Embracing Tension in the Classroom

As instructors, we strive to generate thoughtful and engaging classroom discussion while maintaining a collegial and inclusive environment. In doing so, we may be tempted to avoid topics that can ultimately add to studentsí learning. Hot moments in the classroom refer to discussions that become contentious, acrimonious, or even disrespectful. None of us wants to promote a toxic classroom environment, and when such moments happen, we work diligently to diffuse them. However, when done strategically, creating what I call positive tension can help students better understand ideas central to a course while learning to engage in productive debate in the classroom and beyond.

We Begin Again . . .

Iíve been retired, as in not teaching undergraduates, for almost a decade now. I miss the students. I miss some of my colleagues. But what I miss most is the beginning of the school year. Itís a new startónew students, sometimes new content, a few new colleagues, the usual spate of new administrators, maybe a new building, a new classroom or two, or some much-needed new furniture. Nearly everybody is happy to be back, especially those students who spent the summer behind the deli counter or the end of a weed eater in the hot sun.

Lecture Capture: A Study Supplement or Excuse to Skip Class?

Technology makes it easy to record and distribute lecture material presented in class. What concerns many faculty is whether having the recorded lectures available gives students the excuse they need to skip class. Moreover, recorded lectures donít give students the opportunity to ask questions. True, sometimes they donít ask questions in class when they are confused, but often the teacher can see or sense their confusion in a classroom setting and offer additional explanations; thatís not the case when viewing a recorded lecture.

Have You Considered Using Open Textbooks?

College textbooks are expensive, and prices continue to rise. The Bureau of Labor reported a 600 percent increase in textbook costs between 1980 and 2012. The average 2015 American college student graduated with over $35,000 of student debt, a portion of which came from textbook costs. In a recent survey of over 22,000 college students, 64 percent reported not purchasing a required textbook because it was too expensive, 49 percent stated that textbook costs caused them to take fewer courses, and 34 percent declared they had earned a poor grade in one or more courses because they could not afford to buy the textbook.

Making Radio: Using Audio for Student Assignments

Elvis (the other one . . . Costello) was right: ďRadio, itís a sound salvation. Radio, itís cleaning up the nation.Ē Radio didnít die; it was just sleeping. Podcasting and ubiquitous audio tools have brought radio back to life and into the classroom in a new and powerful way.

Using Evaluation Results to Improve: What Does It Take?

Teachers donít always have the best attitudes about student rating results, and for reasons that are clearly understandable. Institutions often donít evaluate teaching in the most constructive and useful ways. However, feedback from students is an essential part of any effort to grow and develop as a teacher. Here are some research results that shed light on ways teachers can approach rating results that make them a useful part of improvement efforts.

A Unique Peer Assessment Activity with Positive Results

Typically, when students review each otherís work, itís a formative process. They offer feedback that ostensibly helps with production of the final product, which is then submitted and graded by the teacher. But thatís not the only option.

Teaching a Course Students Don’t Want to Take

Thereís always a course students donít want to take. Most likely itís a required course, maybe a general education option, probably dealing with content students are convinced they donít like (even though their exposure to it may be minimal) and requiring skills theyíre certain they canít develop. These can be difficult courses to teach. How these courses get launched plays an important role in determining the direction they take for the rest of the semester. Hereís a rundown of some of the challenges and some potential responses that are more effective at the outset than later on.