).

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CTL News

Microaggressions: When the Teacher Is the Target. We’ll create a safe space for learning how to recognize and handle the microaggressions that many of us experience. Join us on Thursday, October 27 from 5:00–6:00 p.m. We’ll have lots of classy munchies on hand! RSVP by October 25 to ctl@albion.edu.

New in the CTL Lounge: Enjoy some Japanese sweets, courtesy of visitors from the International Christian University in Tokyo. Complete our new blackboard wall survey: “If my candidate doesn’t win, I will _______.” Check out our book display. Featured topic: mentoring.

Teaching Reflections. Contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu if you’d like to share a brief teaching reflection in one of these bi-weekly newsletters.

Talking about Teaching. Pair up with a colleague. Pay each other a classroom visit; then have a Lower Baldwin lunch on the CTL and talk about teaching. To sign up, use your Talking about Teaching invitation or contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu.

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Upcoming Conferences

The Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning, October 20-22 in Traverse City. Plenary speakers include Todd Zakrajsek, co-author of The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain and one-time psychology professor at Albion College. Off-site registration is closed, but if you fancy a trip to Traverse City, you can register there.

Teaching Professor Conference, June 2-4, 2017 in St. Louis. Call for proposals closes October 31.

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CTL Newsletter: September 26, 2016

News from the GLCA

Did you know that the Great Lakes Colleges Association is getting ready to introduce a Consortium for Teaching and Learning? If you didn’t, now you do! We’re planning to go live within the next few weeks. The Consortium will provide access to resources from across the GLCA as well as around the world through our partners in the Global Liberal Arts Alliance. Steven Volk, Director of Oberlin’s Center for Teaching Innovation and  Excellence, is leading the charge, so it’s bound to go somewhere good!

Access to resources means the opportunity to contribute to resources. We might start thinking about what we can offer. We will be invited to write short “teaching tips” articles, longer research-based articles, literature reviews, and reports about classroom innovation. Your invitation will soon be in the mail.

Here’s an idea: write 500 words now and submit it as a Teaching Reflection! Then you’ll have a head start.

For more information about the new GLCA CTL, contact your campus liaison Jocelyn McWhirter (jmcwhirter@albion.edu).

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Resources: IDEA and the AAC&U

Since we all need to add two more acronyms to our repertoire, we might do well to try IDEA and AAC&U. IDEA stands for Individual Development and Educational Assessment. Most of us are familiar with the “educational assessment” part, since IDEA produces the “Student Ratings of Instruction” instrument that lets us know how our students rate our teaching and their learning. We can also take advantage of the “individual development” part, which includes resources for improving teaching, engaging learners, and facilitating various types of learning.

The AAC&U is the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Its mission: “to make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education.” To that end, they have organized the LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) Challenge, complete with its Essential Learning Outcomes and VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) Rubrics. Not only has the AAC&U created their own world of acronyms, they have also managed to articulate goals for liberal arts learning and standards to which our students can aspire. Wow.

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CTL News

Sticky-Note Contest! The deadline is this Friday, September 30. Stick a bunch of notes together and win a prize. For detailed instructions, check your inbox.

Teaching Reflections. Contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu if you’re willing to share a brief teaching reflection in one of these bi-weekly newsletters.

Teatime Teaching Workshop: Watch for an invitation to a workshop on Thursday, October 27 at 5:00 p.m. Co-sponsored by Ethnic Studies and the CTL.

Talking about Teaching. Pair up with a colleague. Pay each other a classroom visit; then have a Lower Baldwin lunch on the CTL and talk about teaching. To sign up, use your Talking about Teaching invitation or contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu.

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Upcoming Conferences

The Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning, October 20-22 in Traverse City. Plenary speakers include Todd Zakrajsek, co-author of The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain and one-time psychology professor at Albion College. Off-site registration is closed, but if you fancy a trip to Traverse City, you can register there.

Teaching Professor Conference, June 2-4, 2017 in St. Louis. Call for proposals closes October 31.

