Category Archives: Faculty Learning Communities

NISOD Free Webinar, Wednesday, October 12,2016 200-3:00

Empowering Faculty With Course-Level Data to Drive Institutional Change

Giving faculty access to all course-level data has been nothing short of revolutionary for the culture of Pierce College. We knew that sending student success data to faculty would not be enough. The college sought to provide faculty with direct access to their own data (and the data of their colleagues), with the ability to sort student achievement data by course, section, modality, timeframe, subsequent success, and a variety of demographic measures. To this end, Pierce’s Center for Engagement and Learning began providing frequent training to help faculty members understand their data. In this session, participants will learn not only why they might want to do something similar at their colleges, but how to achieve it with minimal cost and/or pushback.

Tom Broxson, District Dean, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Pierce College (WA)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Eastern: 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Contact Robin Muse ( )  for User and Password to access this FREE WEBINAR to all NOVA Faculty and Professional Staff

NISOD- Innovation Abstracts- Transforming Classrooms Into Active Learning Zones

Innovation Abstracts

Volume XXXVIII, No. 16 | August 26, 2016

Transforming Classrooms Into Active Learning Zones

While student response systems (SRS) have been around well over a decade, it was not until recently that I began to take advantage of their pedagogical benefits. In the span of time since my first implementation of SRS-associated peer-instruction approaches (about five years ago), SRS technology has greatly evolved from hand-held clickers to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) cloud-based classroom interaction systems. Undeniably, the evolution of cloud-based has opened the door to teaching and learning approaches that were previously impossible to implement or were limiting in nature, especially in large enrollment courses.

For example, the ability to ask students questions using varying types of formats, including short-answer questions, image quizzes, and ordering, in addition to multiple choice questions via the cloud-based system, support the efforts of educators to enhance the learning experience in diverse ways. Additionally, built-in features such as “ask an anonymous question” and the “confused flag” give students additional opportunities to communicate with their professor during class time and empower professors to build a stronger learning community by creating seamless links between students and themselves.

Most research on the benefits of using SRSs in the classroom has shown that the wise use of such systems can help assess prior knowledge, poll student attitudes, confront common misconceptions, transform the way you demonstrate, test students’ understanding and retention, test conceptual understanding, facilitate discussion and peer instruction, and increase classroom attendance. Research also shows that students become engaged and enjoy using the technology. I certainly had that experience after implementing the Echo360-ALP for the first time in my second-year large enrollment course (three sections of approximately 200 students each). Indeed, the experience has transformed my classroom into an active learning zone and continues to do so to this day.

For example, analytics provided by the Echo360-ALP showed that:

  • The participation rate (based on the number of students submitting answers to questions I asked in class during a given class) was nearly 99 percent on a per-lecture basis.
  • Approximately 70 percent of students, on a per-lecture basis, took class notes via the notetaking features of the program—350-500 words during lectures that were more traditional in nature, and fewer words on days where active engagement activities (e.g. many SRS questions were asked) were the primary mode of instruction.
  • Students submitted 5-10 questions (using the “ask an anonymous question” feature) per class and indicated confusion (using the confusion flag) during problematic concepts. The questions that were submitted were answered either during class time or soon after.

Based on classroom observations, student comments, and efforts by our Teaching and Learning Support Services (TLSS) team to deploy the Echo360-ALP on our campus, factors that appear to contribute to the high rate of student engagement in my classroom include:

  • Low cost: Echo360-ALP is offered to students free of charge at the University of Ottawa. Thanks to efforts by our TLSS team, this effectively takes advantage of the BYOD movement and eliminates additional costs students may have incurred had they been required to purchase access to the cloud-based system or physical clickers.
  • Low-stakes participation: Approximately 15 percent of the overall grade was dedicated to participation marks. If students answered (correctly or incorrectly) 80 percent of the total questions asked throughout the term, they received full participation marks. If they participated less than 80 percent, their participation mark was calculated as a percent of the submission rate divided by 80. This approach provided flexibility by allowing for absences or malfunctioning issues related to their devices, for example. With the solution being cloud-based, some students also valued the flexibility of being able to participate from a different location. Though I did not originally intend to use the solution in that way, I must admit that they are engaged in some manner!

This technology provides many mechanisms to help educators break out of the traditional mold and establish learning communities within their classroom to fulfill their teaching and learning objectives. For me, these include actively engaging students during class periods, facilitating low-stakes testing and enabling anonymous participation, providing and receiving real-time feedback and insights based on students’ questions and answers, and questioning students using a multitude of question types.

