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FACULTY DEVELOPMENT: Melony Shemberger

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Strategies to Energize Instruction

Pace Yourself: Strategies to Energize 
Instruction

Dr. Melony Shemberger

In running, pacing means everything. A runner who starts a race too fast will decelerate quickly before arriving at the finish line, and a runner who begins too slowly may risk not making a desired time goal.

The same logic applies to student engagement during a classroom lesson. When instruction proceeds too slowly, students might lose attention. On the other hand, students might not understand the lecture or activity if it is taught too quickly.

The speed at which people teach and learn differs from one generation to the next (El-Shamy, 2004). The younger generation, specifically those who grew up around video games and computers, is more trained to “process new information at much faster speeds” (Barkley, 2010, p. 135). Therefore, in a traditional classroom where a lesson is presented at a leisurely pace, the digital-age student becomes bored.

Varying the pace and rhythm of lectures and learning activities is key to a successful start and finish of instructional time. When paces are ignored, students’ thinking skills are disrupted, retention of material is low, and academic progress slows.

Strategies are available to find an effective instructional pace. Here are a few ideas to energize your instructional delivery:

  1. Record yourself. By using audio or video playback, you can pay closer attention to your speech patterns to determine if you need to pick up the pace of your speech to keep students’ attention.
  2. Use timers. This is helpful during an instructional activity, such as group work or an individual in-class assignment. Use the timer on your smartphone or even a kitchen timer to signal when time is up for an activity.
  3. Talk to yourself—in your head. By using self-talk, you can identity when you are talking too fast, too slowly or not carefully.
  4. Make YourTube your friend. To shorten a lengthy lecture, show videos to support your class lesson objective. If it is a long video, pause at certain points to pose a discussion question or a brief instructional activity.
  5. Have materials ready. This will help keep the flow of instruction moving. Try to get in the class a few minutes early to launch PowerPoint slides, give handouts to students, etc.
  6. Check in now and then. Take time to see where your students are during the lesson, and adjust accordingly. Formative assessments play a key role in pacing.

Keep in mind that engaging students involves more than requiring them to listen. If we are in tune with our instructional pace, we can work to increase student engagement and expect greater success in our teaching.

References

Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

El-Shamy, S. (2004). How to design and deliver training for the new and emerging generations. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

 

Curriculum Architecture

Build Assessment Plans
Using Curriculum Architecture

Dr. Melony Shemberger

Just as an architect draws a blueprint to design a building, an educator relies on a curriculum architecture to plan assessment and set the direction for instruction.

Curriculum architecture is a comprehensive map that lists course objectives for mapped courses so that they are associated with specific goals, including program evaluation, course assessment and learning objectives. Metaphorically speaking, a curriculum architecture is a blueprint, or the infrastructure, for assessment and learning.

Many models exist for different education levels, such as K-12 or higher education. Some of models focus on key performance indicators, such as accreditation or institutional goals, while others are learner-centered. The concept is not new in education, but it has gained traction in recent years for colleges and universities because of a greater emphasis on student learning outcomes.

Similar to a corporate ladder structure, curriculum architecture shows the relationship among outcomes in courses and programs. This approach allows academic leaders, such as department heads and assessment coordinators, to visualize what is complete in their programs and what is missing, so that faculty could address issues and challenges.

When designing a curriculum architecture, department leaders and assessment coordinators should use these questions to guide the planning process:

  • Is our curriculum aligned with the needs of our students?
  • Are our policies, processes and procedures aligned with the needs of our students?
  • Does our infrastructure support the curriculum and needs of our students?
  • Does our planning process adequately assess the needs of our students?                    

 

The beauty of having a curriculum architecture is that a final product is never achieved. In fact, the support beams (lessons, assignments and courses) of a curriculum architecture evolves — and it must evolve — to sustain learning. The advantages to implementing a curriculum architecture are plenty. Academic strategy is planned, student learning increases, and collaboration among faculty enhances.

Academic departments should adopt a curriculum architecture to move forward in assessment planning. The process might be met with some resistance. Nevertheless, developing an academic blueprint helps faculty to build a learning community and engage in meaningful dialogue that centers on the most important aspect of the design — student achievement.

Include Formative Assessment in Your Semester Plans

Image source:  jcheek2008

 

Include Formative Assessment
in Your Semester Plans

Dr. Melony Shemberger

With the spring semester underway, course outlines likely are set in stone. However, did you carve some time in the semester to ascertain how well students are learning?

Incorporating formative assessment into your course plans can prove useful. Formative assessment is an approach to evaluate student learning. Often ungraded and informal, formative assessment can provide both the students and instructor a gauge of where their level of understanding is at the moment and enable the instructor to adjust accordingly to meet the emerging needs of the class. 

Formative assessment is important, perhaps more so than summative evaluations because changes can be made midway in the course, while the end-of-term forms only affect future classes. Techniques and instruments vary, but first, you need to know what you want to assess. Do you want to assess prior knowledge to see how well students are learning the content? Perhaps you want to assess students’ procedural learning; that is, whether students can analyze the information to move ahead in the course.