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CTL Newsletter: September 13, 2016

Teaching Reflections: Friendly Fire

“Education is funky, heartbreaking, and nasty work,” says Kiese Laymon. Is that for the teacher? Or for the student?

At first I thought, for the student. Take, for example, an incident from my friend’s high school history class. The class was reenacting the U. S. Constitutional Convention. Things were going fine until the boys decided to add a clause that would make all the girls their slaves. The boys had a slim majority, so it looked like the clause would pass.

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© Antoinetav / CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The class spent a few days debating that clause. My friend was frustrated by the senseless tedium of those debates. Or so she said. When pressed, she admitted that she was angry at the boys for even thinking of enslaving all the girls. She was also angry at the teacher (a man) for allowing the class to debate the issue.

In the end, the measure was defeated due to a tie-breaking vote by the convention’s president (the teacher). He may well have been satisfied with the results. He had created a hands-on learning experience. He had saved the day. But did he realize that he had also humiliated half the class?

I, too, am a teacher. I, too, have the opportunity to humiliate my students. Like the time I asked my class to reflect on their family’s immigration experience and gave them the option to share it. Things were going fine until it hit me that some students’ families had a painful immigration experience, or possibly a Native American experience. True, I wasn’t asking them to share it. But why was I asking them even to reflect on it in a classroom full of their peers?

I’m so sorry I did that. I’ll never do it again. But that doesn’t mean I won’t mess up in some other way. Because education is funky, heartbreaking, and nasty work.

— Jocelyn McWhirter, Religious Studies

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Resources: Microaggressions

Many thanks to Lynn Verduzco-Baker, Dominick Quinney, and Eric Hill for a lively and helpful workshop on microaggressions. They have kindly shared some resources for this newsletter.

From Lynn: A Google docs file. There you will find a document that walks you through four scenarios in which you might have to recognize and address microaggressions. It also includes the workshop PowerPoint presentation, Lynn’s reflections on the definition of microaggressions, some online and print resources, and an insightful microaggressions taxonomy from UCSC.

From Dominick: To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching. Research from (where else, Dominick?) Michigan State.

Links to online resources:

I, Too, Am Harvard

The Subtly Offensive Phrases We Need To Stop Saying (Huffington Post)

21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear on a Daily Basis (Buzz Feed)

When this famous blonde woman reaches for her hair, I’m *really glad* it’s all a joke (Upworthy)

The Lasting Impact of Mispronouncing Students’ Names (neaToday)

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CTL News

Teaching Reflections. Watch Jocelyn McWhirter beg at this week’s faculty meeting! Either that or contact her at ctl@albion.edu if you’re willing to share a brief teaching reflection to open this bi-weekly newsletter.

Teatime Teaching Workshop: Watch for an invitation to a workshop on Thursday, October 27 at 5:00 p.m. Co-sponsored by Ethnic Studies and the CTL.

Talking about Teaching. Pair up with a colleague. Pay each other a classroom visit; then have a Lower Baldwin lunch on the CTL and talk about teaching. To sign up, contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu.

Your Ideas. If you have any, let us know!

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Upcoming Conferences

The Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning, October 20-22 in Traverse City. Plenary speakers include Todd Zakrajsek, co-author of The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain and one-time psychology professor at Albion College. Off-site registration is open from now until September 20.

Teaching Professor Conference, June 2-4, 2017 in St. Louis. Call for proposals closes October 31.

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CTL Newsletter: August 30, 2016

Teaching Reflections: On the beautiful utility of answerable questions

I graduated from college twenty years ago. Despite all those years, I can still remember the kind of wonder and awe I felt at the questions my professors asked us and themselves:

What is the nature of intelligence? Is a computer virus alive? What are my ethical obligations to people whom I have never and will never meet? Can the universe be both finite and expanding? What does Moby Dick teach us about the human heart?

I had never encountered questions like these before, and they broke open a whole new world for me.

