Monday, March 28, 2016

A Note-Taking Refresher

Thinking back, I can’t even begin to count how many times I was reminded as a student that taking good notes involved thought.  I remember teachers putting up PowerPoint presentations and warning us that if we simply record what is written on each slide word-for-word we would never truly understand the content.  Despite this, we were rarely told why or shown ways to improve note-taking as an approach to learning.

What students often don’t realize is that taking notes requires strategy, organization, and personal connections.  Taking notes is a way for students to actively listen and engage with the material that is being presented.  This is especially true if students attempt to put what the instructor says into their own words.  Among the piles of research on note-taking, essentially the same message can be found: students need to be working with, writing down, or keying in this information for themselves in order to gain the deepest form of understanding.

Therefore, rather than providing all information needed on slides for students, consider including skeletal concepts for them to build off of themselves.  List some key words (especially those that are difficult to spell), charts, tables, graphs, diagrams, and links to other references or websites.  That way, when posting these presentations online after class, students can still review these basic notes without fully relying on them as a singular source of information.

There is a chance that students will struggle with these notes, claiming that they are too vague or don’t contain enough information for them to remember anything.  If this happens, encourage them to develop note-taking skills and motivate them to take notes by showing them the value of a good set of notes.

Need some help on where to start?  Here are some short activities that you can use with your students:

  • When you say something important, provide students with a slightly elongated time to write it down (word for word if they like).  Then ask them to take a moment or two and look at what they’ve written and write it again in their own words.  Studies show taking time to write things in your own word strengthens understanding and overall retention of information.
  • Usually, students are focused on listening for main points and jotting down as little as possible to stay on track with the tempo of the lecture.  After a larger chunk of information, provide students with a few moments, encouraging them to look back on what they’ve written and add more if their understanding of the concept has increased.  Ask probing questions like, “Where do you need more information?” or “What’s the most important thing you’ve got in your notes on this topic?”
  • Start off your class by asking a question students should be able to answer using their notes from the previous class.  What do they have written that relates to that question?  Ask them to talk to the person sitting next to them about what they have in their notes on the topic.  Then provide them with the opportunity to revise or add to their notes if needed.
  • A similar activity can be done when you are debriefing an exam.  Ask students to spend some time looking through their notes concerning a question that a lot of students missed on the exam.  If they have a hard time locating the information, slowly begin giving them hints like what date the content was covered.  Do they have the content they needed in that area?  What should they have written down?
  • Don’t spend too much time telling students how to use their notes.  Remember that each student learns differently and while one technique may work really well for some students, it could cause great frustration for others.  Instead, consider asking questions on how students utilize their notes before taking an exam.  Ask questions like: “What’s gained by rewriting your notes?” “Is it valuable to highlight, underline, or otherwise mark key ideas in your notes?” “Should you compare notes with somebody else in the course?” “Do you use your class notes when you’re reading the text?  Should you?” “How often should you be looking at your notes?”
  • Consider the idea of letting students use their notes during a quiz.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing—you might only let them use them for one quiz, or for only a few minutes on each quiz.  Providing students with the possibility of using notes will likely motivate more note-taking, which in turn, means more listening and engaging with the material.  It also provides students with a realistic approach to learning as in most careers, professionals do have access to information when they are preparing answers.

Adapted from: Magna Publications
Written By: Jessica Moser

Monday, March 21, 2016

Using Learning Logs in the College Classroom

It’s no question that reflection is an important element in the learning process.  In order to move forward utilizing newly-learned information, knowledge has to be moved from working to long-term memory.  Reflection is a great tool to use in order to make this transfer take place.

Thus, learning logs.  Kadriye O. Lewis, a professor of pediatrics at the UKMC School of Medicine uses learning logs in order to promote student reflection in her online courses.  Essentially, a learning log is a journal-entry based learning tool that students are asked to fill out after each section of a course.  In these logs, students write about things like:

  • What they learned
  • What they studied
  • What struggles they faced
  • What they would like to know more about
  • What they would like help with
  • What their plans are for future work in the course
  • What experiences they have had that relate directly to the discussion topic

Naturally, these are only a few suggestions and learning logs can be utilized in a variety of different ways.  Regardless of what prompt students are asked to consider, the purpose of the log is to strengthen student comprehension and retention of information through reflection on their learning experiences.  These kinds of reflections have been shown to improve students’ metacognitive ability to self-monitor their own learning, and thus, improve learning itself through this process.  Students are involved in a more active way of learning and are asked to think about the content in a deeper and practical way.

Not to mention, learning logs provide a great way for teachers to get to know their students.  Since students are writing about their learning processes through a specific section of the course, instructors are able to use this information in order to understand each student’s comprehension of the material and offer clarification where needed.  This is especially helpful in online communities where student/teacher interaction tends to be considerably lower than face-to-face courses.

Adapted from: Magna Publications
Written By: Jessica Moser 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Student Experiences: A Great Learning Tool

By the time I was seventeen, I had been on two separate trips to rural Mexico where I worked in week-long intervals building houses, digging irrigation ditches, assembling concrete walls, and pouring roofs.  I stayed with Mexican families, sat at their dinner tables, slept on their living room floors, and I learned to speak conversational Spanish faster than I ever would have thought possible.

There is no question in my mind that these experiences have shaped my life in an extreme way.  I learned more about the world than I ever had living in a small town in central Wisconsin.  These experiences meant I was exposed to racism and poverty, cultural differences and family dynamics, ethics and morals that were different from my own.