Does Fearless Engagement Translate Into Class Performance?
To answer this question, I share below my observations of trends in class performance through the lens of final exam average scores, as well as learning gains and item analysis scores from a validated concept assessment test. Overall, these assessments are designed to measure a series of prescribed course-level learning outcomes.

The final exam average has been steadily increasing (about 68 percent to about 75 percent) compared to the years prior to introducing SRSs into my classroom (about 65 percent). Concomitantly, the proportion of students in the A and B ranges of our letter grade system increased and the proportion of students in the C and D ranges decreased. Moreover, failing rates decreased from five percent of the class to one percent.

Because exam questions and difficulty may differ from year to year along with group abilities, and despite all the good intentions to formulate thoughtful and useful questions to assess student learning, final exam scores may not necessarily serve as good indicators of class success. An alternative way to assess classroom performance is through the use of pre-validated concept inventories. Concept inventories are tools designed to help educators evaluate students’ understanding of a specific set of concepts and identify misconceptions. Unlike typical multiple choice question tests, both questions and response choices are the subject of extensive research designed to determine what a range of people think a particular question is asking and what the most common answers are. In its final form, the concept questions present correct answers and distractors that are based on commonly held misconceptions. If valid and reliable, concept inventory data can be used to measure student learning over the duration of the course and provide educators data that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of classroom interventions and, thus, learning.

As matter of habit to assess teaching and learning, a genetic concept inventory (Smith et al., 2008), which comprises a set of 25 multiple-choice questions designed to measure the aforementioned course learning outcomes is administered at the beginning (pre-assessment) to get a baseline level of student understanding and again at the end of the course (post-assessment). Analyses of the results of the student performance on the concept assessment test administered to my classes prior and after my use of SRSs revealed the following:

  • Students do better on almost all the questions in the post-assessment phase when compared to years where SRSs were not used.
  • Learning gains have progressively increased (yr1= 48%, yr2=53%, yr3=60%, yr4=60%) compared to 30-36% prior to using SRS-linked peer instruction methods.

Here, I make no claim that the data provide convincing arguments for a causal relationship between student engagement and success in the classroom. Using evidence-based student focused activities in my classroom, the data presented above are consistent with investigations that demonstrate that educational conditions and practices that foster student engagement contribute to student success. So, does leveraging the features of the Echo360-ALP translate into classroom success? I will let you be the judge of that.

Strategic Uses of Echo360 Classroom Solutions to Enhance Teaching and Learning Effectiveness in the Classroom

Through my use of this tool, I am consistently finding new ways to leverage its features to maximise the student learning experience—and let’s not forget the educator’s teaching experience! Insofar as concept inventory data are concerned, they cannot only be used to evaluate the effectiveness of classroom interventions, but also can be used to identify student misconceptions and problematic concepts, allowing for pedagogical approaches to be designed to address them. In my genetics course, student difficulties that are often identified are typically related to misconceptions and application of analytical thinking to formulate hypotheses to solve problems. Indeed, data from the item analysis of student answers on the concept assessment test not only serve as a catalyst for reflection and designing approaches to address the difficulties, but also to evaluate their effectiveness.

Implementing approaches to address problematic concepts and misconceptions is not a trivial task, especially in large enrollment courses. In this respect, Echo360-ALP features, such as the different ways to ask your class a question, have paved the way for facilitating the integration of teaching and learning approaches to mitigate difficult concepts and misconceptions. With the identification of the common misconceptions and the concepts that are most difficult to the students, the Echo360-ALP facilitates active learning and formative assessment opportunities to improve student performance by offering a diversity of approaches to set-up instruction and reflections on prior knowledge (to provoke thinking, stimulate discussions, and induce cognitive conflicts); to develop knowledge (tackle misconceptions, exercise skills, and conceptual understanding, judging, etc.); communicate (asking questions, answer questions); and assess learning (exit polls, probe limits of understanding, demonstrate success, and review). Indeed, while the Echo360-ALP offers educators endless ways to engage students’ intellectual domains, I find it also offers diverse opportunities to reach out to their affective domain and metacognition.

So, this brings us back full circle to student engagement. Does student engagement translate into successful learning? I believe the Echo360 classroom solution offers educators opportunities to engage students in fearless reflection, interactivity, collaboration, community, discovery, and exchange—hallmarks of academes—regardless of class size!

Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor, Biology

For further information, contact the author at the University of Ottawa, 30 Marie Curie, Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5.

New Faculty Class of 2016-2017 Start Strong!


NOVA welcomed thirty-four new teaching faculty this semester.

