Tag Archives: teaching college

Start the Semester Strong

None of us entered our field because we wanted to alienate students. Yet unwittingly, much of our traditional first-day agendas do just that. Reading the syllabus as a contractual obligation, warning about late work and poor attendance, and being the “sage on the stage” can create the opposite of an atmosphere that will excite students about our courses.

So just what will engage our students from the get-go? At Spartanburg Community College, new faculty watch a video called Voices of Our Students that was created by a student intern, reports Dr. Tena Long Golding. The video contains students’ perspectives about their college teachers and reveals that students describing a “great professor” use words such as honest, relatable, engaging, concerned, invested, and enthusiastic.

Students in the video also describe what makes for a “favorite professor.” They list the following desirable traits:

  • are consistent and predictable
  • believe in students’ ability to succeed
  • entertain when lecturing
  • help students having trouble by being available and offering feedback
  • make connections between course content and the “real world”
  • motivate students using a variety of methods
  • open discussions after lectures
  • share personal anecdotes
  • view students as individuals

As we start our new academic year, perhaps we can use these student impressions to help us create more meaningful courses—and maybe even become those “favorite professors.” Below are some ways to start the new semester off on the right foot.

Offer a meaningful promise about what students will learn. Tell students what they will take away from your course. A statement such as “Everything you read and write about in this course will be relevant to your futures as business professionals” will likely grab their attention.

Engage the class with multimedia. Our millennial students are used to being dazzled by images on their screens. Can you create or show a short video? Play a podcast? Project photographs? You’ll wake up even the most uninterested students if you appeal to their need to view learning at least in some part as entertaining.

Demonstrate consequences of poor classroom behavior. Perhaps you can make your own cellphone go off or respond to a text message while you are speaking. While going over the syllabus, you might tell a “sad story about Missing Student” who skipped so many classes and got so hopelessly behind that she [fill in the blank.] Present your pet peeves to students in a creative way.

With a little effort and a few tweaks to the standard way of starting a new course, this may be your best year of teaching yet!

Do you have any first-day activities or strategies to engage your students? St

Help Learning Student Names…Digital Natives Prefer Conversations in Person…Be More Productive–Work in 90-Minute Increments

Help Learning Student Names

Between the volume of students, number of classes, and diverse names from other languages, instructors can have a difficult time remembering who’s who, and the issue affects student and teacher alike. For students, hearing their names mangled or not attempted at all can be disheartening or even insulting. For instructors, mispronouncing or not remembering names is downright embarrassing.

jan2017shutterstock_142811539Below are some strategies for keeping names straight.

  1. Read your class rosters aloud before meeting students for the first time, attempting to sound out difficult names. Practice until you feel confident.
  1. Take attendance and address each student the same way: “What do you prefer to be called?” to avoid drawing attention to students with unusual names.
  1. Write names you have difficulty pronouncing phonetically.
  1. Ask students to tell you one thing about themselves no one in the class knows, going first yourself: “I hate chocolate.” Use the students’ responses as a mnemonic device to associate the face with the name.
  1. Print student photographs and place the name under the image.
  1. Invite students to create a profile with a photo in your course management system.

 Digital Natives Prefer Conversations in Person

Despite being raised with electronic devices since infancy, nearly 40 percent of today’s young workers prefer in-person communication over digital options.jan2017shutterstock_158383940

A recent study conducted by Future Workplace and Randstad examined responses from over 4,000 employees from Gen Z, those 22 and under, and Millennials, 23-34-year-olds. The research was conducted in 10 countries, including the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.

Additionally, the researchers found, somewhat surprisingly, that over 40 percent of these young workers prefer a corporate office rather than co-working spaces or working from home.  Such data could indicate a shift away from working remotely.

However, employers shouldn’t bring back traditional workplaces just yet. About twenty percent of those same workers surveyed still consider flexible hours their most important employee benefit.

–From Fast Company

Be More Productive–Work in 90-Minute Increments

Remember hours of cramming before a final or writing furiously into the night to make a deadline? It turns out that working for hours at a stretch lessens productivity. Here’s why.

jan2017shutterstock_356926295Strategic renewal—defined as anything from a short daytime nap to taking regular vacations—increases productivity over the long run. Researchers have found that taking a break is a key to getting things done. Another reason for working in spurts is BRAC, or the human basic rest activity cycle. Our natural sleep cycles occur in 90-minute intervals of light sleep and deep sleep. Mirroring that pattern during the day replenishes us humans.