But alongside the wonder and awe those questions inspired in me, I felt a kind of terror as well. How did one go about answering them? My professors often provided answers to those types of questions in class, but few, if any, shared with us how their thinking started. The answers came fully elaborated, nuanced and tight, in full paragraphs.

But when I sat at my beige 1993 Mac and asked myself those same questions, no such answers came to mind. Maybe, I thought, I just wasn’t smart enough. I wish it had occurred to me at the time to ask my teachers where they began.

Beginning has been on my mind a lot recently. I find myself more and more interested in figuring out how to help my students begin. What I am calling the “answerable question” has proved one rich place of beginning for me and my students.

An “answerable question” is a question that folks who have read whatever it is we are talking about can answer with information that is readily available. They are often explicitly fact-based or highly subjective, and they tend to have multiple answers. For instance,

What are three places Hester Prynne visits? Which event drew from you the most intense emotional reaction? What are 10 things we know to be factually true about books in Fahrenheit 451?

While these questions are obviously specific to literature, the important thing about them is that students can answer them with relative ease with information that is in their hands, hearts, and minds.

Such questions have proved beautifully useful: they give students a chance to realize they know things; they get stuff on the board that students can respond to and think about; they affirm for students that some questions are easily answerable while others are not; they offer a place of beginning. Perhaps most important, the answers to many—maybe all—of the kinds of questions that require higher order thinking are built on and out of information we gather when we answer “answerable questions.”

Admittedly, “answerable question” may be a dangerous misnomer: the interpretive questions I found and find so inspiring do, in fact, have answers, often many answers. I don’t want students to think they don’t. But it is helpful to start discussions of those bigger more complicated questions with questions that appear, at least, to have ready answers.

— Jess Roberts, English

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Resources: Best Practices

CTL Library: The display features four books that match teaching techniques to patterns of learning. Stop by Ferguson 108 and browse the collection. Help yourself to the last piece of chocolate (more on the way!) and complete this sentence on the blackboard wall: “Over the summer, I learned . . . .”

CTL Website: Resources for best practices include a lot of links that don’t work any more. We’re under construction. Meanwhile, here’s Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson’s classic “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” Also, Steve Volk from the Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence at Oberlin College shares some tips on “Preparing the Environment for Active Learning.”

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CTL News

Teaching Reflections. Let’s keep them coming! We still need a few more for this semester. Please contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu if you’re willing to share a brief teaching reflection.

Teatime Teaching Workshop: Microaggressions in the Classroom. In this workshop, panelists will help participants learn to identify microaggressions. They will share strategies and tools they use to address microaggressions in the classroom.

Date: Thursday, September 8
Time: 5:00–6:00 p.m.
Place: Wendell Will Room
Extras: Plenty to Eat and Drink
RSVP: By return email, so we’ll have enough!

Talking about Teaching. Pair up with a colleague. Pay each other a classroom visit; then have a Lower Baldwin lunch on the CTL and talk about teaching. To sign up, contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu.

Your Ideas. If you have any, let us know!

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Upcoming Conferences

The Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning, October 20-22 in Traverse City. Plenary speakers include Todd Zakrajsek, co-author of The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain and one-time psychology professor at Albion College. Off-site registration is open from now until September 20.

Teaching Professor Conference, June 2-4, 2017 in St. Louis. Call for proposals closes October 31.

Transforming Undergraduate STEM Education: Implications for 21st-Century Society, November 3-5, 2016 in Boston. Co-sponsored by AAC&U and Project Kaleidoscope. If you’d like to attend, please contact Marc Roy by September 6.

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CTL Newsletter: August 16, 2016

Teaching Reflections: The Parable of the Skier

A woman of a certain age went on a ski vacation. She traveled a long distance to a remote mountain town. There she spent a lot of money on room, board, and expensive replacements for some outdated ski equipment.

 It felt great to stay near such a beautiful mountain in the company of others with ski clothes on their backs and the next run on their minds.