NFO 2016-17 classFullSizeRender

The Center for Teaching & Learning (CETL) hosted a New Faculty Orientation seminar on Wed, August 17th with jammed pack sessions geared to help new faculty start strong. Topics included; student services, advising, CARES, disability services, Title IX, educational technology and assessment. College president, Dr. Scott Ralls welcomed the group and highlighted the uniqueness and importance of NOVA and the students we serve.  CETL will be bringing back the year long New Faculty First Year Experience this year.  The faculty cohort will meet on a monthly basis. Fourteen faculty hired last year also attended the day long orientation. For more information, go to

NFO 2016-17 Dr. Ralls


  1. Group picture
  2. Dr. Ralls welcomes new faculty to NOVA photo by Kevin Mattingly

NISOD Free Webinar – The Hero Complex: Advising Minority Males



For Password please contact Robin Muse at

Upcoming Webinar!

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.

Register for this webinar here.


Webinar Archives
All webinars are recorded and available for later viewing on the members-only section of our website.

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 8, 2016

Volume XXXVIII, No. 11 | April 8, 2016


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In Their Own Voices: Community College Students Address “Revolution”   

In our country there needs to be a revolution. This revolution must start with our thinking. We are a society of boastfulness, when very few of us really have anything to be boastful about. We hang onto our capitalist ideas and ideology as if any other way would surely send us spiraling out of control. We very rarely see or care about the needs of others or the needs of the whole. We are a ‘me first’ society and a ‘look at me’ society. This manner of thinking has taken us down the rabbit hole.

—Young African-American female community college student

Four- and two-year educational matters are frequently in the headlines these days. A regular topic is whether higher education should be tuition-free, much like it is with public schools. While I believe it should be free, for the purpose of this article, I want to focus on the content of that education.

The concept “critical” seems key here. We pay lip service to critical thinking; yet perhaps the Bernie Sanders political campaign, popular with students, should prompt us to reconsider what counts as being critical. Surely the hallmarks of being critical about something include being able to question premises, to turn a question around, and to refuse drop-down choices. To illustrate, let me go back two and a half years to what I call my “revolutionary semester.”

“Feel the Bern” may have arisen swiftly and unexpectedly. However, in 2013-14, there were already precursors of the movement in my community college classes. If other professors at that time were conducting their classes as I was mine, maybe our combined student populations were the start of a ripple toward the tide we see today. During that year, I tried radical experiments that I hadn’t dare try since my first years of teaching. (See “Remediation for a Democratic Society,” Innovation Abstracts, NISOD, The University of Texas at Austin, Vol. 5, No. 28, Oct. 7, 1983.)

By spring 2013, I couldn’t go on. I was entering into what would become my last year and a half of teaching, and I had lost the sense that I was contributing to something good. Convince my students to work hard in liberal arts to join the elite? How distasteful, especially in the year of Robert Reich’s film Inequality for All, a seemingly endless war, ecological alarm and impasse, and the year Elizabeth Warren said in an interview on CNN Tonight, “Let’s just be real clear—the game is rigged and it’s rigged in favor of those who have money and who have power.”

Moreover, community colleges have changed. A few decades ago community colleges were in significant ways intellectual spaces. Several features made this possible: pluralist educational philosophy, empowered faculty, adequate public funding, organic administration, and less severe income inequality. However, a “culture of outcomes” was imposed as structural re-adjustment. Contrary to classical and critical pedagogy, learning was narrowed to workforce preparation, faculty were disempowered, public funding was gutted, and administration was corporatized. As a result, inequality widened.

My last year and a half would, as it happened, be a young administrator’s first year and a half as our liberal arts dean. As a result of our respective positions, we should have been on opposite sides of many issues. One of us “reported to” the other, in the language of corporations. However, our personalities and characters were very similar. Our collaboration was based not on political, but humane agreement.

The approaching fresh air of retirement made me about as free as a person can be under a neoliberal regime, protected from the market’s unregulated brutality four different ways, which included tenure, the union, civil service laws, and by being able to say at any time, “I’m out of here.” However, whereas I felt I could say and do what I wanted, our liberal arts dean was restrained. At the beginning of her professional career, for which she had gone back to school after a Ph.D. in literature, she was hemmed in by the full onslaught of “professional correctness” rules that had descended upon community colleges in the anxiety-ridden period of “outcomes,” “accountability,” “uniform goals,” and “standardized syllabi.”

