All posts by lmiller

NISOD Free Webinar- Sept. 22

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Helping Students Value Challenge and Hard Work

In postsecondary classrooms, it’s important to help students move beyond the “empty vessel” model of learning to a model that encompasses self-directed, strategic learning. Sometimes it’s difficult for students to value challenges and hard work as components of the learning process because they do not understand how to move towards being an engaged participant in their own learning. Using classroom examples, this webinar shares ways to increase student engagement in the learning process. Webinar participants explore concepts related to learning improvement, analyze and synthesize the information presented in order to integrate “learning how to learn” content into their teaching practices, and evaluate various “learning how to learn” opportunities that can be used in their classrooms to improve learning and student performance. The webinar facilitator has taught in postsecondary education for 12 years, teaching developmental reading, writing, and freshman composition. Her research interests focus on improving the academic success of underprepared students.

Renee Wright, Faculty, Triton College

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Eastern: 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

NISOD Free Webinar – The Hero Complex: Advising Minority Males



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July 14, 1:00-2:00 p.m. (CST)

The Hero Complex: Advising Minority Males

This webinar highlights several critical issues, including networking factors, cultural and parental support, and abilities and skills of minority male students. Webinar participants learn how to motivate students so they realize their true grit and gain an understanding of major persistence concepts related to advising minority males.

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Electronic Learning Community Journal

The Learning Communities Journal is now available online for free download at the Journal website.

Volume 8, Number 2 (2016), a complimentary bonus, online-only issue, focuses on The Community of Practice Initiative at Hong Kong Baptist University. As the Editors’ message describes it, “This special online-only issue of the Learning Communities Journal includes noteworthy contributions—indeed, breakthroughs—in the field of faculty learning communities (FLCs) and communities of practice (CoPs). For the first time, a hybrid model of an FLC/CoP has been designed, implemented, and assessed. The survey designed and implemented by Beach and Cox (2009), which has assessed the impacts of FLCs on members’ educational development and their students’
learning in the U.S., has been used again to measure the impacts of this hybrid FLC/CoP model. Direct comparisons have been made between FLC and hybrid FLC/CoP outcomes, and they are published in this issue.
In addition, this issue contains the robust scholarship of teaching and learning that these hybrid FLC/CoPs have generated. Also of note, this project has taken place in Hong Kong, providing an international perspective and application of the FLC model in a different culture.”

The articles in the new issue are as follows:

Establishing Communities of Practice to Enhance Teaching and Learning:
The      Case at Hong Kong Baptist University
Eva Wong et al., Hong Kong Baptist University
Networked Learning Communities: A Perspective Arising From a
Multidisciplinary         Community of Practice on Student ePortfolios
Tushar Chaudhuri & Chan Wai Yin, Hong Kong Baptist University
Designing and Implementing a Two-Level Community of Practice Project
to         Develop a Teaching Portfolio Framework
Atara Sivan et al., Hong Kong Baptist University
Using a Community of Practice to Enhance Undergraduate Students’
Graduate         Attributes Through Problem-Based Learning
Siu Yin Cheung & Kevin K. M. Yue et al., Hong Kong Baptist
A Community of Practice to Assess Students’ Teamwork Skills in a
Team-Based    Learning Setting
Peter Lau & Theresa Kwong, Hong Kong Baptist University

The Impact of Peer Tutoring in a University Language Classroom
Angela Ng & Peter Lau, Hong Kong Baptist University
A CoP Project Enhancing Student Learning Through a Holistic Mentoring
Program in the Sciences
Karen Ka Wai Mak et al., Hong Kong Baptist University
Service Learning for Whole Person Education in Chinese Medicine
Developed by a Community of Practice
Hong Qi Zheng et al., Hong Kong Baptist University
Assessing the Effect of Communities of Practice in Higher Education:
The Case         at Hong Kong Baptist University
Theresa Kwong et al., Hong Kong Baptist University

Click “Issue Archive” to access all issues of the Journal; to
locate learning communities topics you wish to research, click on
“Search Archive.”

For information about submitting manuscripts or other inquiries, click
“Submitting Manuscripts” or contact Gregg Wentzell, Managing
Editor, at the Center for Teaching Excellence, Miami University,
Oxford, OH 45056 (telephone: 513-529-9265; e-mail:

Enjoy reading, and watch for Volume 8.1 of the Journal, our regular
annual issue, in Fall 2016.

