Month: April 2017

Reflecting on Teaching, Apr. 2017

Believe it or not, right now—as classes finally come to a close and we immerse ourselves in assessing our students’ learning—is the perfect time to pause, reflect, and assess our teaching as well.  At no other time will we likely be as tuned in to what worked, what didn’t, and why.

Ideally, we would revise the course now, when it’s fresh in our minds, but we may not have time to do that.  What we can do, though, is take some notes and write short reflective pieces that we can refer to later, when we do have time to revise the course.  Consider these guidelines for reflection:

Take notes on your student-learning outcomes:  Did students achieve the goals you set?  If so, did anything specific account for the success?  If not, what were the barriers?  What can you do next time to avoid those barriers?  In retrospect, were the outcomes you expressed really the ones you were seeking?  If not, take notes on how you might revise them.  If you didn’t articulate student-learning outcomes at all, draft ideas for a few now; students are more focused and receptive when they have a clear understanding of your expectations for their learning.

Comment on your course materials:  Note which texts worked and were well received by students.  Was a text outdated, poorly written, or otherwise insufficient?  If so, note the problems and make a list of the attributes you’d like to see in a replacement text.  Would other texts or additional technology (YouTube videos; TED Talks; news feeds; links to documentaries, music, articles, etc.) enhance the course?  Make a wish list.

Consider the flow of the course:  Were there instances in which the transition from one topic to the next was stilted and in need of a smoother transition? Did students need information from a later unit earlier in the semester?  Should you spend more time on one topic and less on another?  Mark up your master syllabus to remind yourself of these issues.

Reflect on how you used class time:  Did you take the time to introduce your course’s student-learning outcomes and discuss their value to your students at the start of the semester?  Which classroom activities were particularly successful?  Did you spend too much time lecturing on material students could have learned from the reading, at the expense of interacting with that material in class?  Would you like to record some of your lectures for presentation to students online, leaving more class time for activities?  Do you wish you had incorporated more opportunities for active learning?  Did you refer back to your student-learning outcomes as you wrapped up the course?  What energized or deflated student enthusiasm?  What energized or deflated you?

This need not be a formal, drawn-out endeavor; even an hour or two of reflection can make a world of difference later on.  Now may not feel like the perfect time for deep introspection, but you may not teach this course again for several months—maybe even years—so take advantage of the moment to make the next experience easier.

While you’re reflecting, why not update your teaching philosophy?  Attend a CETL teaching talk on writing or revising your teaching philosophy on May 8 from 1:30 to 2:45 in ROWE 319; register here.

Subscribe to Mentor Commons, Apr. 2017

Teaching Tools at your Fingertips

Are you interested in learning more about leading class discussions, flipping the classroom, conducting large classes, assessing student learning, or other useful teaching tips?  Mentor Commons is free to use and available any time online.

This series offers video-based programs designed to answer a specific question related to teaching and learning, delivering actionable insights in highly focused 20-minute presentations designed to fit busy schedules.

Subscribe to Magna’s 20-Minute Mentor Commons Today

As a member of the UConn campus community, you have free access to all of the 20-Minute Mentor videos, which cover a broad range of faculty development topics, at all times. Sign up today and help energize your higher education career:

STEP 1: Activate your 20-Minute Mentor Commons subscription

  1. Go to magnapubs.com/sitelicense/registration.html?v=uconn0622
  2. Enter information in each of the required fields.  In the Authorization Code box, enter our group Authorization Code UCONN752and click Submit

Please note: entering the Authorization Code is done only once.

STEP 2: Access the 20-Minute Mentor Commons library

  1. Go to magnapubs.com/profile
  2. Enter your email address & password & click Submit. If you do not know or remember your account password, use “Forget your password?” to reset it.
  3. On the left side of the screen, under My Account, My Online Access, select Subscriptions. The online content you have access to will be listed to the right. Click the appropriate link to view the content.

Please do not share the Authorization Code with anyone outside our campus community.

Need help?  Email support@magnapubs.com or call 800-433-0499 ext. 2 (office hours are 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday).

Please contact UConn’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL@uconn.edu) for more information.

Teaching Philosophy, Apr. 2017

Writing teaching philosophies has become a common practice among educators, as these documents can be useful—and are often recommended or required—in job applications for faculty positions and in the promotion and tenure review process.

Instructors also find the writing process instrumental in making their own teaching more deliberate and intentional:  We often teach without ever really thinking about long-term goals, but the process of writing a teaching philosophy encourages the kind of consideration and reflection that can ultimately improve our effectiveness in the classroom.

Before you start writing,

  • Review current research on the scholarship of teaching and learning in your field
  • Reflect on the situational factors that have influenced your teaching
  • Ask yourself general questions about your teaching as you seek to characterize your particular style
  • Consider creating several versions (e.g., a paragraph-long version and another that’s closer to a page in length, or perhaps separate teaching philosophies for each course)

Though you might find it helpful to read others’ teaching philosophies, recognize that your philosophy is unique to you and your specific teaching situation, so there is no one-size-fits-all model.  Contact CETL if you would like help devising a teaching philosophy of your own.

Active Learning Strategies, Apr. 2017

We’ve been hearing a lot about active learning these days, but what, exactly, does active learning mean? Neal (2010) defines active learning as “educational methods in which students are involved in higher-order thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation). The term therefore primarily reflects what is going on in a student’s mind, whether or not the body (or the mouth) is physically active.” Studies show that active learning can increase students’ attention in class, as well as their retention of ideas, leading to more effective, gratifying, and memorable learning outcomes. In fact, most people learn better from actively engaging with material than they do from passively listening to a speaker or reading from a textbook.  Active learning strategies have students “doing” things—analyzing, creating, role playing, experiencing, reflecting, etc.

According to the Center for Teaching & Learning at the University of Minnesota, the four Basic Active Learning Activities are the same elements you are probably already using in your class:

  1. Talking and listening – Students actively process information when they ask or answer questions, comment, present, and explain. When students go beyond passive listening to relate, analyze, and use what they are hearing, they are engaged in active learning.  Discussions and Interactive Lectures are useful strategies.
  2. Writing – Students can actively process information by putting it in their own words; this can help students organize their thoughts and reflections and prepare them for discussion. Check out these suggestions for Informal Writing Activities from the University of Minnesota.
  3. Reading – Instructors often expect students to learn through reading. It’s easy for students to read passively in order “to get it done.”  Providing questions, summary exercises, opportunities for posts or reflection, etc., can transform it into an active process.  Students can often benefit from instruction on Active Reading.
  4. Reflecting – Class periods are often packed with information. Students sometimes need time to process the material and connect it to what they’ve already learned.  Reflecting on the applications and implications of new knowledge can help develop higher-order thinking skills and Metacognition.

Visit Active Learning Strategies for an explanation of several individual, paired, and small- and large-group active learning activities.