So, during the week of the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, I was teaching Philosophy 101 for the 75th time. Our liberal arts dean was conducting a routine professional classroom observation, and 100 students, whose names by mutual agreement were to remain confidential, were sharing drafts of an in-class essay. I first shared my own draft of a possible letter to the editor that raised critical questions about JFK’s death. Then 100 students—ethnically diverse and majority lower-middle class—discussed their own drafts. My handout stipulated that they write a philosophy for a revolution that would bring about more liberty and justice for all. The guidelines were as follows:

  • Interpret the word “revolution” broadly. It could refer not only to the old Marxist change from a capitalist society to a socialist society, but also to:
    • Deep-reaching cultural change;
    • The process of decolonization;
    • The emergence of the feminine;
    • Deep changes in a particular institution, such as education;
    • Scientific or epistemological revolution (i.e., revolution in the classic sense);
    • Deep nonviolent social change;
    • Small radical steps, such as civil disobedience; and
    • Even to a renewal of the original revolution of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, such as in the way libertarians have used the word revolution.
  • Feel free to fight with the word itself; perhaps you prefer “revolt” (a more postmodern word), “rebellion,” or “resistance.”
  • Feel free even to reject the whole premise of the question. In other words, you might want to argue that we now have plenty of liberty and justice for all. However, don’t change the topic completely.
  • Realize that you have been offered this question, appropriate to philosophy, as an invitation to step outside some of the boundaries you may usually set for yourself. You may think you are supposed to investigate carefully what “they” want you to say and then just say it. This is your chance to go beyond that. You may transgress, but be civil.

Later that week, students in three sections penned two- to three-page responses. What follows is a representative sample of their work.

Many focused on the socioeconomic system:

‘A’: Society under capitalism, or any other suppressive system, is like a wounded dog that is so obedient to its master that it will hide its ailments, or wounds, to continue its life as it already is… Many people today are sick and tired of the current system of a life of servitude to the super rich, but at the same time most people are too scared to show it. They are scared of change. They are surrounded by slogans, commercials… More people must realize that it is in our makeup that we are a cooperative species….

‘B’: In this era, there is a growing gap of inequality in everything…. I believe that all should be more equal by making the start of life be at the same level… use small radical steps to initiate a gradual rebellion…. The people in society must be allowed to become accustomed to the changes gradually… a person should be given the same education as everyone else, and as Marx wanted it, it is to be a free education…. Ultimately I know that as humans we cannot be equal all the time… So, after you had been given all equal education, the equality would come to an end…. As Mill and Locke pointed out, to you would be given the liberties to do what you want…. You will have to earn everything you believe you deserve.

Some focused on education:

‘C’: Although there are many issues within America that I would like to tackle, I firmly believe it all begins with education. It is apparent to me that our society has taken the delectable fruit of knowledge and smashed it down to be spoon-fed to our youth. I observe our youth today, sitting in their square desks as their teachers rant about Columbus, the great hero who “found” America…. Our educational system is nothing more than a cave of darkness…we are fooled by the shadows which our government places before us. Today we measure the knowledge of our young students in numbers and test scores…. Students should be taught to utilize their problem solving, creativity, and comprehension skills without heavy aid from the teachers….

‘D’: My personality or determined mindset did not get me to the place I am today, only my GPA did…. The educational system alarms me…ever since Descartes’ idea of mechanical thinking…this quantitative and/or mechanical way of thinking has turned potentially honorable students into stressed-out, overworked human beings who will never feel good enough…. My soul does not belong to the average of how many A’s and B’s I’ve received…. With enough people and time, this could be the end of numbers, and the beginning of a soulful generation….

Others focused on gender:

‘E’: The disempowerment of women not only harms the quality of life of women, but men and non-binary genders as well…. A feminist social revolution can cure our world of female oppression and allow for everyone to have liberty and justice.

Women have been wrongly accused of being irrational and thinking not with logic, but with uncontrollable emotions. As (feminist epistemologist) Allison Jaggar points out, “Women appear to be more emotional than men because they, along with some groups of people of color, are permitted and even required to express emotion more openly….” The patriarchy has taught everyone that feminists are man-hating radicals. Much to the contrary, a feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of all…. Actual feminists can be women, men, or anything in-between.

Some focused on race:

‘F’: Racism has really not (disappeared) over the years. There are so many children suffering because of it…people are so ignorant and keep revoking certain rights away that people thought they had…. My neighbors won’t let their grandchildren play (with) my children because their stepfather is black…. When they go to school the black girls pick on my two white daughters…. I do not see color. My children do not either. So why are parents still teaching children this? The other issue is the cops always pick up Spanish and black people before they will arrest a white person. This is ridiculous and unacceptable….

Our liberal arts dean in her official observation that day commended me by saying, “Dr. Conroy’s compassion is palpable; students respond well to his supportive, safe classroom environment,” and “Dr. Conroy utilizes open-ended questions throughout his lesson, encouraging students to apply critical-thinking skills. His examples from the assigned readings helped students understand how to build support and lines of reasoning for their essays.”