Best regards,

Gregg Wentzell, Ph.D.
Managing Editor

Do not reply to this automated message. If you have any questions or
problems, contact the subscription manager:

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Faculty Focus-Personal Narratives: Perfect for Summer Reading

 May 4, 2016
Personal Narratives: Perfect for Summer Reading

By Maryellen Weimer, PhD

Right before the end of the academic year when the promise of summer stretches warmly ahead, many of us are making lists that anticipate other kinds of tasks. If you’re considering some pedagogical reading, I’ve got just the recommendation.

I am a huge fan of personal narratives—those first-person, experienced-based pieces of scholarship in which faculty explore what they’ve learned from an experience (or several of them). Narratives aren’t all that popular right now. We’re preoccupied with all things evidence-based. I do heartily endorse empirical explorations of various sorts, and I recognize that a lot of experience-based scholarship didn’t used to be all that scholarly.

But a good personal narrative has a lot going for it. It provides an in-depth analysis of an experience. In the best narratives the author looks deeply at what happened, with brutal honesty.  Personal narratives show how understanding why or how something happened, and what can be learned from it, has great value. Those who write them benefit tremendously, but personal narratives are equally beneficial to those of us who read them.

As readers, we get to see models of how experience can be analyzed—the questions that need to be asked, how answers must be subjected to logical analysis and verified with evidence. They encourage us by demonstrating that even negative experiences can be faced and learned from. If you’ve had a class that went poorly, discovered a policy resting on questionable assumptions, received a set of rank ratings, your personal narrative lets us as readers borrow the questions asked, the methods of analysis, and the ways of dealing with the results. We find ourselves using your methods to explore own our narratives.

Personal narratives fuse the personal and the professional, the emotional and the analytical. They touch us because emotions are a part of meaningful teaching experiences—we respond to them as humans and follow up as professors. It concerns me that the affective dimensions of teaching are so overshadowed by the rational and the intellectual. Both have a place in teaching, and the absence of one diminishes the power of the other.

While you’re putting together your post-semester to-do list, we do hope attending the 13th annual Teaching Professor Conference makes the cut. Whether you’re a first-time attendee or among the many who join us every year, it’s energizing to be together with a large group of faculty—all committed to teaching, all wanting new and better ideas to promote learning, and all willing to share freely. Learn More »

And finally, good personal narratives are fun to read, and that can’t be said of a lot of scholarship. Summer and personal narratives seem made for each other. Some of my favorite narratives you’ve seen in previous posts. I’m opting here to recommend ones mentioned less often, and I’ll let the authors introduce their own work.

Delgado, T. (2015). Metaphor for teaching: Good teaching is like good sex. Teaching Theology & Religion, 18 (3), 224–232.

“I know it is unconventional to equate teaching and sex, much less good teaching and good sex. However, this teaching metaphor emerged from a real experience in the classroom that became revelatory: about the incongruence of my teaching approach to the subject matter, the assumptions I made regarding my students, and the need to examine my pedagogy regularly as a matter of practice. Here’s the story of that experience” (p. 224).

Mulnix, A. B. (2016). What my cadaver dog taught me about teaching and learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 27 (1), 5­­­–21.

“College educators need to tell more stories about their own learning experiences, not just to their students but also to other faculty. Personal stories that describe learning are rare in my experience, yet I think they have real potential to help faculty intellectually grab hold of the new realities in teaching and learning” (p. 8).

Cohan, M. (2009). Bad apple: The social production and subsequent re-education of a bad teacher. Change Magazine, November-December, 32–36.

“I have a confession to make. I was a bad teacher. I was not mean or abusive to students, and I didn’t make capricious demands, ignore my syllabus, grade while under the influence, or test students on material I had not taught….” But a clear sign of bad teaching, Cohan says, was the way he thought about students. “They were enigmas to me, and I didn’t know how to deal with the varying levels of interest, commitment, and ability they brought to class. All I knew how to do was to expect of them what I had always expected of myself—not perfection, exactly, but something close to it” (p. 32).

Albers, C. (2009). Teaching: From disappointment to ecstasy. Teaching Sociology, 37 (July), 269–282.

“Unintended outcomes can derail the best of intentions in the classroom. Designing a new course for Honors students provided an opportunity to change my traditional teaching style. I envisioned a classroom where students enthusiastically became more self-directed learners. I was perplexed with mixed reactions from students; while some joined me and adopted the model of teaching and learning I proposed, far more than I expected resisted the change” (p. 269).

Innovation Abstracts last issue till Fall


Download PDF versionVolume XXXVIII, No. 15 | May 6, 2016

Economics: The Not-So-Dismal Science

Economics has a reputation for being a dismal science. You can make the argument that any subject matter is dismal, and that how it’s taught is what makes all the difference. I think economics is anything but dismal. Economics is the study of choices. Individuals, businesses, and the government make choices on a daily basis, and those choices can be very interesting. Over the years, I have created thought-provoking assignments for my students, and I have been willing to update my teaching style by incorporating new techniques.

