Course planning4

 

*Gathering feedback from your students using an online, free and customizable survey tool

We know that it is a best practice in higher education to gather feedback from students about their insights into their learning during the semester. The standard course evaluation form does not do this because it comes too late and assesses other things. I recommend registering and using the Student Assessment of their Learning Goals, a free, online survey tool. The site has a standard survey that asks about knowledge, understanding, integration, skills and personal data and a list of many other surveys used by other instructors to give you some ideas. You can also customize the standard survey or create new ones. The results are collated for you and then store the data and your history of use. The url is www.salgsite.org. Using this tool should jump start everyone finding ways to improve their teaching and gathering evidence about how effective they are.

 

*Summarizing and using feedback on your courses

As the semester winds to an end and you hand in your grades, take time to reflect on how the course went. Read over the feedback you get from the student courses evaluation forms, and comments students, peers, your chairs, etc. made to you during the semester. Think about ways you can improve your course. Not all feedback makes sense and some you cannot act upon.

You might make a 1 page summary of the feedback and your analysis for each course by constructing a table with 4 columns at the top of the page and leaving some room at the bottom of the page. The first column might have different headings such as topic covered, activities and assessments, or what ever you want to comment on. The final part of the sheet should summarize your action plan. Then place this summary on the top of your file or save it along with your ANGEL materials for each course.

Summary of Feedback of Course _________ Semester ______ Year ____

topic Number of students who felt positive about this topic Number of students who felt negative about this topic Comments for improvement
       
       
       

Action plan: How I will improve the course the next time I teach it.

*Get more meaningful feedback from student course evaluations

Nationally faculty are reporting that online course evaluation forms results in fewer students completing the forms. The up side to the online course evaluations forms is that sometimes students write more or better quality comments online than on paper.

If you want to get more students to complete the form for your class and if you want comments, you might send the students a message or tell them in person how important the course evaluation forms are for you. You can appeal to them on the basis of needing complete information to improve the course. If you are especially interested in feedback on one aspect of the course you could communicate this to the students. While we use a standard course evaluation form, you certainly can develop your own brief form and ask students to complete it online.

*Organizers to help students learn the material and see the big picture

Novices think, read and study differently than experts in your field. Our job as teachers is to help students acquire the thought processes to help them become more like experts in the discipline. There are lots of ways of doing this. One effective technique involves the use of organizing schemes. All disciplines have schemes or major themes that integrate most of the content in the discipline. Teachers need to make these organizing schemes explicit to the students on our syllabi, through assignments and learning activities. When you give out the syllabus, begin the discussion of this your course around organizing schemes. Point out how the activities and assignments or assessment relate to the organizing schemes. You can do the same with the textbook or required readings. You can ask the students to show in a diagram or concept map how the materials relates to the organizing schemes.

*Getting some feedback on how well the course is going

About the half-way point in the semester it is a good idea to gather some feedback on how well the course is going. The cardinal rule about getting feedback include: be judicious in what you ask (keep it simple and easy to complete), do not ask for information you cannot change (such as departmental policy that you are enforcing), and ask students to comment on specific aspects of the course so that you can make some mid-course corrections.

If some continuing aspect of the course is not going as well as you like, such as class participation, you might want to get the students’ ideas on how you can change the course so that the students will contribute more to class discussions. You could ask them if giving them a study guide or questions in advance would help, or if they pair and share and then report would get them to engage more with the questions in advance would help, or if they pair and share and then report would get them to engage more with the questions. Do they want to be called on randomly, such as giving each students a playing card and then pulling cards from the deck, let students call on other students or asking the dominating ones to say less? In addition to specific ideas, please ask the students for their ideas in an open-ended question as they will come up with ideas you never thought of.

Once you get this feedback, either discuss how you will use it or make obvious changes and tell the students that you changed as a result of their feedback. This completes the loop.

*Getting feedback from your students using an online, free and customizable survey tool

We know that it is a best practice in higher education to gather feedback from students about their insights into their learning during the semester. The standard course evaluation form does not do this because it comes too late and assesses other things. I recommend registering and using the Student Assessment of their Learning Goals, a free online survey tool. The site has a standard survey that asks about knowledge, understanding, integration, skills and personal data and a list of many other surveys used by other instructors to give you some ideas. You can also customize the standard survey or create new ones. The results are collated for you and they store the data and your history of use. The url is www.salgsite.org. Using this tool should jump start everyone finding ways to improve their teaching and gathering evidence about how effective they are.

*Making sure your students understand what is expected of them in your course

About the second or third week of the semester, find out if your students have any questions about your course. You could also ask the students to re-read the syllabus and other handouts such as descriptions of assignments and projects before you ask students to respond to you.

You might create a discussion board on Angel and let the students ask questions about the course, and let them answer each others’ questions. You might respond if they have the wrong idea or if only you would know the answer to the questions.

You could also ask students to email you such questions or spend the last few minutes of the next class asking students to write their questions. Then either go over the questions in class or develop a comprehensive answer sheet.

Doing this activity is especially important if students came into your class and after the first day or if you are doing non-traditional activities or assessments in the course.

*Doing teaching completely and fully

Lee Shulman, the recently retired president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and someone who has greatly shaped my thinking says that the full act of teaching includes vision, design, enactment, outcomes and analysis.