After you identify the assessment purpose you want to achieve for your course, find an instrument or method that would work for you – not against you. A formative assessment instrument should be chosen with painstaking care but not be deemed painful to administer, collect and use. 

Here are a few simple formative assessment instruments you could use during your course:

  • One-Minute Paper
    • To check student understanding of a concept, have students take out a sheet of paper. Take one minute to write an explanation of a concept, solve an equation or draw a main point from a reading. 
  • Muddiest Point
    • Assess student understanding by giving each student an index card. Have the students take one minute to write a single question about, or the most confusing aspect of, the lesson or a topic being studied.
  • Directed Paraphrase
    • After working through a topic, ask students to explain the content to a lay audience in their own words.
  • Application Cards
    • After students have been introduced to some principle, generalization, theory or procedure, give students index cards and ask them to write down at least one possible, real-world application for what they have just learned.
  • Mid-Semester Evaluation
    • This is one of the most popular formative assessment methods. To conduct a mid-semester evaluation, provide students open-ended questions that seek information about how the course is progressing. Ask students what is working for them, and inquire about any suggestions they might have for the rest of the semester. After you have reviewed their responses, report the results to the students, and offer explanations based on the suggestions, if necessary. 

Numerous other techniques exist. Remember, the key is three-fold: 1. Make time in your course, preferably around the midterm, to assess student learning, 2. Know what to assess, and 3. Find an applicable instrument or technique that you like. By including formative assessment, you are setting up a semester of success – for everyone.

Teaching professionalism

Image source: Oglethorpe University/Flickr

Teaching College Students Professionalism
in the Classroom

Dr. Melony Shemberger

Students who stroll into class late or submit assignments past the deadline are practicing casual attitudes that do not translate to what employers would call professionalism.

Not only do instructors experience these frequent classroom instances, but managers and supervisors in the workplace do as well. In fact, employers increasingly deal with what they refer to as inadequate employability skills – work ethic, punctuality, time management and attendance.

Also known as soft skills, employability skills are expected from college graduates. When a student reaches 22 years of age and has a college degree, employers assume an entry-level employee should have attitudes and behaviors that correlate with career success. This hasn’t been the case. The burden falls on companies to invest in training new hires who lack soft skills, rather than building their technical knowledge base.

On a postsecondary level, similar observations have been reported. A 2013 survey by York College of Pennsylvania’s Center for Professional Excellence showed that approximately 40 percent of college faculty members believe upperclassmen did not demonstrate a level of professionalism expected for new hires in today’s workplace.

The same survey also partly blamed colleges for a decline in professionalism among students by allowing them to miss deadlines without penalty and assigning good grades for mediocre work. Such allowances only prepare students for the wrong expectations.

College and university faculty often perceive their roles in the classroom as conveyors of knowledge. Yet, as colleges and universities are faced with greater pressure to produce employable graduates, the classroom might be the place for faculty members to help students of the millennial generation develop good behavior.

In fact, emphasizing soft skills, or employability skills, can be achieved in the classroom without creating any special lesson plans. Here are a few suggestions that faculty can use in the classroom to improve conduct and professionalism among their students:

Serve as role models. This could include a number of ideas. For instance, some professors allow students to call them by their first names. Being on a first-name basis, indeed, sets a friendly tone; however, it can create a false impression that faculty are less authority figures.

Enforce deadlines. Some professors penalize students for submitting late or missed assignments by deducting points or recording a grade of zero. Other professors might accept late work after the deadline. To discourage students from handing in late submissions, faculty members should choose a method – reduce points or give a zero – and stick to the policy.

Educate students on improper behavior. Students who text during class, send emails to instructors with grammar and spelling errors and act unfocused generally have been influenced by a culture of entitlement. Faculty members can inform students, preferably in person, that such casual behaviors are not acceptable in the workplace.

Involve the campus Career Services Center. Faculty members who have to miss class for travel to conferences to present papers or panel sessions can schedule a presentation on business etiquette with a Career Services staff member. Upon returning, the instructor can assign a writing exercise in which students reflect on lessons learned from the presentation.

Instructors might find these suggestions challenging, but the main idea is to provide students examples of strong communication skills, teamwork and the ability to overcome obstacles. Students will discover they bring more value to a company if they demonstrate their discipline-specific expertise with a solid foundation of soft skills.

FIVE TO FOLLOW

Source: N ino/Flickr

1. Education Writers Association (EWA) -- This website (ewa.org) is geared more toward education journalists, but the website contains many news articles from newspapers across the country reporting on issues.

2. The Teaching Professor -- This website (magnapubs.com) offers excellent articles on pedagogy, curriculum and other education-related matters.

3. Education Week -- A newspaper (edweek.org) that reports on education issues across the country.

4. Pedagogy Unbound -- A Facebook page in which college educators share ideas and concerns.

5. Cult of Pedagogy -- A website (cultofpedagogy.com) and Facebook page for educators of all levels.