Call for Proposals: The Leadership in Higher Education Conference - October 19-21, 2017 Baltimore, Md.
Online Classroom March 2017
When students ask us, as they occasionally do, “I wasn’t in class yesterday. Did I miss anything important?” most of us feel at least a bit of disrespect and some aggravation. If we take the question at face value, it implies that the student thinks at least some of what we do in class might not actually be important. Judging from a search of online forums, instructors’ responses range from genuine interest in helping students understand what they missed and how to make up for it, to contempt exemplified by sarcastic comments such as, “No, since you weren’t present we just filled time until the class was over.” The former response was illustrated in a 2014 article in The Teaching Professor, by Rocky Dailey, who also noted that some absences may be considered more legitimate than others (e.g., due to a student’s participating in an institution-sanctioned activity rather than just deciding not to show up). In those cases, I may feel more inclined to give the student some of my time and effort to help make up for the absence.
Since course evaluations started being collected online, response rates have plummeted. In one study they ranged from 23 percent to 47 percent with the mean at 33 percent, compared with a range of 33 percent to 75 percent with a mean of 56 percent for paper evaluations. Low response rates raise the issue of representativeness.
We regularly get course evaluation results, and they aren’t the kind of feedback most of us want. At least, that’s what the results of a recent survey showed. Questionnaire responses from almost 350 biology faculty members representing 185 different institutions found that 41 percent were dissatisfied with end-of-course evaluations and 46 percent were only satisfied with them “in some ways.” The reasons given for the dissatisfaction were many: the evaluations didn’t provide constructive feedback; response rates were poor; the evaluation questions didn’t align with the instructor’s objectives; the focus was on student satisfaction, not learning; and the process wasn’t designed to really engage students in providing useful and insightful feedback. It did not matter where these faculty respondents taught. Even those at institutions where teaching was ostensibly valued were not satisfied with course evaluation feedback. And it did not matter what sort of teaching practices the respondents reported using. Those who lectured were just as unhappy with course evaluation processes as those who used active learning.
“No scientist wanting to remain at the leading edge of a field would use a research technique judged no longer as effective as an alternative. Shouldn’t we apply the same standard to teaching?” (2151) Substitute the word “scholar” for “scientist,” and it’s a question that should be put to everyone who teaches. What’s no longer deemed as effective is lecturing compared to the alternative of active learning. Many faculty members don’t use much active learning even though many now acknowledge that they should. This article offers four ways to get started or to move forward in your use of active learning.
Given the predilection of students to check devices of various sorts during class, even when there’s a prohibitive policy supported by regular teacher admonitions, it’s not surprising that students do it when they are studying, even when their study is focused on preparing for an upcoming exam. Furthermore, it’s not surprising that regular interruptions during study times negatively affect exam performance. But it’s nice to have the details, like those provided by this study.
Most of us have experienced the dreaded quiet class. Typically, it’s the class where only a few students speak and it’s always the same three or four. Everyone else sits passively and waits out the clock. For those classes and others, I’ve found a question of the day an effective method of promoting participation.
And there seems to be lots of them: required general education courses in content areas the student deems completely uninteresting, those with a reputation for being hard, and others that require skills students know they don’t have and feel they cannot acquire. With all that teaching entails—content to get through, material to prepare, assignments to grade, office hours, and e-mail—students’ obvious negative attitudes are just one more thing that doesn’t make the job easy or pleasant. However, in most cases there are good reasons for students to be taking these courses and those are also reason enough for us to commit to doing what we can to change students’ minds. So, here’s some strategies. Most of them aren’t new or terribly creative, but all of them have been known to work.
Over the years, course syllabi have evolved from a simple document that outlines course objectives and requirements to an intimidating, multi-paged contract of terms and conditions for successful course completion. A number of writers have proposed syllabus makeovers, including some who’ve suggested the syllabus be offered in newsletter style. Others have proposed quizzing students on the syllabus as a way to encourage them to read it carefully.