Inline image 5 

But sometimes she felt disoriented in that strange new place. She missed her home and her family. She didn’t like the cafeteria food. Worst of all, she had borrowed a pair of unfamiliar skis — top-of-the line, all-mountain skis that required a whole new technique.

Her skiing buddy, a former national-level racer, gave her some tips and sped away. The woman carved some pretty turns on the 100- and 200-level runs. But on 300-level runs with icy patches, the fun would end. The woman felt like she was back in the sixth grade, learning how to ski in leather boots strapped to wooden boards. She even fell a few times. By the end of the week, she had the flu.

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 “When we try, and fail, to learn something as quickly and easily as we would like, we experience all the public and private humiliation, the excruciating embarrassment, the fear, the anxiety, and pain that some of our own students are feeling” (Stephen D. Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher [San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006], 30).

 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!

— Jocelyn McWhirter, Religious Studies

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Resources: Teaching Tips Online

Course Development: Diversity by Design. A subject guide created by our own Web Services and Emerging Technologies Librarian, the incomparable Jill Mason.

Faculty Focus: Grease your teaching wheels by signing up for their free newsletter.

Between the Lines of Our Pedagogy by Linda Shadiow and Maryellen Weimer. A Faculty Focus article about how our teaching persona shapes students’ learning environment.

Motivation: An Updated Analysis by Marilla D. Svinicki. Motivation theory, student learning, and the IDEA Student Ratings System. Strategies for encouraging students to achieve the learning objectives for your course.

Teaching Professors to Become Better Teachers by John Hanc. This recent New York Times article tells the story about the growing “centers for teaching and learning” movement. We feel pretty good about this one!

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Upcoming Conferences

The Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning, October 20-22 in Traverse City. Plenary speakers include Todd Zakrajsek, co-author of The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain and one-time psychology professor at Albion College. Off-site registration is open from now until September 20.

Teaching Professor Conference, June 2-4, 2017 in St. Louis. Call for proposals closes October 31.

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CTL News

In the works for this academic year:

Teaching Reflections. This newsletter is published every other Tuesday. Last semester, we started opening it with “Teaching Reflections,” a series of 500-word essays by Albion College teachers. Many thanks to all those who contributed to the successful launch of this feature.

And guess what? We’d like to read more! The call for Teaching Reflections is now open. Available due dates for this semester are 9/13, 9/17,10/18, 11/15, and 11/29. Please contact Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu if you’d like to share your teaching reflection.

Lunch and Learning/Teatime Teaching Workshops. Get your lunch in Lower Baldwin and join us upstairs, or come to the Wendell Will Room after classes for food, drink, and conversation. Look for upcoming sessions on teaching racism and/or privilege and handling microaggressions in the classroom. Details to follow.

Talking about Teaching. Pair up with a colleague. Pay each other a classroom visit; then have a Lower Baldwin lunch on the CTL and talk about teaching.

Microteaching. A January teaching lab. Something to look forward to.

Your Ideas. If you have any, let us know!

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CTL Newsletter: April 19, 2016

Teaching Reflections: Video Killed the Writing Assignment

We move pretty fast in Physics 105 – 13.7 billion years of astronomy in 14 weeks. It’s impossible to talk about all of the really cool things that are happening in our solar system, our galaxy, and the universe, or about the really cool people and instruments that make our observations possible.

Therefore, I’ve asked my students to investigate a topic on their own. The project started out as a writing assignment, but after reading multiple – and sometimes very bad – biographies of Galileo and Copernicus, I needed a change. Since many of my students were posting to youtube.com already, I decided on a video assignment instead. This way, students can use a familiar technology and exercise their creativity while learning a little (or a lot of) science along the way. Perfect.

The assignment is to create a video of a famous astronomer, astronomical object or discovery, or telescope observatory. Students usually work together in pairs to make a 5-to-10-minute digital video. Their task is to be creative yet still include accurate scientific content. Edutainment, if you will. Students post their videos on youtube.com or the College’s shared drive. We watch all of the videos together as a class, and I provide the treats. Astronomy @ the movies!