It is important that we focus on all of these aspects throughout our teaching. It is easy to forget one or more aspects and concentrate on just the enactment while we are engaged in day to day aspects of teaching. Teaching lacks a purpose of focus without a vision. Design requires that we look at how well the pieces fit together so that the entire course is integrated. Enactment is the actual interaction with students, or implementing the plans. Outcomes relate to student learning, change in attitude or values or perceptions. Teaching remains incomplete without analysis. It is only with analysis of what we have done that we can see if we achieved our vision, if the design was appropriate, if we need to change how we teach and if the students reached the outcomes we wanted them to reach.

*Allowing students to have one mishap per course and be forgiven

At the beginning of the semester hand each student a small colored card with the words printed on it, “Stuff Happens”) a line to fill in the date, assignment/activity and student name. Each students can use it only once for whatever fairly minor bad stuff that happens such as missing a required class, asking for a short extension on an assignment, coming without the necessary equipment, etc. Students do not get a second one and cannot give them away. If no bad stuff happens, then they can trade in their card for a small bonus, such as a few points on the final exam.

*Helping students do well in courses that require judgment

I read an interesting article published in AMSTAT news from September 2008 that called, “Match is Music, Statistics is Literature” given to me by the statistics folks here. It pointed out why students have difficulty learning and doing well in statistics. I started thinking what many other faculty on other disciplines can learn from how to teach statistics. Many of our students have trouble with courses that require more than just memorizing or plugging in formulas. If we want our students to employ good judgment, we must help them to know how to challenge the creditability of data and they must be encouraged to look for bias in information or reading. We need to give students a model or models of how to do the above things and we especially need to give them practice actually doing them prior to testing them on their mastery of these skills.

*Helping students overcome misconceptions that interfere with accurate understanding

Students, and people in general, have misconceptions about the disciplines we expect them to learn. These misconceptions must be overcome for students to achieve true understanding of the discipline. These misconceptions must be overcome for students to achieve true understanding of the discipline. Just talking about misconceptions or even providing correct information will not be enough to overcome firmly held misconceptions. To help students overcome their misconceptions or even providing correct information will not be enough to overcome firmly held misconceptions. To help students overcome their misconceptions, student need to confront their misconceptions, and compare them to the correct information. They need to think about the content in a different way. Students need to see why the correction information is more plausible. Annette Kujawski Taylor of the University of San Diego proposes that we develop or find refutational texts that the students should read and discuss. Standard textbooks are not refutational. Refutational texts directly address misconceptions by comparing it with correct information and most important its supporting evidence. If you would like examples of refutational texts and of common misconceptions I can send you a copy of the presentation, complete with many references, from her Lilly-East presentation in June 2010 in College Park.

*Making your syllabi more encouraging and inviting for students

As you may know, I did a student our syllabi. As a rule, they appear very negative and punitive. There are often lists of requirements that talk about consequences for not meeting them, many negative statements and a rather harsh tone. This may give the impression that we do not want our students to succeed, that we do not care, or that we control everything. The consequences is that students do not think they have control over their education. This also leads to the students becoming strategic learners (doing what is necessary to pass the course or get a good grade, without caring about learning). Instead we should strive for deep learning or learning with meaning and full engagement of the students. As you construct your syllabi, try to be as positive as possible. Instead of demands, you might invite students to participate in a most worthwhile educational journey with significant learning opportunities along the way. Describe the content and what they will be doing with enthusiasm. Allow the students t make some decisions over how the course will be run (such as when a paper is due, either at the beginning or end of a week). Describe the advantages of coming to class having already read the material.

The gist of these ideas come from Ken Bain’s 2004 book, What the Best College Teachers Do.

*Helping students use textbooks more effectively

Students and faculty tend to view textbooks differently. Students see textbooks as the ultimate truth and the compendium of all knowledge. They do not realize that textbooks can be outdated with new information, and they can have a bias. As a faculty member you may not agree with how material is discussed. It is your role to help students to see textbooks as reference material and just one of many sources of information. You need to point out where the textbook is not accurate or where there are controversial material.

Of course all of this applies in an even bigger way to what they find on the web. The beginning of a semester is a good time to discuss how to read and view the textbook.

*Connecting with your students 1:1 as human beings

Research has shown that students do better in higher education when they personally connect with others, especially their faculty. In addition, in civility markedly decreases when students know their faculty more as human beings.

Here are a few approaches to help you and your students connect.

  1. Post on your Angel website or describe on the first day of class some personal things about yourself that you might be willing to share. This could include your hobbies, an interesting vacation you took, your roles within the university outside of this class, etc.
  2. Regardless of the size of your class, ask your students to develop a personal ad about them and submit it to you alone. This ad should include personal likes, dislikes, interesting things about themselves, hobbies, goals for the class, strengths and weaknesses as a student and learner. You could also include more specific questions that you want them to answer.
  3. If your class is small ask each student to schedule an 8 minute appointment with you during the first few weeks of the semester (and strictly enforce the schedule ) by handing out an appointment sheet that has 10 minute intervals. Send the appointment sheet out several times so students can confirm or change their appointments.
  4. If your class is larger and will be working in groups, try to set up group appointments in the same way. You might need slightly more time for group appointments.
  5. During these appointments, provide a relaxed atmosphere and tell the students this is an opportunity to get to know each other as human beings and to help students to feel comfortable talking to you. Review the personal ads and share common interests. Concentrate on learning the students names in these appointments. Ask the students if they have any questions about the course.
  6. If this is an online class, you can meet with each student virtually.

I was reminded of these ideas by Christy Hawkins at Thomas Nelson Community College.

Best wishes with the beginning of the semester. Setting the right tone early pays dividends throughout the semester.

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