Is such a “revolutionary semester” replicable? Millennial instructors, of course, do not share the luxury of being near retirement. Yet, imagine not only philosophers, but sociologists, political scientists, geographers, historians, and writing teachers uniting in a movement to create problem-oriented courses like “Interdisciplinary Seminar 101: Systemic Change,” which perhaps are not as shrill, but are even more effective. Imagine such a course at every community college.

Remaking community college along such lines—call it public critical—might actually rekindle “a future we can believe in.”

France H. Conroy, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy

For further information, contact the author at Rowan College at Burlington County, 601 Pemberton Browns Mills Road, Pemberton, NJ 08068. Email:

Innovative Abstracts – Week of April 1

Volume XXXVIII, No. 10 | April 1, 2016

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If You Can’t Beat It, Integrate It: Using Smartphones and Polling Software to Create an Interactive Learning Environment

A common complaint among educators is the number of distracted students in their classes. Many of us bemoan students in our classes engrossed in their smartphones instead of listening to our lectures. In fairness, distractions in class are nothing new. I must confess to doodling in my notebook when I was a student. Indeed, in whimsical moments, I envision Socrates admonishing his students to put away their scrolls and pay attention.

Some of my colleagues ban students from using their cell phones in class, calling out students caught checking their phones or even asking students to leave the class for multiple offences. Unfortunately, forbidden fruit is often the most tempting. Instead of complying with the ban and concentrating on class, students tend to merely hide their phones in their laps or behind a textbook and merrily continue being distracted. In the spirit of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” I decided to integrate the use of smartphones with the material I cover in class by using Poll Everywhere.

There is a vast array of polling and survey applications available on the internet. It should be noted that this article is not intended as an endorsement or advertisement for Poll Everywhere, but simply a description of how I use the application as a means to incorporate smartphones into my instruction and keep students interested and engaged in the course material. Similar applications include Survey Monkey, Polldaddy, easypolls, and a host of other online and downloadable tools.

My In-Class Activity
I use the smartphone activity in my External Auditing course. The course is offered in the third year of our baccalaureate degree in accounting. It introduces students to the concepts, standards, and procedures related to conducting an annual financial audit of a company.

For four weeks during the semester, we examine how an auditor conducts an audit of various business processes, such as reviewing how sales are recorded, how payroll is conducted, and so forth. In a typical audit, the auditor will have a long list of evidence to gather. Rather than simply lecture on the process and bore students with long lists of details, I decided to make the activity interactive and get the students to create the lists themselves.

In my class, I project a question on the screen at the front of the classroom. The application I use allows for multiple-choice and open-ended responses, and it displays the results in real time in the form of bar graphs, word clouds, or simple scrolling text responses. Students text their responses to a short-form cell number, which is set up specifically for text messaging and which carries no charges beyond standard text messaging rates. In the case of open-ended questions, students actually see their text appear on the screen. In the case of multiple-choice questions, the bar graph updates in real time in accordance with their choices.

The free version of the application I use allows for up to 40 responses per poll. This is sufficient for my courses, as our institution limits registration to 40 students per class. In addition, since the students in my class typically collaborate with their friends and respond as a group, I rarely hit the 40-response limit. Paid subscriptions allow for more responses, filtering of responses, and a much wider range of data analysis tools. The features are very similar across the various applications.

To introduce the students to the application, I first create a generic, “just for fun” poll, which I display on the screen when students arrive in class. The poll simply asks students a multiple-choice question:

How are you doing today?

  1. Awesome!
  2. Pretty good.
  3. Not bad.
  4. Pthhhhrrrrppp!
  5. What’s today?

As the poll is intended to be humorous, I am not too surprised when the majority select “Pthhhhrrrrppp” or “What’s today?”

As the class progresses, I pose a question such as, “When testing the ‘authorization’ control objective, what evidence would you gather?” or, “What audit procedure would you use to test if transactions were valid?” These particular polls are “open-ended,” meaning that students can type any response. Students then text their responses to the question, and their responses appear on the screen at the front of the class. The activity typically lasts five to ten minutes, during which time a list of possible audit procedures or evidence is generated in the form of the students’ text responses. When the maximum number of responses is reached, or when it seems there are no other responses forthcoming, I stop the poll. I then go through the list generated by the students, expanding on some responses and explaining why some responses might be more appropriate or successful than others. This allows me to focus my explanations on areas where students needed clarification, rather than lecturing on topics they already understand. Once I have review the responses to a particular poll, I move on to the next topic, and after a brief introduction, repeat the process with another poll. In a typical three-hour class, I conduct three to four such activities, interspersed with discussion on the subject.