The results have been better than I expected (and I am more impressed each semester). Students have created talk shows such as The Day-To-Day Showand The Astronomy Shoppin’ Show; parodies of television shows such as The Office, Mythbusters, and Law and Order: Space Victims Unit; and documentaries on Nebulae, Mars, and Black Holes. My favorite is, and has always been, Life of a Low-Mass Star, one of the first videos from 2009. (I guess it’s true that you never forget your first.) I can’t wait to see this semester’s videos on Harry Potter’s Astronomy, the lives of Galileo and Tycho Brahe, interviews with the storms on gas giant planets, and Real Housewives of Astronomy.

The video judged best by the class receives a prize and gets posted on my blog. I evaluate the videos on content, scientific accuracy, entertainment value, and adherence to instructions. I usually follow up with an exam question about what students learned from making their own videos and watching the videos of their classmates.

“We especially need imagination in science.  It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but is somewhat beauty and poetry” (Maria Mitchell, 1818-1889). A video project helps students realize that physics and math aren’t so scary after all. I find that students look forward to this project because it gives them the opportunity to showcase talents and knowledge that may not be reflected in the “mathy” questions on exams.  And that’s okay with me.  Because the point of the class is to help students learn how to appreciate the night sky, in all its wonder, and how we know what we know about it. And they do.

— Nicolle Zellner, Physics

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Resources

Focus on the Intentional Integration of Knowledge. That’s the first theme of the new Albion College Strategic Plan. It integrates “curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular programming”;  “students, faculty, and staff”; scholarship and ethics; “teaching, research, scholarship, and creative and professional activity”; vocation, community, and the world.

To learn more about integrative learning, browse the AAC&U website along with resources from MSU and Evergreen State College.

Build an Open, Diverse, and Inclusive College Community. That’s the second strategic planning theme. Faculty Focus has just published a handbook on “Diversity and Inclusion in the College Classroom.” You can download it for free. Sample articles: “Creating an Inclusive and Respectful Classroom Environment” and “Building a Collegial Classroom across Cultures.”

Summer Reading can guide us in reflecting on how things went this academic year and pondering new ideas for next year. The CTL can help! Check out the Resources on our website. And check out a book from the CTL library (on the shelves in the CTL Lounge, Ferguson 108). Featured titles include Assessing and Improving Your Teaching, Understanding by Design, and Mapping Your Academic Career. While you’re there, answer the question on our blackboard wall: What did you want to be when you grew up?

PathFinder. There are lots of other books in the CTL Lounge that you can’t check out because they don’t belong to the CTL. They include The Peak Performing Professor, Putting Students First, The Purposeful Graduate, and The Courage to Teach. If you’d like a free copy, just register for PathFinder by emailing pathfinder@albion.edu. This integrative learning project engages students, faculty, and staff in intentional reflection on learning and life.

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CTL News

Course Development Workshop. We’re looking at August 15, so save the date! This year we’ll focus on designing our courses around learning goals for culturally diverse classrooms.

Lunch and Learning. Look for new discussion topics this fall, including teaching about racism and/or privilege and handling microaggressions in the classroom. As always, if you’d like to see a topic on the table, please email Jocelyn McWhirter at ctl@albion.edu.

Teaching Reflections. Many thanks again to everyone who wrote a teaching reflection this semester. If you’d like to share a reflection in the fall, email (you guessed it) ctl@albion.edu.

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Myths and Misconceptions of Student Ratings: Gender Bias and More

Read on for the recap of a recent IDEA webinar. Posted with permission.

[IDEA Education Blog] Myths and Misconceptions of Student Ratings: Gender Bias and More Webinar Recap

Link to The IDEA Center Blog

Myths and Misconceptions of Student Ratings: Gender Bias and More Webinar Recap

Posted: 29 Mar 2016 08:41 AM PDT

In a recent webinar, IDEA President, Dr. Ken Ryalls, and IDEA Senior Research Officer, Dr. Steve Benton, responded to some common myths and misconceptions of student ratings and took a deeper look at the hot button topic—bias.