Yet another reason pointing to the efficacy of limited blasts of intense work is that studies have shown that elite athletes, top-notch musicians, and world class chess players who practice for 90 minutes and then take breaks work fewer hours to attain greater returns than those who do not.

If it works for them…

–From Payscale






Tips to Make Learning Stick

by Janet Mizrahi

At the end of my business communication course, I ask students to write me a letter or an e-mail to discuss what they have learned. It’s a way for me toshutterstock_298095335_NOV2015 see if they have taken away the tenets of business communication we have covered during the quarter. The assignment leads to pretty consistent positive responses, which are echoed in the students’ course evaluations. They almost uniformly report that they “learned a lot!—thanks, Prof!” and that they “will use what I’ve learned for the rest of my career!”

Although these comments are nice to read, I often find myself not quite believing students’ ebullient responses, especially when I see the errors many of them make in both the writing and the document design of the assignment.

Recently I’ve been using two pedagogical theories to help my students retain what I teach: metacognition—awareness of one’s cognitive processes—and transfer—taking skills learned in one setting and applying them in another. I’ve started incorporating both into my class, and I believe I’m making some headway.

Teaching Strategies to Foster Metacognition and Transfer

Like most of you, I try to show models of good and not-so-good examples of most assignments. However, lately I’ve been asking students to spend some time in class analyzing the writing strategies that have led to the successful or unsuccessful outcome. I can almost see the light bulbs going off in their heads as they list the differences between successful and unsuccessful models.

This is where I used to stop. Now I also talk about metacognition, explaining that it’s important for students to think about what kind of information they absorb and how they are taking in this information so they can retrieve it in a different context. I see students nodding their heads in agreement or actually looking up from their phones when I do this. Suddenly, it seems, they begin to think about what I’m teaching and whether they have learned it.

Another forum that fosters student thinking about the acquisition of knowledge involves a peer edit session. After students evaluate a classmate’s assignment, they discuss it using questions I have given to them. When students work together in these small groups, they are less inhibited to bring up their own challenges with completing the assignment. Fellow students often offer feedback that helps the other grasp a concept. This reinforcement of what they have practiced again turns on light bulbs and theoretically helps cement knowledge.

Another strategy to get students thinking about how they learn is assigning a written reflection about their writing, which they complete in class. (I’ve tried assigning it as homework, but those responses tended to be much less detailed, dashed off instead of mulled over.) Questions to pose in a reflection are designed to force students to perform a metacognitive analysis of their own work.

These written reflections can be incorporated into many business communication assignments. For example, instructors can ask students to list what they know about a subject (say writing an e-mail) before a lesson. Then after the discussion, students can again reflect of what they have learned about the same topic. Such reinforcement forces students to make connections and subsequently, in theory, to add to their own knowledge. Answering reflective questions such as what was confusing, what was challenging, what made X difficult, how did you figure out how to do X? helps students become more actively involved in their own learning process.

I’ve found one reflection especially helpful. For a large group project, students write a rough draft of their individual section of a report and bring it to class. Using hard copy, students work in teams of two or three and follow a peer edit guide that includes the assignment’s requirements. From that session, students rewrite their rough draft before they submit it to me for a grade. On the day they turn in the rough draft, students answer the answer the following questions:

  1. Read your section again. What would you like to work on for the final draft? Be specific and list at least five elements you’d like to change when you rewrite.
  1. What challenges did you encounter when writing and rewriting your section? What did you learn about writing in general and writing for business audiences in particular?
  1. What specific advice would you like me to provide as I read your rough draft?

The first question helps students look at their work objectively, and I’ve found that almost uniformly, students detect the same problems as I do when I grade. The second question gets them thinking about themselves as writers and the importance of drafts, which may be the single most important writing strategy they take away from my course. The last question forces students to look at their writing critically and ask for my feedback, thereby stimulating metacognitive thinking… and hopefully, taking away more from our time together that will stick with them.


What are your thoughts about transfer of knowledge? Share your experiences!