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