If students have trouble understanding a particular concept such as inflation, for example, it is my responsibility to present the concept in a new way and develop an assignment that helps my students identify inflation in the economy. Unfortunately, the majority of the U.S. population does not understand the concept of inflation. Most people assume that when the price of a good or service they buy increases, that must mean there is inflation occurring in the economy. By definition, inflation occurs when the overall level of prices rises in the economy. The overall level of prices is referred to as the aggregate price level. If the overall level of prices (or the aggregate price level) rises, then inflation is occurring. However, if the price for a gallon of milk or the price for a gallon of gasoline rises, that is not inflation.

Price Journal

I recently developed an assignment called a “Price Journal” for my students to help them understand and realize that in the short run, prices are slow to change. Prices are generally slow to change because of negotiated price contracts and/or menu cost. When the price of a good or service is changed, that is referred to as menu cost. Menu cost is a cost associated with inflation. Economists say that prices are “sticky” in the short run. However, in the long run, all prices can vary.

For the Price Journal assignment, students track prices for at least 10 different goods or services in the economy over the course of a 16-week semester. By the end of the semester, students realize that the list of goods and services they tracked actually did not change very much, if at all. Students tend to track the price of gasoline, milk, eggs, electronics, and various commodities such as gold. They identify outliers in the data, calculate the average or mean price for each good or service, and provide a detailed analysis to help explain why prices did or did not change over the course of the semester. Additionally, students apply the laws of supply and demand to price changes. The law of demand states that price is inversely related to quantity demanded. The law of supply states that price is directly related to quantity supplied.

Graphing is Hard
Graphical analysis is another concept that students often struggle with in economics courses. An economics course without graphs is like a textbook without words. Graphing is a necessary component in teaching Principles of Economics courses, and for that matter, in all economics courses. Students often struggle with the graphing element in micro and macro courses. Graphical analysis requires strong critical-thinking skills and a basic understanding of mathematics. Over the years, I have started offering several graphing workshops outside of class for students who may require additional attention with specific graphs. Graphing workshops are designed to practice real-world graphing scenarios with students. Examples of graphs presented in a workshop include graphically illustrating what happens to the new equilibrium price and quantity when supply and demand curves decrease, or what happens to the aggregate demand curve if consumer wealth decreases in the economy. Some students automatically understand that when the government raises taxes on households and businesses, this causes the aggregate demand curve to decrease.

Using Instagram in Economics Courses

I have always loved photography, and believe in the power of images in learning. Students have many different learning styles. Visual learning is one type of learning style that students appreciate and find useful. Today, students are using various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram more than ever before. This led me to create an economics account on the social media platform Instagram for my students and for economics enthusiasts alike. What is Instagram? It is a social media application/website designed for photo and video sharing that has become increasingly popular among millennials. To use Instagram, students download the free Instagram application on their smartphones. The name of our Instagram account is “insta_graph,” and it’s a new and interesting way to learn and study economics. My objective is to get students interested in economics using their smartphones.

According to the Pew Research Center, 20 percent of Americans rely on a smartphone for accessing the internet, and 15 percent of young adults (millennials) ages 18-29 rely on their smartphones for internet access. I was motivated to start the project because students in introductory economics courses struggle with the graphing portion of the course. Graphing is a foreign concept to most students. In order to be successful in economics, students need to feel comfortable with graphing, and be able to relate economic concepts to the real world.

One way to students feel more comfortable with graphing is to take pictures of graphs and real-world economics examples using Instagram. To date, I have posted more than 550 pictures on the account. In addition, students post comments underneath pictures. Many of the pictures are of various graphs covered in the course, which are then used as a study guide for students. My students often tell me they use the Instagram account to help them prepare for a test. One thing is for sure, students keep their smartphones close by. By using Instagram in my courses, I make it more convenient for students to study on-the-go.

I also like to incorporate and photograph real-world events and then relate such events to the course. In such cases, students are able to make the connection very quickly. For example, I took a picture of a group of employees working at a fast food restaurant and related the picture back to the concept of diminishing returns to inputs. The question I posed to students was to determine the appropriate number of employees needed during a lunch rush.

Blogging for Students

Blogging has become increasingly popular, especially over the last decade. Anyone can create a blog, and many blogs are targeted to a specific audience. Blogging is a creative outlet for individuals and an alternative to writing books. They can be political in nature, depending on the topic. My goal has always been to remain unbiased in my personal beliefs. If a student cannot decipher whether I am a Republican or a Democrat, then I have achieved my goal. A particular topic or concept is only political if you make it political. Pure economic principles should not be viewed as political, but rather basic economic theory. The majority of my ideas are designed to help students progress in their Principles of Economics courses. As the popular 1990s sappy Bryan Adams love song goes, “Everything I Do, I Do It for You.” That’s how I think, because everything I do is for my students.

