The Teaching Professor
Current Issue: June 1, 2014
A lot of faculty worry that online learners cheat more on test. Given the cheating epidemic in college courses, why wouldn’t students be even more inclined to cheat in an unmonitored exam situation? Add to that how tech-savvy most college students are. Many know their way around computers and software better than their professors. Several studies report that the belief that students cheat more on online tests is most strongly held by faculty who’ve never taught an online course. Those who have taught online are less likely to report discernible differences in cheating between online and face-to-face courses. But those are faculty perceptions, not hard, empirical evidence.
Peer assessment in groups has been shown to effectively address a number of group process issues, but only if the peer assessment has a formative component. Many studies have shown that if peer assessment is used at the end of a group project, group members will punish their dysfunctional members—those who didn’t do work, didn’t turn work in on time, didn’t come to meetings, and didn’t do quality work—but they won’t confront those group members when they commit those dysfunctional behaviors. After-the-fact peer assessment gives the teacher input on who did and didn’t contribute in the group, but it doesn’t change what happened in that group or help students learn how to confront group member problems when they emerge.
The end of a long academic year is probably the time when we are most open to the idea of a rejuvenating instructional experience.
In a recent workshop, I heard two teachers describe just such an experience. They team-taught an introductory English lit course with content that explored veteran experiences. Before the workshop started, it was clear they were an unlikely team. She was the rather typical English prof, a tad disorganized, fussing with the technology, comfortably relaxed before the group. He was a former Marine, standing off to the side, trying to look relaxed but actually more at attention than at ease.
Most faculty now recognize the importance of students being able to direct their own learning. It’s what positions them for a lifetime of learning. And most faculty also recognize that many of our students are more dependent than self-directed. They want the teacher to make most, if not all, of the learning decisions for them. “What do you want in this assignment?” “How long should it be?” “Do I need to have references?” “What do I need to know for the test?” “How many homework problems should I do?” All these are questions self-directed learners ask and answer for themselves.
There is no question that self-regulation of learning is more essential in online than in face-to-face courses. In online courses, students cannot depend on having a teacher physically there to answer their questions and keep them on track. Online students are more responsible for planning and setting goals for their work in the course. They do more self-monitoring and controlling of learning processes. They need to be able to decide if they should put in more effort, how hard they should keep trying, and whether they should seek help. Students in face-to-face classes should be exploring these issues as well, but if they aren’t, teachers will likely find out and raise the issues.
Looking for an intervention that improves team functioning on group projects? Consider team charters. “A team charter is introduced to team members upon formation and provides the team the opportunity to discuss and, ultimately, agree on members’ expectations related to behavior, meeting management and the allocation of work.”
As college faculty, we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to talk. We want to cover the course content and thoroughly explain our assignments. We want to sound smart, share what we know, and communicate convincingly about the work of our disciplines. Our students assume we are experts, and we don’t want to disappoint them. All this amounts to teacher-centered pressure that confuses talking and teaching.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is guided by three key principles: providing multiple means of representation, the “what” of learning; providing multiple means of action and expression, the “how” of learning; and providing multiple means of engagement, the “why” of learning. We would like to briefly explore each of these principles and offer some suggestions for making UDL work in the university classroom.
The article cited below describes an assignment in an upper-division, large-lecture biochemistry course that has students generate questions about the readings. The assignment is worth about 5 percent of the course grade. The goal was to develop a formative assessment strategy that “would successfully (1) elicit responses from the majority of students, not just the most vocal, and (2) reveal the full range of student ideas, thereby providing a more robust picture of the class as a whole.” (p. 31) When students generate questions (in this case about the reading), they “reveal both how they think about a topic, as well as the ways in which they make connections between topics as they extend upon and construct new knowledge.” (p. 31)
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