Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

5 Easy Steps to Better Teaching  

For beginner and veteran instructors alike, new ideas about teaching can be just the nudge to change a hum-drum term into one of the best ever.

A college professor, former marketing executive, and K-12 teacher, Norman Eng offers easy changes to incorporate into the classroom to help students better absorb college material in Teaching College: The Ultimate Guide to Lecturing, Presenting, and Engaging Students. Below are some of his key points.

1.  Create a student avatar. With his background in marketing, Eng calls for instructors to create an avatar (in web design called a persona) or a humanized version of your typical student. Use what you know about your students’ demographic and psychographic backgrounds to create an embodiment of your learner. Include an actual photo and give the avatar a name. Create a narrative for the generalized version of your student.

Armand is a 19-year-old first generation college student who holds down two jobs in addition to carrying a full load of classes. He struggles to get to class but is committed to completing his accounting degree so he can join his uncle’s business. He is reticent to ask for help and struggles with some writing assignments.

Having an avatar reminds instructors to always address the needs and constraints facing their students and address those issues in when teaching.

2.  Use name cards. Ask students to write their names on a 5X8 index card folded in half lengthwise. Eng says this tactic not only helps instructors learn names (or at least call on students using their names) but also helps students communicate more with one another.

3. Insist on participation. It’s easy to only call on students who raise their hands, but it’s usually the same handful who do so. To reach the entire class, tell students you have a “no opt out” policy and will expect everyone to be ready to participate. This helps students remain focused and accountable.

4. Require reading responses. Eng uses a strategy called “questions, quotations, and comments” (QQC) to encourage completing readings. He asks students to respond to readings informally by jotting down a question about the reading, an interesting quotation, or comment/reaction. Then, to hold students accountable, he suggests that instructors follow up in every class session by taking a few minutes to ask randomly picked students about the reading. Eng collects the written brief response entries several times during the term and assigns them a grade.

5.  Start class with an activity, not a lecture. If the day’s lesson is about writing bad news messages, begin the session by asking students if any of them received rejection letters to colleges they applied to. Then follow up with a discussion of how those rejection letters were composed. End with the lecture about how and why bad news messages are written the way they are.

It’s still early enough in the new academic year to add these simple steps to your teaching. Tell us how it works out, or share your own teaching tips and tricks to improve rapport and engagement!

 

 

Students Not Reading Your Syllabus? Try One That’s Accessible

We’ve all had to stifle eye rolls when students ask about a due date or reading assignment, silently thinking IT’S ON THE SYLLABUS! But perhaps our students avoid our course bibles because they have become dated or resemble the small print on contracts or user agreements that nearly everybody skips over. That’s where the accessible syllabus comes in.

An accessible syllabus is based on universal design to enable people of diverse skill sets to engage with it. To do so, an accessible syllabus will contain four elements instead of the standard onewords: images, text, rhetoric, policy. Below is the purpose of each element.

Images. The idea behind using images on a syllabus is the same as inserting images into any document: It allows the reader to skim the content and quickly absorb information. In a syllabus, instructors may choose to include images of the text or its authors, word clouds that support course objectives, a pie chart to show the distribution of final grades, or even a table of contents. Whichever is chosen, images should always serve a specific purpose.

Text. Text cannot be omitted, but the accessible syllabus uses principles of design to break up large blocks of type: bulleted lists, chunked sections, and hyperlinks. A text-heavy syllabus can be greatly improved by using a few strategies. First, cut down the amount of text. For example, if you currently include all course assignments in the syllabus, put them in a separate space or create hyperlinks to them. Likewise, eliminate codes of conduct and the like by creating hyperlinks that connect to those policies on your institution’s website.

Next, make text more readable by dividing it into several columns and keeping paragraphs to no more than 4-6 lines. Use bold face to highlight important key words. Stick to sans serif type for online versions and use 1.5 line spacing. Finally, organize the document to facilitate quick information retrieval. Create a table of contents, headings, bulleting, and enumeration.

Rhetoric. The prose in the accessible syllabus should avoid punishing language and create invitations rather than commands. For example, instead of “late assignments may not be accepted,” write “I’ve found that turning work in on time helps prepare you for success in the workplace, so late work may not be accepted.”

Policy. The final element of the accessible syllabus may affect instructors’ pedagogy. Some research points to the notion that students do better when they have some degree of control in their learning, so course policies that offer students choices become part of accessibility. Inclusive pedagogy—in which the learner and instructor work together—can be manifested in an accessible syllabus in several ways. Instructors can include an inclusive learning statement that voices the instructor’s desire for student success and asks students to discuss accommodations they may need, which may include adjusting due dates or providing extra time for exams.

We’ve included some links to resources for creating an accessible syllabus. Tell us about your strategies and your institution’s guidelines!

The Accessible Syllabus Website

Temple University Accessible Syllabus Template

Stanford’s Designing an Accessible Syllabus

Avoid Burnout—Here’s How

Teaching college can be a burnout profession, especially for adjunct faculty with heavy class loads or tenure-track professors balancing research and publishing. Last month we wrote about student anxiety, so as we close out academic year 2018-19, it seems appropriate to address how college instructors’ demanding jobs can lead to teaching fatigue, and how to avoid it.

Between prep for multiple classes, mandatory administrative duties, the tyranny of endless grading, and the necessity for continuing professional development, it’s hard to stay fresh. Add needy students and the constant pressure of student evaluations, and it’s little wonder the flame that drew us to teaching flickers from time to time.

But who among us wants to be the instructor who looks bored before the semester starts, whose lack of enthusiasm kills even the most energetic student’s drive? To help you recharge before greeting your new students in the fall, we’ve put together some strategies that may help you approach your job differently next academic year.

Manage student expectations. Tell students early in the term that you are not available 24/7, and set policies for responding to student e-mails. You might, for example, tell students that you’ll reply to their questions within 24 hours and encourage them to connect with classmates to ask questions about assignments or missed class. Preserving time away from your students—protecting your downtime—is crucial to avoiding burnout.

Remember why you became a teacher. It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day details: meetings, institutional requirements, administrative duties, and the like. Try to tap into what drove you to academia in the first place. Regularly remind yourself about the positive aspects of your job.

Develop efficiencies. Examine your workload and see where you might make changes that will ease your load. Perhaps you can develop rubrics that make grading a little less time consuming or drop one or two assignments. If you’re a researcher, maybe it’s time to slow down and engage with your job in a different way. Sometimes changing just one element of your routine can make an immense difference and help you feel less drained.

Be ready for under-prepared students. A common source of instructor burnout is dealing with students who are unprepared for academic rigor. While you cannot control your rosters, you canshow students that academic rigor is in their best interest because it helps prepare them for their futures as members of the workforce. By doing so, you can feel good about helping to create a generation of resilient learners.

Pursue positivity. Think about one or two positive events each day and reflect about why they were important. Research shows that this simple activity leads to less depression and improved satisfaction.

Weed out the negative. Track what adds to your energy level and what diminishes it. Add more of the activities that bring personal satisfaction and eliminate those that drag you down.

And last but certainly not least—take it easy over the summer!


Have you experienced burnout? How have you overcome it? Tell us your story.

 

 

 

This is very good! Should we name a source? Or sources?