My courses meet twice a week for only one hour and 20 minutes each. I make the most of every second of class, but sometimes I still feel like I forgot to provide a real-world application of the concepts taught that day. I decided to expand on concepts taught in each class by creating a blog about related real-world scenarios. The name of the blog is “Obvious Human: Economics is Ubiquitous.” Economics is so applicable to daily life that blogging about it is relatively easy. My blog is designed specifically for introductory economics students, but any economics enthusiast may find it enjoyable. There are several free website builders available for individuals interested in creating a blog. So if you are interested in expanding on any topic outside of class, blogging is a creative solution.

Conclusion: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

I have shared many techniques and best practices for teaching introductory economics courses. As noted above, economics has a reputation for being a dismal science. My goal has always been to change that perception and make economics fun and interesting for students to learn. So far, I have received excellent feedback from my students regarding the Price Journal assignment, graphing workshops offered, using Instagram in my courses, and creating an economics blog geared toward my students. All of these techniques and best practices take time to implement and create, but the extra work has certainly made a difference in my courses. Do not be afraid to try new techniques in your courses. Any discipline lends itself to creativity.

Kristen Zaborski, Assistant Professor, Economics

For further information, please contact the author at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, 8000 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice, FL 34293. E-mail:

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An Entrepreneurial Mindset for Student Success

This webinar offers an inside look at a promising new approach to student success designed to harness the power of entrepreneurial thinking as a skill all students need to thrive in the 21st century, regardless of their chosen path.

May 12, 1:00-2:00 p.m. (CST)

The QUEST: The Completion Project for Males of Color in Community Colleges

This webinar highlights the design, development, and delivery of a quality educational program for males of color using a zero-dollar budget.

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Innovation Abstract – week of April 28

Volume XXXVIII, No. 14 | April 29, 2016

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Innovation Abstracts

Educating Through Coaching: Defining Your Role and Instilling a Dynamic Classroom Environment

“Pressure Is a Privilege.”—Billie Jean King

Think back to the very first moment you received confirmation that you are officially a “teacher.” Whether that was an affirming call from your department’s dean, an email from your college’s human resources department, or a handshake with the person who just finished interviewing you, each of these moments signify the split second your world has changed forever. Aside from the hustle and bustle that comes from needing to fill out freshly-printed new employee forms, scheduling orientation sessions, and developing your course syllabi, the most important element you need to meticulously plan, develop, and prepare is YOU!

What kind of teacher will you be—the “strict one” who rigorously challenges students, or a “pushover” who gives out easy A’s to keep your class numbers high? How will you dress—what type of image do you want to portray to your students? How will you ask your students to address you—by your first name, “Professor,” “Mr./Ms.,” something else? What kinds of rules will you enforce within your classroom? Sure, your college has specific guidelines for everyone to follow, but what will be your specific attendance policy or procedure for handling it if a student breaks the cardinal rule of educational professionalism: plagiarism/cheating? How will you create a classroom environment that not only captures students’ attention and fosters learning, but most importantly, allows your students to retain the information you teach them?

While one can methodically attempt to prepare for every little detail leading up to the first day of class, nothing will prepare a teacher for the rollercoaster ride of student-related factors that stem from aspects outside of your classroom that you cannot control. As a former head coach for an NJCAA Division 1 Women’s Sports team, I learned—fast—that the title you have after your name does not even scratch the surface of the role you play in your students’ lives. You see, while the plaques in my office read “Coach of the Year,” they actually should say: “Coach/Parent/Friend/Disciplinarian/Listener/Mentor/Educator of the Year.” Think about each of these words; think about their role, connotation, and effectiveness. Now think about a teacher who has made a difference in your life. Would you apply any of these words to him or her, or would you just limit that person’s role to the term “teacher?” More likely than not, the teachers who are standing out for you embody some, if not all, of the abovementioned words.

With this in mind, I would like to digress for a moment to share a story about my first two weeks at the helm of a collegiate sports team.

It was the first day of August, and the weather was, as expected, warm. I had just returned to the office after walking off the courts from the first day of tryouts. I had just seen a diligent group of college freshmen working very hard outside in the August heat. No complaints; all raring-to-go attitudes. I remember thinking to myself, “This is a good group of recruits. We will do alright this season.”