One key result is the level of participation in the activity. Virtually every student has their cell phone out, or is discussing a possible response with a neighbor who has his or her cell phone out. Not only are students engaged, they discuss the response amongst themselves as they appear on the screen. The room is abuzz with discussions about the subject material.

Another important aspect is the insight polling provides me into students’ comprehension of the material. If a number of students provide the same or similar correct ideas, I know that I do not have to elaborate on that concept. I can then customize my discussion of the list, focusing only on the areas where clarification is obviously needed. This allows me to make class time much more focused and efficient.

Students can sometimes be reluctant to speak out during a class activity for fear of answering incorrectly and appearing foolish in front of their peers. Since the responses are anonymous, students can respond to a question without fear of ridicule, as no one in the class knows who sent which text.

An initial concern I had about using text messaging in class was the possible cost to students. I spoke to a few of my students beforehand, who indicated that unlimited texting is included with their smartphone plans. No students expressed concern over paying for texts. The only concern raised was with cell coverage. Because my class takes place in the basement of one of our campus buildings, some students are unable to get a signal in the classroom, depending on their service provider.

In addition to the texting option, students can access the poll on their laptop computers. Students access a specific website (instructions are given on-screen), and can reply via their computer. This allows students who have to pay for texts or who are unable to get a cell signal to participate in the poll. As a final step, I bring additional whiteboard markers to class, and indicate to students they can make their lists on the whiteboard as an alternative to texting or using their laptops. Unsurprisingly, not a single student has made use of this option.

With open-ended questions, students have the opportunity to type whatever they wish, raising the potential for students to send frivolous, inappropriate, or offensive messages. For the most part, my students are very well behaved, and conduct the activity the way it is intended. There are, of course, some exceptions. Some write “hello” to a friend sitting across the room. In my Friday afternoon class, owing no doubt to the end of a long and difficult week, several students take the opportunity to share reviews of the latest movie. So long as the majority of students are texting responses to the poll question, I allow the occasional digression. Since polls are a five-minute activity, the off-topic conversations don’t last long and are usually not a great distraction. When the messages have less to do with auditing and more to do with irrelevant topics, I simply end the session and continue the class. I find that by ignoring the inappropriate messages and focusing on the relevant ones, the class (for the most part) remains focused and professional.

This type of activity can easily be adapted to other subject areas. Allowing students to generate their own lists of information can be an activity for almost any subject. Specific questions related to the subject material with multiple-choice responses can be used to gauge the class’ understanding of the material.

In a large classroom setting, it can often be difficult for students to ask questions or interact with the instructor, simply due to the size of the room and the difficulty of hearing questions. An open-ended poll can be used to allow students to text their questions to the instructor, which allows for some interaction between the instructor and a large audience.

It has been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. A few weeks after I first used the application in my class, the same students were assigned a group presentation on corporate sustainability in another instructor’s class. A requirement of the presentation was to involve the audience. One group of students, having experienced using smartphones in my class, decided to do the same as part of their presentation.

The students shared with me that they find using smartphones in my class to not only be fun, but also effective, as it ties directly into the material we discuss in class. They also tell me that when they look around the room, they see their classmates participating and enjoying the activity, which does not happen in other classes. This inspired them to create their own smartphone activity as part of their presentation. The students shared with me that the entire class, including the instructor, participated in the activity, and the group felt the activity had a lot to do with the A+ grade they received for the presentation.

Recently, illness caused me to cancel a class. Not wanting the students to fall behind in the course due to my absence, I offered to conduct a “make-up” class outside of normal class time. In a matter of a few minutes, I created a survey offering the class four choices of alternate times, and let the students vote on which time fit their schedules best. Since the students were already familiar with the application after using it in class, I was able to rapidly gauge the class’ feelings about the best time to make up the lost class. This made for an efficient way of gathering feedback from a class and in an enjoyable format for my students.

Distracted students in the classroom are not a new phenomenon. Smartphones and the various social networking apps that accompany them have added even more classroom distractions. Rather than fight a vain battle against distractions, there are opportunities for instructors to take advantage of students’ fascination with their smartphones. By integrating smartphones with the material being covered through the use of websites such as Poll Everywhere, it is possible to keep students entertained and engaged.

Stephen L. Bergstrom, Faculty, Accounting

For further information, contact the author at SAIT Polytechnic, 1301 16th Avenue NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2M 0L4. e-mail:

The author would like to acknowledge the contributions of his students J. Bains, H. Gill, T. Sharma, and K. Toor for sharing their experiences for this article.

