Monday, August 29, 2016

Utilizing Quizzes for Deeper Understanding

Quizzes, although often a helpful tool in determining where students stand as far as comprehension in your course, can become monotonous over time.  Rethinking the ways in which you utilize quizzing could be the answer to breaking up the monotony of question after question, and instead provide students as yourself new and interesting ways to look at and work with information.

According to an article by Maryellen Weimer in Faculty Focus, there are five types of quizzes you may not have normally considered that could spice up the ways in which students approach your class, and improve their engagement with the content overall.  And the best news?  Some of them are really quite simple to implement.

Option #1:  Mixing Up Your Quiz Structure
Although it seems too simply, switching up the formats of your quizzes between multiple choice, short answer, opinion-based, open-book, take home, group quizzes, short essay, you name it, can really help provide a way for students to deal with the content in more diverse and intriguing ways.  Providing them with quizzes that supply multiple outlets for them to express what they know and are able to do with their newly learned information make them more apt to continue working with that knowledge as the semester progresses.

Option #2: Collaborative Quizzing
Collaborative quizzing is actually a neat little tool to use when you’d like your students to have some time to talk through their ideas and theories about a particularly dense or challenging piece of reading.  You might have students first complete their quiz individually, flip it upside down on their desk, and then take some time to discuss their thoughts and struggles with those around them.  Then, after the allotted discussion time, provide them a few extra minutes to go back through their quiz to review and change answers as needed.  This promotes the idea of utilizing resources and gaining perspective with the elements you are working with in class. 

If that’s not quite your style, try quizzing students twice, once individually, and once in a group using the same quiz.  The two quiz scores can be combined and averaged in some way according to a pre-determined policy you discuss with your students to create one grade to enter into your grade book.  Regardless of how you chose to do it, collaborative quizzing is a great way to get students enthusiastically discussing course content and also reduces test anxiety.

Option #3: Quizzing with Resources
As a preparation for class, have students take detailed notes on the content for the day.  Let them know ahead of time that they’ll be able to use their notes on their quiz to ensure that they work hard to comprehend the material and write notes that are helpful and effective.  According to research, open-note quizzing leads to higher final exam scores when coupled with collaborative work and discussions in the classroom.

Option #4: Quizzing After Questioning
Before you send out a quiz to be completed, set aside some time to discuss any questions about potential quiz content.  Providing students with possible responses and working through the issues and struggles they’ve been having together will help them to better understand content previous to quizzing rather than receiving a poor score for not understanding complicated material.  If someone asks a question that stimulates a lot of good discussion, that question becomes the quiz question and students have the designated amount of time to write an answer.  Or if a variety of good questions is discussed and answered by the students, the instructor can make the decision to then designate that everyone has completed the quiz as a large group discussion, earning them all full credit for their participation and debate.  This approach encourages students to ask deeper questions and provides ample information for better classroom discussions.

Option #5: Online Quizzes Completed Before Class
This is a relatively common option that is easy to implement in your courses.  Provide students with an online quiz that they are to complete before attending class for the day.  The quizzes can be graded electronically and the results sent to the professor, outlining which questions students struggled most with.  Then, class time can be used to address the areas that students are struggling with the most.  

Adapted from: Faculty Focus
Written By: Jessica Moser

Monday, August 15, 2016

Audio Reflections: A New Form of Response

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology, lately.  I was marveling at how closely it has become attached to me, as a part of my life.  What brought this on was a recent trip to the grocery store.  During the short, five-minute ride to the store to pick up a few things, I glanced down at my cup holder and realized that I didn’t have my phone with me.  

Now, I’m not someone who I would define as “attached to my phone.”  I often misplace it or forget to take it out of my purse of backpack for hours on end, suddenly alert to a muffled ringing that I then have to attempt to locate.  However, I’ll be the first to admit than in any awkward social situation (waiting rooms, bus stops, lines, hallways, basically any time where I am completely surrounded by strangers), I often take it out and stare at its blank screen, pretending I have something important to do with it so that I don’t have to interact with others.  Although, I really shouldn’t worry, because the strangers around me are doing the exact same thing, furiously typing or swiping their way across their glossy screens, eyes glazed over as they shuffle in place, waiting for their first chance to bolt.  Regardless, I actually found myself contemplating whether or not I should turn around and get my phone before continuing on my way.

Reflecting on this, it has become ever more obvious how much technology has not only encapsulated our lives, but have provided us with ways in which to express ourselves in new and interesting ways.  Just ask those three high school girls in the food court, not talking to each other, but instead spending their afternoon snapping selfies or Snapchat videos and posting them #atthemallwithmybesties.

So, it’s no wonder that educators everywhere are brainstorming for an answer to the question, “How can I use technology in my classroom?”  Don’t get me wrong, there is tons of literature out there explaining different tools and tricks and gadgets to get your students involved with, some of which I have already talked about earlier this year.  But technology changes every day and with that prompts another step up from educators to again incorporate technology in new and interesting ways.