The next day I get to practice and find out that one of the athletes will not be there. After lecturing about a strict attendance policy just the day before, I was quite unnerved by the seemingly blatant form of disrespect. However, I shook it off and focused on the people who were standing in front of me and waiting to begin the second day in the heat. To my surprise, by the end of practice, the player (who originally did not attend) showed up completely disheveled—she had gotten into a car accident the day before. Thankfully it was not too serious, but my heart still sank for her. We began the process of unrattling her nerves and focusing on school and the upcoming season.

A couple of days later, I received a phone call that two more athletes would not attend practice. A bit more prepared, I expected the worst, but hoped for the best. As it turned out, these two players had also gotten into a minor car accident. Three student-athletes, three car accidents, and all in a span of about a week.

Just when I thought our team’s luck could not get any worse, the day before our first game, I received another phone call that a fourth player had gotten into a minor car accident. Mind you, I only had seven athletes on my squad. And four of them had been involved with car accidents—all in the initial two-and-a-half weeks of my first season as a head collegiate coach. I thought for sure someone had a voodoo doll out for our team. Despite all of this, I had to learn to no longer be the coach who made my players run laps and do drills. They—the ones who had suffered from the car accidents and the three who were left wondering what could possibly happen next—needed more from me than that. The events made me more empathetic as a coach, and us more unified as a team. We went on to lose only one game the entire season.

While on my resume it does not look like “Head College Coach” is relevant for a “Professor” position, it is this very title that has shaped my entire teaching pedagogy. I do not consider myself as a coach-turned-teacher, but rather as a teacher who coaches her students. With the notion of simultaneously being a coach, parent, friend, disciplinarian, listener, mentor, andeducator, I shape my teaching style in a way that can be adaptable to all my students. Here are some simple, yet highly effective, ways that you can, too.

  • Be a coach. I often tell everyone—yes everyone—that when I coached, I never “coached” two athletes in the exact same way. While yelling in one of my player’s faces might motivate her, this same strategy may make one of her teammates shut down and start crying. Likewise, using a talk-things-out-with-long-detailed-explanations approach may get through to an athlete better than if I physically show this player the specific technique through hand gestures and body language. The same principle absolutely applies in the classroom. I do not teach two of my students in the exact same manner. Some students can only handle small bits of information at a time. For them, I focus on succinct, bullet-point outlines. Likewise, some of my students are more visual when it comes to learning. For them, I use images, videos, and diagrams. There are also students who obtain and retain most of their information from speaking. For these learners, I implement a dynamic class dialogue that is catalyzed by a Socratic method of questioning and even small-class debates. I strive to implement at least two or three of these learning strategies in every one of my lessons, because the more I can diversify my teaching, the more likely I will be able to get through to my students—in their own ways.
  • Be interactive. I think back to when my athletes used to say, “Put me in, Coach!” whenever they had to sit on the sidelines during a game. I know as a former student-athlete, sitting back used to make the game seem boring because I was not part of the action. Well, in my classroom, the learning is the action. So, why would I ever want my students to sit on the sidelines! I encourage their involvement by calling on my students to answer questions or have them administer their own small-group (and eventually whole-class) discussions. But wait, what about the students who are more introverted? I respect them immensely and never make them feel like they have to orally contribute. Of course, I do not let them totally off of the hook when it comes to class participation, either. Online Discussion Boards (on Blackboard) and Twitter conversations using a class hashtag have been wonderful ways for all of my students to “get off the sidelines” and become engaged in the discussion. I have found that the quieter students are often the ones who have the most to say when it comes to this type of format. I and my students especially like Twitter, though, because it is more of an informal, “social” outlet for them to become engaged.
  • Skill Drills. When I coached, at the beginning of practice I would always do a “skill drill” that reinforces a concept/technique/strategy the players had recently been working on. The same can be applied to your classroom. For my more basic level composition courses, I implement skill drills in the form of team board races. Students go up to the board and answer grammar-related questions based on a unit we just finished learning. Their teammates are allowed to help them out so everyone becomes involved at the same time. This is also a great way to promote collaborative skills. For my more advanced writing courses, I incorporate skill drills in the form of things like scavenger hunts where students look up different ways to cite specific sources in MLA format, and the first team to find all of the items and provide written examples wins the scavenger hunt. I have found that using skill drills takes away the angst of a formal test or exam, yet simultaneously promotes learning because the students are applying their knowledge in a dynamic format.
  • Practice Makes Perfect. This concept can vary based on ability and subject content, but basically the principle of repetition comes into play. For instance, if we are working on a lesson that emphasizes the literary device of imagery, I will have students focus that unit’s set of journal activities on applying adjectives and adverbs to really “paint a picture” through their writing. Likewise, if our lesson is focusing on applying quotations, then each workshop leading up to the due date of the unit’s final paper will involve not only applying quotations, but writing in-text citations, effective quotation lead-ins, and even explaining the research that was used. The point of my “practice makes perfect” mentality is that, through repetition, my students become more comfortable applying the skills I teach. The more comfortable a student is, the likelier it will be for him or her to remember my lessons and hopefully apply this knowledge to other courses or events outside of academia.

