The Teaching Professor
Current Issue: August 1, 2014
Student excuses—don’t you feel as though you’ve heard them all? “My Dad’s in the hospital.” “I’ve been sick with the flu.” “My computer hard drive has crashed.” How often do students offer truthful excuses? “The assignment turned out to be way harder than I anticipated and I’ve simply run out of time.” Most of us do wonder how many students are being truthful. If it’s been a long week, we’re likely to respond “not many,” and with some students, we could wager our retirement funds with little risk. A recent study offers some empirical evidence that informs what we suspect about student excuses, or “fraudulent claims,” as they’re described in this research.
A thoroughly referenced article seeks to answer why science faculty members are slow to adopt evidence-based teaching practices, despite what the authors describe as “heroic dissemination” of information on these practices. The folks on the science side of the house have evidence that use of these practices is still anything but widespread. Would the evidence be any different for those teaching in other fields? It’s doubtful.
The authors of an exploration of etexts identify the positive aspects of these technology-enhanced texts: convenience, portability, and currency. These resources make online course design easier and offer students a choice of learning materials, which they can use to master course concepts. New materials can be easily added, current content can be updated, and students can access the materials via various electronic devices. The convenience benefits instructors as well. PowerPoint slides, quizzes, and various grading mechanisms are available to them.But as these authors note, these benefits do not come without costs. Publishers claim that etexts are the answer to rising textbook costs. But the authors explain that comparing the costs of etexts and print books across the board is not straightforward. The cheaper costs are made possible when universities engage in a bulk purchasing deal with publishers. However, a number of studies are documenting that students still prefer (and purchase) printed textbooks over digital ones, and there are some good reasons why.
Do grades motivate students? The answer is yes, but it’s not an unqualified yes. Below are highlights from a couple of first-rate studies that illustrate those qualifications, and they aren’t the only studies to do so.
With the increased use of group work in college courses, exploration of the role of peer assessment has broadened, as has its use. In one survey, 57 percent of students reported that their faculty had incorporated peer evaluations into group assignments. We’ve done articles on this topic before, but mostly we’ve highlighted resources, specifically good instruments that direct peers to provide feedback in those areas known to influence group outcomes. Recent literature includes a variety of peer assessment systems (find three examples referenced at the end of this article), many of them online programs that expedite the collection, tabulation, and distribution of the results. Here’s a list of the benefits of making peer assessment part of group learning experiences.
My research focuses on revisiting some of the assumptions about teacher power and how we communicate it to students. Student focus group responses to the questions I asked are potentially discouraging and disturbing. Students told me that they have trouble identifying with us. They don’t see the value of developing relationships with us that could be influential to their learning or personal development. Many see us as employees paid to transmit knowledge as a commodity. They reveal their own elaborate strategies for resisting teacher influence and avoiding some of the heavy lifting deep learning requires. Although some will see these student views as frustrating and any teacher response futile, the very best among us will view them as valuable information that we can use to rethink the nature of our power with a new generation of students. Here are some of the lessons I’m learning from these focus groups.
To reach the “selfie” generation enrolled in my Freshman Seminar class, I have used their tendency toward narcissism to help them discover how they spend their time and what part social media plays in their college experience. Drawing on the work of Nonis, Philhours, and Hudson (2006) that I first read about in an issue of The Teaching Professor, my colleagues and I conducted a research study that focused on time management and social media use (reference below). We modified the time diary that was used by Nonis, Philhours, and Hudson and had our students keep a record of how they spent their time for a seven-day period. Students earned participation points by submitting their completed diaries that we did not grade.
Five faculty, all belonging to the same interdisciplinary sociology department, decided that collectively they could improve student writing skills better than they could individually. “Our approach emphasizes that a collective effort need not be a department-wide, institutionalized one. Indeed, faculty can still collaborate and students can still feel the impact of a concerted effort even if only a subgroup of like-minded faculty members participate.” (p. 131) The article tells the story of how they managed to pull this off.
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