With this came a large variety of instances in which I was able to draw on my time in Mexico and the things I was exposed to there to think more deeply about the world in new and interesting ways.  While reading a novel for a literature course, completing a purification experiment in chemistry, or sitting in a psychology course, discussing theories of behavior, I could think back and relate my experience to the content of the course.  When asked to share my own experiences and opinions related to things, I was not only able to help strengthen connections I made personally using these stories, but then illustrate those real-world connections for other students in the course.  (And they did the same for me!)  It became a lot easier to understand a new concept when I could see it fit together with something I had experienced first-hand.

Asking students to draw on their experiences and express their opinions provides opportunities for learning that can deepen understanding and involve collaboration.  Setting up discussion boards or allowing time for personal sharing in relation to a prompt provides pathways for students to consider that they may have otherwise overlooked.  These pathways equivocate to personalized learning that requires little to no extra effort for you, but that has a big impact on student retention and understanding.

Provide students with plenty of opportunities to recall their own experiences and discuss them with classmates or yourself.  You may be amazed at the sort of connections that can be made.

Written By: Jessica Moser

Monday, March 7, 2016

From the CETL Library: My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a student again?  Maybe you’ve contemplated the ways in which the world of education has changed since you left it as a student and entered it as an educator.  Perhaps the frustrations of watching your students’ strange habits, their seeming disinterest in your course, or their apparent lack of priorities have made you wonder what the heck is going on in their minds.  Rebekah Nathan wondered the same things.

“After more than fifteen years of university teaching, I found that students had become increasingly confusing to me.  Why don’t undergraduates ever drop by my office hours unless they are in dire trouble in a course?  Why don’t they respond to my (generous) invitations to do out-of-class research under my guidance?  How could some of my students never take a note during my big lecture class?  And what about those students who bring whole meals and eat and drink during my class?  Or those other students who seem to feel absolutely no embarrassment in putting their head or their feet on their desk and taking a nap during class?”

Teaching was becoming more difficult for Rebekah as understanding her students became more difficult.  She was faced with the challenge of attempting to teach to a population that was slowly becoming foreign to her.   So, as an anthropology professor and researcher, she decided to take things into her own hands and conduct a year-long research project in which she enrolled as a freshman student at the very university she worked at.

My Freshman Year is the result of her research findings through this study, and explores habits, routines, thought processes, and priorities of the college students she was surrounded by.  During her time spent as a student, she observed the ways that students handled stressed and balanced their schedules, she interviewed them on their professors and classes, and she participated in all aspects of the college life including classes, movie nights, residence hall activities, intramural sports, and living in the dorms.  Her results are certainly eye opening as well as entertaining.

To read more about Rebekah Nathan’s experience, head over to the CETL library and pick up a copy of My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student from the “Understanding the Student” section.

Written By: Jessica Moser

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Tips for Teaching Hybrid Courses

Hybrid or blended courses are defined as using the web for interacting (not just posting).  Courses are considered to be truly hybrid if the amount of online work falls anywhere between 30-70%.  There are several pros to implementing hybrid courses within your teaching curriculum, but there are challenges with employing them as well.
The first thing an instructor must consider when making the switch to hybrid is which material to present online vs. which material to present face to face.  This means considering how you are going to deliver lectures, discussion activities, projects, and homework assignments.  If this sounds daunting, never fear!  The following tips from instructors who have mastered the art of hybrid courses can help. 

  1. Keep time frame in mind.  Remember that you’ll have to create or revise material to make it web-friendly, and you might have to take time to learn the ins and outs of the system you’ll be using.
  2. Be sure to consider your students.  What sort of needs and skills do they have that will enhance their use of the hybrid course material?  What sorts of struggles or obstacles might they face with online material?
  3. Utilize D2L for a streamlined and cohesive collection of information.  Students are going to use D2L a lot throughout their time spent at the university, so even if you are teaching an intro course with mostly freshmen, it’s still a good idea to use the D2L system so that students get used to using it as much as possible.  Plus, if you aren’t teaching classes with high freshmen populations, your students will already have the experience they need in order to work with D2L for your course.
  4. As it goes with all elements of teaching, don’t try to recreate the wheel.  Reuse the materials you have already created, or make adjustments to them to utilize them as online materials as well.
  5. Prepare for a longer amount of your time to be spent online.
  6. Make sure to explain to students what your online expectations are during an in-class session.  This provides ample opportunity for walk-through demonstrations and questions.
  7. Consider where lecture material best fits into your curriculum.  Would your course benefit from more in-class activity time and small group discussions?  Record your lectures ahead of time and post them online for students to watch before attending class.  (More information on this under the “Flipped Classroom” tag.) Would you like for students to witness your lectures face to face?  Utilize the online portion of your course for discussion and supportive readings or case studies.
  8. Have students work collaboratively online.  This is the most important thing to remember when creating a hybrid course.  Students shouldn’t only use the online portion of the course to post things and forget about them.  They should be interacting with one another, discussing the elements of the subject area, and working through issues that they might be faced with concerning the material.
  9. Even though your students will be working in two different environments for your course, don't expect them to complete twice the amount of work
  10. Keep the creativity flowing!  Just because you will no longer be implementing certain elements of your course face-to-face any longer doesn't meant you have to get rid of the really intriguing and thought-provoking activities you have done in the past.  Hybrid courses just mean reconsidering how you can best implement those activities for stronger learning experiences.
Written By: Jessica Moser