I began this piece with a quote from tennis legend Billie Jean King. She stated, “Pressure is a privilege.” For me, this phrase is the epitome of our role—from professors to coaches to administration—in education. We are under a great deal of pressure to not only teach our students, but also to retain them. Think about the dropout rates of colleges across America, or even on a smaller scale, the number of classes that get cancelled due to low student enrollment. Especially in higher education, we are under a great deal of pressure to make sure our students succeed. With this pressure comes great responsibility. But you know what, with our jobs—especially as educators—we are privileged to have the opportunity to work with our students and see them use what we teach them in society. After all, isn’t that the point of why our students go to college in the first place: to get some type of degree or obtain a certain skill set so they are prepared for the real world? It may be game time, and there may be pressure on the line, but consider yourself privileged to be in a position to be there, at the very least, as a coach who is motivating your students by speaking to their diverse set of learning styles. But more than likely, as a person who is applying diverse roles as a parent, friend, disciplinarian, listener, mentor, and educator for your students to succeed.

Nicole Selvaggio, Adjunct Professor, English/Composition

For further information, please contact the author at Moraine Valley Community College, 9000 W. College Pkwy, Palos Hills, IL 60465-2478. Email:

Innovation Abstracts- week of April 22

  Innovation Abstracts

How Students Can—and Should—Contribute to the Rubric Creation Process

Volume XXXVIII, No. 13 | April 22, 2016

I was in a kindergarten classroom a few weeks ago and was mesmerized by a rubric that was detailed on a large flipchart at the back of the room. It was titled “My Star Paper” and was a set of expectations for coloring. Yes, coloring. Using this rubric, students are assessed on a variety of factors such as number of colors used and whether or not there is white space left over once they are finished their work. On each of these factors, students can earn a smiley, neutral, or frowny face.

We could probably debate for quite some time the ramifications of using a rubric like this. But whether or not you agree with assessing a child’s coloring skill, it is likely that you agree with the longstanding belief that using rubrics can help students be successful. Rubrics provide a clear outline of what is expected, along with a breakdown of points possible for each component of a given assignment. They are essential when designing summative assessments, which are meant to highlight the extent to which students understand overarching or fundamental course concepts. The question becomes, then, how should we create these rubrics, smiley faces aside?

Before we can answer this question, it’s important to consider what else we know about student success. Providing students with the opportunity to choose—to decide for themselves what will be the most effective means for expressing their knowledge—makes them more involved in the process and much more persistent in the face of setbacks. Engagement is another widely researched component of student success. The more connected students feel to their classrooms or campus, the more likely it is that they will achieve their goals. Taking these two additional factors into consideration, I’d like to make a case for the argument that students themselves are the best resources for creating rubrics. We can get students engaged by having them make informed choices about how they will be assessed.

Over the past year and a half, I have worked with students in my Educational Psychology classes to beta test an assignment that I had been musing about for quite some time. It started as an extra credit opportunity around the time we were discussing the multitude of different approaches to teaching. The idea was for students to use one of the pedagogical techniques covered in our course to teach the class how to perform a task. Some of the earliest teaching demonstrations were the most fun—we learned how to make origami frogs, fold a kitchen towel into a swan, throw a spiral football, be a server at a steakhouse, speak Mandarin, and so much more. However, to make this activity an official points-bearing component of the course in future semesters, I needed to create a clear means for assessing students’ demonstrations.

With best practices and models of similar coursework as a baseline, an initial group of educational psychology students and I set out to design the “Teaching Demonstration” assignment. (Incidentally, this activity coincided well with our unit on “Classroom Assessment” and was an excellent means for applying their growing knowledge of how to observe and sample student knowledge.) These students were very interested in helping me determine the length of the demonstration. They were mindful of providing enough time for students to teach without being rushed, but they were also cognizant of the need to encourage demonstrations that were rich with detail, thus requiring more time. They settled on a timeframe of no less than five minutes, but no more than seven minutes. These students were also integral in discussing how much the length of a teaching demonstration should be worth on the rubric. We talked about how time is related to more qualitative factors such as the logical sequencing of the demonstration and the means by which the students would “assess” their classmates’ understanding.