That’s why I think the article I stumbled across on the Faculty Focus website is pure gold.  This article, written by Karen Sheriff LeVan and Marissa E. King focuses on how best to utilize audio as a means of student reflection in your courses.  LeVan and King bring out prominent ideas of what it would be like for students to be able to freely discuss their reflections without the worries that accompany writing.  Rather than focusing on comma placement, spelling, and other grammatical features of their work, they’ll be able to spend more time focusing on iterating their spoken content.  Really, a genius idea.

For more information on how to include audio responses in your courses, consult LeVan and King’s article here.

Happy recording!

Written By: Jessica Moser

Monday, August 1, 2016

What to do when Students aren't Prepared

No doubt about it, instructors want their students to come to class prepared.  They painstakingly create assignments for students to complete outside of class in order for a better in-class experience full of participation, discussions, and other activities.  But what do you do when your students aren’t prepared?

Obviously, if students are unprepared, it limits what they can do and how deeply they can engage with material during class.  This also affects the ways they connect with other students in the course, sometimes replacing potential connections with barriers as they aren’t able to discuss the material.  This ill-preparedness also challenges you as an instructor.  Do you give a quick lecture to recap the pre-class content so everyone is on the same page?  Do you give the unprepared students an alternative assignment?  Do you remove them from class?  Do you lower their grade?

Most importantly, what can you do to address the challenge of unprepared students so that they don’t continue on the path of not completing pre-class work?  Here are a few recommendations from Barbi Honeycutt, PhD, and writer for Faculty Focus.

Have a conversation.  Before reacting too quickly, take some time to consider what is going on when students come to class unprepared.  Is it the same two or three students each time?  Is it the same group of students?  Do you see a trend?  Are they only unprepared on Mondays, for example?  Are the students resistant?  Are they genuinely worried about completing the assignment?  Keep a record, and then have a conversation with the students.  Ask them to make arrangements to stay after the next class or meet you during your office hours.  Sometimes all it takes is a conversation with a student to find out what’s going on and why they are falling behind.  Then make a plan together to move forward.  Once they realize that you have them on your radar, you may not need to do anything else.

Review your pre-class assignment.  Since you and your students spend time working together in your course, it’s important to recognize that your role is to design the overall learning experience.  That makes their role to come to class ready to participate in the learning experience.  You plan, they engage. You teach by guiding from the sidelines, they learn by doing.  Make sure your assignment requirements are clear and easy to follow.  Consider the time that students will need to commit to the assignment in order to have it completed for class.  Remember that they have other class, extracurricular activities like sports and clubs, and part-time jobs aside from your own course.  Sometimes a simple adjustment to the pre-class assignments is all you need to do in order to improve student preparedness.

Proceed as planned.  Giving a quick lecture to recap the pre-class work means you are setting yourself up to give a quick lecture in every class from now on.  Instead, proceed with your activities as planned.  This will show students who are unprepared that class time will not be derailed by their lack of preparation.  Be sure to show students the value of pre-class work.  Demonstrate how they will be using it, not only during class time, but to prepare for assessments and life beyond the classroom.  Consider how you are recognizing students for their preparation. The unprepared students will see the value of pre-class work and hopefully this will motivate them to be more prepared in the future.  Utilizing small group activities is also a great way to motivate students, since most group members won’t tolerate someone being chronically unprepared.

Re-think participation grades.  If participation grades are already built in to your grading scale, then make “completing pre-class work” a significant part of the participation and final grade.  This provides you with the ability to flexibly incorporate their participation and preparedness into their final grade.  This also promotes student control over their choice in whether or not they come to class prepared.  Including this on your grading policy at the beginning of the semester demonstrates the significance of pre-class work to students, thus requiring students to acknowledge the consequences in terms of how their lack of preparation affects their grade.

Set up a corner.  As suggested by Honeycutt, consider designating a corner in the front of the classroom for students who did not complete their pre-class work to go and finish their assignment during class time.  This approach allows students to catch up, but if the pre-class assignment takes longer to complete than class time, they have to figure out a way to complete the work on their own time.  Plus, they miss out on whatever activities or demonstrations are used for interacting with the material on that day.

Adapted From: Faculty Focus
Written By: Jessica Moser 

Monday, July 25, 2016

How to Deepen Student Learning

Making adjustments to your courses can seem like an overwhelming task.  However, it may only take a few minor adjustments in order to promote a deeper level of learning within your own courses.  According to Tyler Griffin, PhD, associate professor at Brigham Young University, there are six “A” categories to consider in order to broaden student understanding a promote a healthier learning experience within your courses.


Most courses don’t need a complete overhaul, but instead need just a few minor adjustments for a smoother experience.  Consider the common complaints or top frustrations you hear from students year after year, then ask yourself if there are any small things that you could address that would make a big impact.  Where do students tend to struggle?  What can you do to support students through the most difficult sections?  In most cases, it’s not possible to remove every single obstacle to learning, but there are things you can do to better support student learning.