View the webinar in its entirety here.

Myths, Misconceptions and Bias
Many myths and misconceptions exist around student ratings of instruction. Ryalls and Benton took a look at a few for the audience.

Q. Are students competent enough to rate teaching?

  1. Students observe teaching more than anyone else so for that reason alone, it makes sense to consider what they have to say. Student ratings have shown to correlate positively with other measures of teaching effectiveness, student achievement measures, and motivation for future learning.

Q. Students just want easy courses, and easy courses are rated higher than difficult ones. Is this a true statement?

  1. Ratings are actually higher when students report the instructor sets high achievement standards. More specifically, ratings tend to be lower when students perceive the class as too easy or too difficult, and highest when the class is appropriately challenging.

Q. People tend to act—meaning fill out a survey—only when they are angry. Is that true?

  1. The opposite holds true. In a 2012 study by Adams & Umbach, students who earn a low grade or no grade in a course are LESS likely than others to respond to surveys.

Q. Does faculty grading of student’s work affect ratings?

  1. In a 2003 study done by Centra, involving over 50,000 classes, it was found that the grades students expect to earn are only weakly related to student ratings. And this low positive correlation does not necessarily indicate instructors are lowering standards to get higher ratings.
  1. In our own research, conducted in nearly 500,000 classes at over 300 institutions, we found that high ratings are more likely when students say their teacher challenged them and had high achievement standards.

More than half of the webinar focused on the topic of gender bias, and bias overall. Below is a sampling of what was discussed which included some thoughtful questions from the audience.

Q. Have there been any quality studies done around student ratings where gender bias has been found to be meaningful?

  1. We’re not finding evidence of gender bias in our Student Ratings of Instruction. Our own research at IDEA indicates male and female instructors have similar ratings on relevant learning objectives and almost identical ratings on overall summary ratings of teaching and course excellence.
  1. Centra & Gaubatz did not find much either in independent research. The slight tendency for female students to give higher ratings to female instructors is not substantial enough to affect teaching evaluations.

Q. Very few quality studies have been conducted on racial or ethnic bias in student ratings specifically. But, if suspected, what should be done from a ratings perspective?

  1. We have to recognize that all measures are flawed, and therefore multiple indicators of teaching effectiveness should always be used. As with any other bias, if administrators and faculty suspect racial or ethnic bias then additional indicators of teaching effectiveness, such as peer observation and self-evaluation, become increasingly important.

Q. So if the potential for bias is there, what can be done to counteract the potential effect on ratings?

  1. Even if overall we’re not showing a pattern of bias with IDEA’s SRI, it still could be that your college is a hotbed of bias for whatever reason. We encourage you to adjust as you feel comfortable if you find evidence of bias. It is important to note that lower scores do not necessarily mean bias—it could be that a particular set of teachers could use more improvement, and they happen to be a particular gender or race.

Q. So again, the question then is not “Is there bias in this tool?” but “Can we find usefulness in these data in spite of bias inherent in humans?”

  1. STUDENT VOICE matters, whether or not they’re biased—when you ask about teaching and learning and not personal characteristics. They can give any teacher valuable feedback on how to get better.

As was said throughout the webinar, the staff at IDEA are committed to improving learning in higher education through research, assessment and professional development. We welcome you to contact us at anytime to discuss your institution’s specific challenges and goals and to learn how we may be of assistance.

For an in-depth examination on the topic, take a closer look at IDEA’s research and commentary on the topic:

 

References

Adams, M. J., & Umbach, P. D. (2012). Nonresponse and online student evaluations of teaching: Understanding the influence of salience, fatigue, and academic environments. Research in Higher Education, 53, 576-591.

Centra, J.A. (2003). Will teachers receive higher student evaluations by giving higher grades and less course work? Research in Higher Education, 44, 495-518.

Centra, J. A., & Gaubatz, N. B. (2000). Is there a gender bias in student evaluations of teaching? Journal of Higher Education, 70, 17-33.

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