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Two Tools to Use Tomorrow: Universal Design in Online Spaces

This webinar highlights two free tools—Thinglink and EdPuzzle—that can be used to reach a variety of learners. See examples of how to use Thinglink and EdPuzzle in online spaces, learn the basic elements of universal design, learn how Thinglink and EdPuzzle help promote universally designed curriculum, and learn assessment techniques for universally designed learning objects. Prior to her administrative post as the Director of Instructional Design and the Director of American Honors at Union County College, the webinar facilitator was a tenured English faculty member. The Chronicle of Higher Education, USA Today, America Online, and Wired Magazine have recognized her use of innovative technology and virtual worlds to teach literature.

Beth Ritter-Guth, Director of Instructional Design, Union County College

Thursday, April 21, 2016

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Lecture Light Shine: High-Wattage (and Low-Stress) Ideas to Engage Any Student

You have spent years passionately creating your lectures and you do not want to change a thing. Or, as you start your teaching career, you reflect on and consider replicating what your classroom experience was like as a student, back when you simply listened to lectures. However, with traditional lecturing, students often retain very little of what they hear. What can you do to cover this material while being careful not to create a boring classroom? During this interactive session, learn how you can deliver lectures in a manner that is not only informative, but that also results in engaged and illuminated students.

Bridgett McGowen-Hawkins, Senior Digital Educator, Cengage Learning, and Certified Advanced Facilitator, University of Phoenix

Thursday, April 28, 2016

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Pedagogical Strategies for Engaging Students and Promoting Success

Learning community (i.e., the affective domain necessary for learning) and employing pedagogical strategies that promote student engagement and academic success (i.e., the cognitive domain). The active-learning pedagogical strategies presented work for all students; however, they work particularly well for low-income, first-generation, and minority college students. Hear about active-learning strategies that build rapport with students and develop a sense of community among students. Learn how to employ pedagogical strategies designed to get students more engaged with course materials and how to promote students’ analytical thinking and academic success. The webinar facilitator taught psychology at a community college for 35 years and is the author of several books. She also presents and speaks across the United States and internationally about issues related to teaching, learning, and diversity.

Angela McGlynn, Professor Emeritus, Mercer County Community College

Thursday, June 9, 2016

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Nine Evidence-based Principles for Selection of Educational Development Resources

The POD Network recognizes that our members face increasingly complex decisions about how best to navigate the selection of educational development resources (e.g., online modules, courses, webinars, book groups) to best support teaching and learning on our respective campuses. Therefore, as a service to our members, the POD Network would like to share the following evidence-based principles for campuses considering the adoption of educational development resources:


  1.   Campuses should examine evidence of impact of the resource on short- and long-term changes in faculty’s teaching beliefs and practices. If campuses choose to invest in commercial products, this examination is important because short-term gains can often be eroded by faculty’s reluctance to experiment in their classrooms, by the absence of a way to discuss and strategize about the application of new techniques to their own teaching practices, or by initial challenges in implementing approaches (Condon, Iverson, Manduca, Rutz, & Willet, 2016; Dancy & Henderson, 2010; Ebert-May, Derting, Hodder, Momsen, Long & Jardeleza, 2011).


  1.   Campuses should evaluate the impact of the resource on their capacity to address the full range of educational development needs on campus. Institutional impact data, such as effect on existing educational development capacity, should be considered or provided as evidence (Stes, Min-Leliveld, Gijbels, & Van Pategem, 2010). For example, do centers experience an uptick in “traffic” from participating faculty, or the reverse? Does the resource meet the needs of instructors across the career spectrum? Will the resource add to or detract from existing educational development efforts or centers? Ideally, a resource should build capacity rather than erode it.


  1.   The resource should allow for facilitation by a trained and skilled facilitator familiar with the campus context, who can clarify ideas, discuss effective implementation and help resolve challenges. Research suggests that educational development is most successful when a knowledgeable consultant collaborates with faculty to enhance their teaching (Cohen, 1980; Finelli, Pinder-Grover, & Wright, 2011). Faculty “need help in identifying and overcoming common situational barriers” (Dancy & Henderson, 2010, p. 1056).


  1.   The resource should allow for multiple-session programs and follow-up support by a skilled facilitator. Programs with more extended impact have a deeper impact on teaching (Van Note Chism, Holley, & Harris, 2012; Condon, Iverson, Manduca, Rutz, & Willet, 2016; Stes, Min-Leliveld, Gijbels, & Petegem, 2010).