Several of my classes involved in the testing process were interested in helping to shape how “presentation style” would be assessed. Given the performance anxiety that can accompany speaking in front of a group, students had a lot to say about the role that eye contact, body language, gestures, and clear pronunciation would play in how teaching demonstrations would be assessed. A significant by-product of the co-creation process was that this stress seemed to be significantly reduced. Through carefully structured discussions about the rubric for this assignment, students were able to understand the fundamental reasons why teachers need to develop a comfort level when speaking to their students.

Through these discussions it also became clear to me that practice really would make perfect. The feedback students gave seemed to indicate that one of the biggest stressors about speaking in public is that students aren’t required to do it all that often, so when they do, it’s anomalous and uncomfortable. A subsequent educational psychology class was the sounding board for creating the “Teacher Spotlight” assignment, which became a lower-stakes course requirement at the start of the semester designed to give students a chance to exercise their oratory skills. Students choose a teacher who had a significant impact on their life and/or learning and are responsible for highlighting the characteristics and competencies that made that teacher so influential. Through some actual testing, we found that an appropriate time requirement for this assignment would be no less than two but no more than four minutes. This assignment, then, was designed with the help of current students to ensure that future students could feel more comfortable at the front of the classroom.

Knowing that past students were involved in creating the “Teaching Demonstration” and “Teacher Spotlight” assignments seems to have demystified these course requirements for current students. Those who take Educational Psychology now are apprised of the co-creation process via discussions with me and former students, which serve as a foundation for their understanding why such assignments are a necessary component of the course. For the future teachers taking the course, the answer is really quite relevant to their personal and career goals and, as a result, somewhat easier for them to appreciate.

Arguably more important is what these assignments mean for the students who are not going into teaching. It means the answer to that question needs to be even more carefully constructed. Most teachers are well aware that students often want to know, “When am I ever going to use this?” Armed with a rubric that is constructed with best practices for teaching and learning in mind along with input and feedback from students just like them, I can be confident in explaining how these assignments contribute to their personal and professional futures. Each component of these assignments—like eye contact, body language, and the logical sequencing of a presentation or explanation—are invaluable tools for student success in any course and in most relationships.

Engaging students in the rubric creation process has lead to several profound and even some unexpected outcomes. Just prior to this most recent semester, I had the chance to talk with several of my former Educational Psychology students, which prompted me to consider one final alteration to these assignments. We will now dedicate class time to practicing the teaching demonstrations. We will break into small groups and everyone will get to rehearse their teaching demonstration for a handful of other students. This aspect of the “Teaching Demonstration” is intended to give students the opportunity to refine their presentation well before they officially teach the class their skill, and to get specific feedback in the form of reviews from at least two of their peers.

The former students who came to visit mentioned how much they appreciated the feedback they were given after their demonstrations. They also commented about how they have used the suggestions to inform their work in subsequent education classes. Famous psychologist Jean Piaget believed in the importance of peers for providing a safe means for critique, as they can talk with each other and incite disequilibrium (a moment when the way a person understands the world can change), which is less possible between a teacher and student due to the “power differential.” As such, I added a peer review component to the “Teaching Demonstration” so students can talk openly with each other about what could make their presentations match with the rubric requirements.

My students have served as an invaluable resource for curriculum design, and I would argue that this is not a unique phenomenon. All of our students can make valuable contributions to course assignments given the appropriate guidance. They are willing and capable of telling us what would be most beneficial for their futures as long as we lead carefully managed discussions about specific rubric items. Moreover, this is a mutually beneficial relationship. Students are able to actively engage with their courses, which increases their chances of success, and faculty are able to create course assignments with rubrics that are clear, pedagogically sound, and endorsed by their students.

It’s hard to say if kindergarteners would support a rubric for coloring. They would likely wonder why they have to follow rules for an activity that they typically complete for fun and on their own terms. Maybe they could better understand and appreciate the educational reasons behind a coloring rubric if they were involved in its creation. Seems like a good question to ask.

Elizabeth A. Mosser, Assistant Professor, Psychology

For further information, contact the author at Harford Community College, 401 Thomas Run Road, Bel Air, MD 21015. Email:

FYI NOVA_ Local Conference Notice-The 13th Annual Teaching Professor Conference

If you’re serious about teaching and want to learn how to stay sharp, effective, and confident, you’ll be joining the ranks at The Teaching Professor Conference.

This three-day conference, June 3-5, 2016, offers hands-on workshops, plenary sessions with captivating keynote presenters, dozens of concurrent sessions, and emerging research poster presentations.

More than that, this conference gives you the opportunity to interact with your peers from around the country (and world) who are facing the same challenges and wrestling with the same issues that you know well.

