Saturday, April 9, 2016

How Can Profs Keep Students' Attention? Put Them in Charge

It's important for faculty to work their hardest to ensure their courses, especially when they are long or comprised of tedious or difficult subject matter, hold their students' attention and keep them engaged. Because it can be so easy for students to drift mentally in class (research purports that college students retain only 10% of material covered in lecture-based courses), it is critical that faculty employ new and creative ways to hold engagement high and get students involved and thinking critically.

Raymond Benton, Jr., a professor at Loyola University Chicago, has managed to put a new spin on an active-learning classic. In what is known as a "jigsaw classroom", students are divided into subgroups within the class, with each subgroup learning a specific topic that they then teach to the rest of the class. Each subgroup member becomes an expert in their allotted area, and the subgroups must educate each other in order to complete an overarching assignment that all groups must complete as a class.

In Benton's version, the "jigsaw classroom" puts students in control of more than learning and communicating information in a given course topic. In an example he provides, a small class of students are given three assigned readings, all of which teach student must read before class, and are randomly assigned to a reading group and a discussion group. In each reading group, the students discuss one of the three articles thoroughly, comparing their own conclusions and understandings of the article. They become experts in that one article, knowing that the other group members will ask questions about that article they will be responsible for answering. Next, they discuss what they did not fully understand about the other two articles and form a list of questions for the other groups. The students then move to discussion groups, in which article "experts" are represented equally, and ask and answer questions and engage in conversations about the articles. Students then reconvene in their original reading groups to compare the answers they received from other groups and share how they answered questions about their group's article. Finally, the professor regroups the entire class to have a class discussion debriefing what they learned about all the articles.

This method is rich with opportunities for active critical thinking and deep levels of processing that will allow students not only to pay attention, but also to engage with the course material in ways they would not remotely approach in a traditional lecture.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Reforming Physics Education: What’s the story?

2015-2016 UNF Physics Colloquium Series presents:

Reforming Physics Education: What’s the story?
Dr. H. Vincent Kuo
Teaching Professor of Physics, Colorado School of Mines
Friday, April 8, 2016
2:00-2:50 p.m. 
Science & Engineering Building, Building 50, Room 1202
Refreshments will be provided

 Much has been argued in recent years for the benefits of experiential learning environments, but how are such contexts operationalized? What are the elements that can characterize such reforms? In this talk I will discuss the differences between teaching and learning environments, present some examples of what the physics education and research communities had contributed in this arena, and describe the adaptation that Colorado School of Mines had implemented, as well as identify some of the unintended consequences of our implementation.
All those interested in teaching within the STEM disciplines or those interested in teaching innovations in general are encouraged to attend.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Altitudes - Reaching to New Heights

Over 15 years ago, the Office of Faculty Enhancement was founded at UNF by efforts of the Faculty Enhancement Committee of the Faculty Association, and the efforts of the Founding Director, Dr. David Jaffee. We recently discovered the original newsletter from the founding of OFE. The thoughts of the Director at that time seem to ring true today.

"While the OFE mission statement points to the central objectives and activities, there is an underlying premise that drives the work of this office – that academic faculty do not stop 'developing' after they gain employment in the academy. Like other professionals, faculty members continue to learn, and experience intellectual and professional growth, throughout their academic career. The purpose of the Office of Faculty Enhancement is to provide the resources and support and an environment that advances all forms of continuous professional development in the various faculty roles of educator, learner, scholar, and researcher."
 - from Altitude, an OFE Newsletter, Volume 1, Issue 1, 2000, by David Jaffee, Founding Director

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Alternatives To Traditional Final Exams Encourage Student Engagement, Learning

When students leave college classrooms at the end of the semester, what are they really taking away with them? Too often, courses culminate in a student turning in a traditional multiple-choice final exam, quietly muttering "Thank you" to the professor, and walking out of the lecture hall having learned little of substance that will stay with them for more than a couple months. The suggestion to exchange final exams for semester 'finales' may seem far-fetched, but the idea might have practical value.

The most common reason students walk out of a course without having learned meaningfully is that they never made course material relevant to themselves. Past research indicates that students experience greater levels of motivation to learn when their teachers make content personally relevant to the students. Personalizing knowledge by putting it into one's own context is all that it takes for students to understand more deeply, rather than just hearing information, memorizing it, and regurgitating it without having ever really thought about it.

There are plenty of examples as to what a semester "finale" might look like. In general, they all focus on giving students an ultimate experience they can use to make course material personal and practical for them- something they can take with them into their future. The idea is to get students thinking,especially on the last day, so they can leave the course still mulling over what they've learned and how it can continue to apply to their intellectual life. Presenting students with just one particularly novel, perplexing question, for example, and asking them to solve it within a confined time is one way to change the final assessment paradigm. Perhaps instead of a final exam, the last day of the course could be a rubric-outlined debate or a collaborative assignment.

The point is, there is a serious lack of genuineness and creativity in the way most professors assess their students at the end of their courses. Final exams as they stand now often make the end of the semester feel more like a chore than a crescendo of an academic experience. By adding a little novelty, a little intrigue, and a little excitement, professors can create an end of the semester assessment that students will be talking about, and thinking about, long after the course is finished.

How do you add creativity and engagement in your final exams?

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