Begin getting to know your students by asking them to tell you a little bit about their backgrounds, struggles, and successes.  This could be done via a survey at the beginning of the semester or through one-on-one meetings scheduled with you before the semester gets in full swing.  Another important concept to consider is why the students enrolled in your class are taking it.  Is it to fulfill a graduation requirement?  Is it because they have a specific interest in the topic?  Have they heard good things about the course from other students, prompting them to try it out for themselves?
Learning more about your students provides a large ability to conduct your course in a way that is beneficial for the learning of all of your students.  Do they get sleepy if you dim the lights for too long?  Are they easily distracted by technology or other students?  Are there times when they zone out during class that you could choose to implement an active learning technique to keep them engaged?


Be sure to consider how your course is going to help students not only succeed in your class, but in their life and careers.  Then, let them in on these things.  Students who are able to see relevance of a course and the content covered within it are more motivated to succeed.  Also do this for each assessment you assign, notifying your students the sort of things you hope this assessment to accomplish for them.


We’ve all heard the classic research that students tend to lose grasp on their concentration after seven to 15 minutes of lecture.  In fact, more recently, research has shown that the time frame for concentration may be even close to three to five minutes.  Delivering bite-sized chunks of information interspersed with appropriate active learning exercises and context builders is one way to keep students interested and engaged throughout the entirety of the class.  Griffin specifically states the importance of using the “three Ex’s” of instruction: explanations, examples (and non-examples), and experiences.


Providing students with the opportunity to process important information in multiple ways over a longer period of time promotes deeper learning and comprehension.  Therefore, since students are most apt to accept cramming as an inevitable way of studying, explain and demonstrate other more effective studying techniques like exposing crucial information in steps and revisiting it often to build upon their knowledge about it.  This can lead to deeper understanding and overall better comprehension of curriculum.  Griffin suggests making sure students are exposed to critical items more than once or twice in your classes for optimum retention.


Students often see course content as a bunch of disjointed units rather than information that builds upon itself over time. Therefore, when designing your course and course assessments, consider the big picture that you’d like your students to leave the course with.  Create relevant, increasingly complex assessments in order to help them demonstrate the ways in which information continues to build upward and outward into a broader and deeper understanding of material.

Adapted From: Faculty Focus
Written By: Jessica Moser 

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Course Refresher

Consider the following scenario.

You’re scheduled to teach a course you have taught before that desperately needs revision.  The content and pedagogy go back for a decade or more and are both sadly obsolete, or the grades have been abysmal and the students are threatening to revolt, or someone (the department head, a faculty committee, or you) has decided to offer the course online, or maybe you’re just bored and dread the thought of teaching it again.

Rebecca Brent writes that this scene is more commonplace than it seems, and that the idea of refreshing a course can seem like a looming force to be reckoned with.  However, after considering the steps required in a course refresher, Brent poses the idea that maybe it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems.  She proposes the following six steps in order to refresh your course more effectively and maybe even with time to spare.  These steps include:
  1. Identify your reasons for change.
  2. Gather ideas and resources.
  3. Plan the changes.
  4. Plan the evaluation.
  5. Carry out the plans.
  6. Regularly reflect on your course.
For more information on each of these steps and how to best execute them, access the full article here.

Adapted from: Faculty Focus
Written By: Jessica Moser 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Types of Test Questions

There are several different ways to pose questions that tests students’ knowledge.  Creating a solid exam means being able to determine what a student knows and is able to do by the time testing takes place.  Therefore, it is good to regularly review the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used tests questions and the test banks that are frequently used.

The most common forms of tests questions include: multiple-choice, true-false, short-answer, essay, and questions provided by test banks.  If you’ve used any of these types of test questions in your courses, consider what the benefits and downfalls of including each type are.  For more information on the advantages and disadvantages of each type, read this article from an issue of Faculty Focus by none other than Maryellen Weimer.

Written By: Jessica Moser

Monday, June 13, 2016

Helping Students Who are Performing Poorly

I recently stumbled across an article in Faculty Focus that proved to be an interesting read on how to help students who perform below average in your courses.  The author of this piece, the fabulous Maryellen Weimer, sheds some light on how to help those students who struggle in courses to become better learners and more active participants in learning.

She writes, “Unfortunately, all too often performance on the first exam predicts performance throughout the course, especially for those students who do poorly on the first test.”  This is then followed by a large variety of attempts to help those struggling students by providing opportunities for tutoring, office hours, study groups, review sessions, and more.  Although these opportunities seem like a great way to offer students extra help, often times the students who need the assistance the most are the ones who choose not to come.

Dr. Weimer proceeds to discuss the ways in which studies have shown direct communication between professors and struggling students paired with a request for students to speak with them directly outside of class provided a much needed boost in student comprehension, attention, and motivation in the course.  Students who attended these one-on-one meeting with their professors spent time talking through their performance in the course, working on goals they’d like to achieve within the course, and developing changes to implement in how and what they were studying.

These meetings tended to lead to large increases in test scores from their first to second exams, sometimes with percentage jumps as large as three letter grades.

To learn more about this process and the steps taken to help students succeed, click here.

Written By: Jessica Moser