  1.   Campuses should evaluate possibilities for the resource’s customization because faculty development is most successful when it is responsive to the campus context. “Context is key” for shaping faculty development outcomes (Steinert, et al., 2006, p. 519). Such responsiveness might result from customization of the resource working in collaboration with the campus, chunking videos into small modules so the most relevant pieces can be used, allowing campus facilitators to adapt elements to fit their local needs, or in-person discussion by a trained facilitator who can help with application of the material to the campus context.


  1.   The resource should support communal learning structures. Communities of practice, such as faculty learning communities and teaching circles, have very positive effects on teaching development, including course redesign activity, satisfaction with teaching, and instructors’ understanding how students learn (Van Note Chism, Holley, & Harris, 2012; Cox, 2004). Further, campus experts – especially those who are “on the ground” and working directly with faculty – should drive the decision as to whether an in-person faculty learning community or an online learning community is most effective for the campus context. Digital technologies, including educational development resources, “can enhance, do not replace, and should never be allowed to erode the relationships that make learning a humane enterprise” (Asilomar Convention, 2014).


  1.   Campuses should support purchasing decisions by those who most directly work with instructors (e.g., teaching and learning center directors, department chairs, deans and associate deans) and with instructors themselves (through faculty focus groups or governance structures). Resources are most likely to be utilized well if purchasing decisions are made in collaboration with these individuals or groups. Purchasing decisions that do not involve key stakeholder involvement can lead to underutilized technologies that are not compatible with structural and cultural contexts of an organization (Ahmad, Kyratsis, & Holmes, 2012; Wisdom, J.P., Chor, K., Hoagwood, K.E., & Horwitz, 2014).
  2.   Campuses should assess the degree to which resources align with inclusive, evidence-based best practices in teaching and learning, e.g., effective feedback, and active and engaged learning (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett & Norman, 2010; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999).


  1.   The resource should have clear and discernible audience(s). Graduate students, part-time and full-time faculty, non-tenure-track, and tenured and tenure-track faculty face different constraints and respond to educational development uniquely (Condon, Iverson, Manduca, Rutz, & Willet, 2016; Marincovich, Prostko, & Stout, 1998). Therefore, the educational development resources should be tailored specifically to the needs of the audience. In the field of educational development, one size definitely does not fit all.


Ahmad R., Kyratsis Y., Holmes A. (2012). When the user is not the chooser: Learning from stakeholder involvement in technology adoption decisions in infection control. Journal of Hospital Infection, 80(3), 163-168

Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Asilomar Convention for Learning Research in Higher Education. (2014, June). Available:

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.) (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Cohen, P. A. (1980). Effectiveness of student-rating feedback for improving college teaching: A meta-analysis of findings. Research in Higher Education, 13: 321-341.

Condon, W., Iverson, E.R., Manduca, C.A., Rutz, C., & Willet, G. (2016). Faculty development and student learning: Assessing the connections. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Cox, M. D. (2004). Introduction to faculty learning communities. New Directions for Teaching

    and Learning, 97, 5–23.

Dancy, M., & Henderson, C. (2010). Pedagogical practices and instructional change of physics faculty. American Journal of Physics, 78: 1056-1063.

Ebert-May, D., Derting, T.L., Hodder, J., Momsen, J.L., Long, T.M., & Jardeleza, S.E. (2011). What we say is not what we do: Effective evaluation of faculty professional development programs. BioScience, 61(7): 550-558.

Finelli, C. J., Pinder-Grover, T., & Wright, M. C. (2011). Consultations on teaching: Using student feedback for instructional improvement. In C. E. Cook & M. Kaplan, Eds. Advancing the culture of teaching on campus: How a teaching center can make a difference (pp. 65-79). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Marincovich, M., Prostko, J., & Stout, F., Eds. (1998). The professional development of graduate teaching assistants. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Steinert, Y., Mann, K., Centeno, A., Dolmans, D., Spencer, J., Gelula, M., et al. (2006). A systematic review of faculty development initiatives designed to improve teaching effectiveness in medical education: BEME Guide No. Medical Teacher, 28(8), 497–526.

Stes, A., Min-Leliveld, M., Gijbels, D. & Van Pategem, P. (2010). The impact of instructional development in higher education: The start-of-the-art of the research. Educational Research Review, 5: 25-49.

Van Note Chism, N., Holley, M., & Harris, C. J. (2012). Researching the impact of educational development: Basis for informed practice. To Improve the Academy, 31: 129-145.

Wisdom, J. P., Chor, K. H. B., Hoagwood, K. E., & Horwitz, S. M. (2014). Innovation adoption: A review of theories and constructs. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 41(4), 480–502.