It brings like-minded, teaching-focused instructors and academic staff members together in a positive, supportive environment that generates optimism and enthusiasm.

It doesn’t matter what you teach. It doesn’t matter if your classroom is on campus or online. It doesn’t matter if you just wrapped up your first year on the faculty or if you’ve been a fixture for decades.

The Teaching Professor Conference generates insights and spurs inspiration that can invigorate your teaching and generate greater learning for your students.

Each year, The Teaching Professor Conference features sessions around these seven topical areas:

  • Instructional Design
  • Activities that Engage Students
  • Teaching Specific Types of Students
  • Instructional Vitality: Ways to Keep Teaching Fresh and Invigorated
  • Teaching and Learning with Technology
  • Creating Climates for Learning
  • Faculty Development

If you’d like to discover tools, strategies, and ideas that will make your teaching better, more relevant, and more fun, then join us at The Teaching Professor Conference.

2016 Teaching Professor Conference brochure Download the 2016 Teaching Professor Conference brochure.

Faculty Focus – April 20th

What We Learn from Each Other


When teachers tell me about some new strategy or approach they’ve implemented, I usually ask how they found out about it and almost always get the same response: “Oh, a colleague told me about it.” I continue to be amazed by the amount of pedagogical knowledge that is shared verbally (and electronically) between colleagues.

And I’m equally impressed by the spirit of sharing. Even if it’s an idea I thought up myself, one I’ve spent time and energy developing that I could ostensibly copyright or patent, if you want to use it—go right ahead. It’s yours. There are no intellectual property rights on good teaching ideas, and that’s a beautiful part of our culture.Teaching Professor Blog

Some new and impressive research verifies the strong role social interaction plays in our exchange of pedagogical knowledge. The study has a very specific context involving an elaborate interview design. The researchers collected data from 35 physics faculty members at a range of institutions. They were asked about their understanding and use of Peer Instruction, capitalized because it refers not to generic student collaboration but rather to the protocol of individual answer, discussion, answer again, developed by Harvard physicist and educator Eric Mazur (and highlighted in a previous Teaching Professor blog post). Almost 60% of those interviewed said they had first heard about Peer Instruction via an informal discussion with a colleague. Only 8% said they had found out about it by reading, however many of those interviewed noted that they turn to written materials and presentations to deepen their understanding.

The researchers report that “Informal, social interactions among colleagues are a key mechanism of communication about reforms” (010110-14). But there are some downsides to learning about teaching through conversations with colleagues. The researchers identified nine features that characterize Mazur’s brand of Peer Instruction, and they queried faculty about each. They discovered that almost half of their cohort, who had been selected because they reported familiarity with Peer Instruction, “did not indicate awareness of any specific features of PI [Peer Instruction] beyond getting students to work together.” (101011-9)

When pedagogical innovations are passed from someone who got the idea from someone else, the fidelity of the information is bound to erode. The point isn’t that faculty must use an instructional approach exactly as it was originally prescribed. We teach different content and different types of students in unique instructional settings. But as these researchers point out, when an instructional intervention, such as Peer Instruction (or team-based learning, or cooperative learning, or lots of others), has been studied but some of its essential features are modified or removed, the results identified in the research may not occur. It’s now up to the teacher to ascertain whether the new form of the intervention is producing the desired effects.

Three final points: We can and do learn from each other, but when it comes to implementing something new, we should look beyond what we’ve heard about from others. Fortunately, there’s a treasure trove of information on almost every instructional intervention. It’s fine to go ahead and adapt these different approaches to teaching—to do what we think needs to be done to make the change work—but as the researchers discovered, the faculty in their cohort was making changes pretty much willy-nilly. True, there probably isn’t going to be a readily available study that explores the changes exactly as you’re proposing to make them, but there is likely more to be learned from others who implemented the innovation as well as from those who’ve studied it.

We often get after our students who try to participate in discussion without enough background knowledge, related experience, or having done the reading. The lack of preparation affects the quality of the discussion. The same critique could be leveled against us. If all our pedagogical exchanges happen on the fly as we pass each other in the hall or pause in the mailroom, we’re not having conversations that match the caliber of what we’re trying to accomplish in the classroom. We can and should be learning more from each other.

And finally, here’s a point I’ve made previously. We need to choose pedagogical colleagues carefully. We select our research partners by employing high standards, but pedagogical colleagues? Too often we exchange ideas with and obtain information from whomever happens to be nearby. But not all teachers have the same level of pedagogical wisdom. You will learn more from someone who knows more.

Reference: Dancy, M., Henderson, C., & Turpen, C. (2016). How faculty learn about and implement research-based instructional strategies: The case of Peer Instruction. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12, 010110.