January 30, 2009

A University President Returns to Undergraduate Teaching

The idea of a college administrator or professor enrolling as an undergraduate student or even living in college dorms is uncommon, but both events have happened. In 2004 Roger Martin, former Harvard University Dean and President of Randolph-Macon College, enrolled himself as a college freshman at St. John's College. Rebekah Nathan, a university professor at a large state university, wrote My Freshman Year, which retold her journey back to being a student and living in a college dorm. Both Martin and Nathan have great stories describing their transitions and findings.

What about a university president going back to teach an undergraduate course and providing updates of her experience? Karen Gross, president of Southern Vermont College, is taking part in this exact idea. Just last week President Gross published her first article that reflects on her return to the classroom. In the article Gross describes some of the inspiration, rationale and obstacles involved with teaching at the university level. Some of the thoughts and experiences that Gross shares are interesting. Here is a short excerpt from the article: "Not surprisingly, the decision to teach was the easy part. The pragmatic needs kicked in immediately — well before the start of the semester. And they had to be balanced with the complex life I lead as a college president."

Go ahead and read the article to keep up with Karen Gross' endeavor back into the classroom.

January 26, 2009

Funding...Instructional Improvement Grant deadline approaching

The deadline for the Instructional Improvement Grant is approaching fast. The deadline for proposals is 5pm, March 2nd.

Awards of up to $1000 are provided for proposals that lead to significant and demonstrable improvement in pedagogical skills and/or have a positive effect on student learning.

More information and guidelines concerning proposals are available at:


Or call 419-372-5387.

January 20, 2009

Learning Students' Names

Teaching and LearningA recent string of ideas came across the Lilly Conference on College Teaching listserv recently. Here is a sampling of some ideas you can try in your large lecture class to remember students’ names:
From L. Dee Fink (author of a great book - Creating Significant Learning Experiences):
...(L)earning names is extremely helpful but challenging in large classes. Here are two ideas that have worked for some:

1. This worked for me in classes of nearly 100, N=75. I used small groups extensively in the course. So, after forming the groups on the first day of class, I took a Polaroid picture of each group and as it "came up", they wrote their names by their individual picture. I then posted these pictures by my desk in my office and worked on learning the names within each group. After learning the names in the first group, I would learn a new group and review the names in the previous groups, and so on.. I took a week or two to get them all done, but I eventually did. What seemed to work for me was: it was a lot easier to memorize 12 groups of 6 students, than it was to memorize 72 students. And students really appreciated it.

2. A math professor I knew had a very large class, over 100, and knew it would be valuable to learn their names. So he used assigned seating, made a chart, and then each day of class, worked on memorizing a block of 6 students (3 in front and 3 behind). Then each day when he came to class, he made a point of visiting with students in each new block and in the ones he had already learned -in addition to the class in general.

In took awhile, but again by working continuously at it, he eventually got their names all down so that even if he met them while walking across campus, he would recognize them and be able to address them by name.

The point seems to be: You have to commit to doing this because you know it makes a difference in how students respond. If you commit to doing it, you can do it even if it takes some time. To read more about L. Dee Fink’s book, please click here.

Here are some more ideas from the listserv and other faculty suggestions:

  • Index card w/ name/contact info and 2-5 questions about them; review these early & often, especially during class discussions (call name and associate w/ their face

  • Students create/use name tents each class session; some faculty have students take/bring these each class, while others collect them and use this as an attendance check (but this requires space to lay out the cards, usually alphabetical or clustered, and time to collect/organize them at the end of class). If the name tent IS collected, combine with the index card suggestion, having students answer questions on the inside for you to review.

  • When handing back papers, call their name and personally hand it to each student

  • Mandatory brief office visits (2-5 min.) are requested by some instructors during the first 1-3 weeks of class (which may be unmanageable for very large classes)

  • Just “good ol’ memorization” of the roll sheets and then associate with faces during first classes

  • Take pictures of groups of students and write their names out (be careful of the legalities of this at your school); study these groups with names/faces frequently; helps if they sit near each other in class

Do you have any creative ideas to learn the names of your students?

January 9, 2009

First Weeks of Class

As the semester is about to begin, it’s time to think about the most important day of the entire semester… the first day of class. The first day of class sets the tone for the entire semester. While most of us plan to simply go over the syllabus, there are other things that we can do to motivate our students. In "101 Things You Can do the First Three Weeks of Class," the author Joyce T. Povlcs, offers helpful tips to make the first three weeks of class start off on the right foot. Among the tips offered are:
  • Give an assignment on the first day to be collected at the next meeting
  • Administer a learning style inventory to help students find out about themselves
  • Greet students at the door when they enter the classroom
  • Have students write out their expectations for the course and their own goals for learning
To read more helpful tips that can be utilized during the first three weeks of class, click here.

How do you set the tone for your classes on the first day of the semester?

January 5, 2009

Eric Mazur: "Farewell, Lecture?"

Lecture, arguably, is the most common method of teaching in higher education. It is not uncommon to walk into any classroom and find students can be busy trying to keep notes on what their instructor is saying. In the latest issue of Science, Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard University, offers his own perspective on how he made the shift from lecturing as the prime modality for teaching to a more student-centered approach.

Mazur explains how throughout his schooling the lecture method was the way students were taught. The reliance on lecturing continued, Mazur says, until he felt that the method was not the most effective and meaningful approach to teaching. Despite earning high evaluations from courses he taught, Mazur made significant changes in his classes. "The traditional approach to teaching reduces education to a transfer of information," Mazur says. He also describes how using what he calls the "clicker method" has allowed him to explore new pedagogical approaches in his courses.

Here are other quotes from "Farewell, Lecture?":

"My lecturing was ineffective, despite the high evaluations."

"The traditional approach to teaching reduces education to a transfer of information."

"The responsibility for gathering information now rests squarely on the shoulders of the students. They must read material before coming to class, so that class time can be devoted to discussions, peer interactions, and time to assimilate and think. Instead of teaching by telling, I am teaching by questioning."

"However, it is not the technology [clickers] but the pedagogy that matters."

Please read the brief article for yourself and share your thoughts and/or comments below (just click on the COMMENTS link).

Other "Clickers" resources include:
CTL's Clicker Resource page

Tom Haffie (University of Western Ontario) presents Clickers at Queens University (11/2006)