Inclusive Assessing: Are All Students Able to Demonstrate What They Know?
Inclusive teaching is at the forefront of many discussions among educators in public schools as well as higher educational institutions. And while these discussions can be challenging in some arenas, I believe that teachers would agree their highest achievement is their students’ learning, mastering the course content and applying their new knowledge to their future goals. Success as a teacher equals the highest percentage of students possible demonstrating their course competency throughout the course in formative assessments and at the end of the term with summative assessments of their mastery.
However, often overlooked in discussions of DE&I are ideas about equitable assessment types. For me, the question is: Am I offering assessments that truly give opportunities for my diverse group of students to demonstrate what they know or have learned? Or am I just relying on my older methods of testing that leave some of my students without a way to show me they really know the material? Am I just asking the wrong questions, or asking them in a way that is confusing or challenging to some groups of students?
I have become aware that there is a huge gap between asking my students to parrot back the course content on a multiple-choice test and truly assessing their mastery of that content. Can they apply that content? Are they able to reason with this new information at the highest level of learning? Have I given them the opportunity to reach the peak of Bloom’s Taxonomy?
We survived teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic, teaching in the early days post-pandemic, and this year we thought we would be returning to some new normal in our classrooms.
But wait, there are new (and not so new) mine fields I’m expected to navigate?!
Political climates influencing what and how we teach??
Continuing updates to accessibility??
Commitments to inclusive teaching??
I feel a weariness creeping in as I struggle to stay enthusiastic about this new school year. So, I sought solace from like-minded educators and sources to help renew my excitement and confidence about stepping into the limelight with a whole new, unknown group of students.
I believe the end of the Spring Term for most higher education instructors is when we are on our last nerve.
We have survived Fall with all the newbies, both colleagues and students. We’ve participated in all the required, seemingly endless, often less than engaging in-services, including one more course on cyber security. We’ve attended all required faculty meetings and served on committees ranging from book selections to searches for new faculty. We’ve updated courses, copied courses, and graded all the work in those courses. As instructors we responded to students’ extra needs ranging from academic mentoring to providing referrals for students struggling with work, home, school, illness, and financial losses. We’ve done this without wavering, well almost without, for 9 months and that summer vacation is within sight.
But wait, in these last few weeks before we reach that holy grail of vacation time, we will wrap up the year with departmental reports, assessments by our accrediting bodies, and institutional reviews. On top of all of that, instructors are bombarded with end of term student pleas to give them extra credit so they can pass. And if they don’t pass, they tell us it’s all our fault their futures will be bleak.
Stress, who’s stressed???? I was, and often still am. I need something to take my frustrations and irritations down a notch, so I can make it down the home stretch without saying something to anyone I would later regret. I turn to purposeful living and the practice of staying in the moment by focusing on the tangibles of the five senses. Let me share a few suggestions you can take as a jumping off point, don’t take that literally, and then make these sensory grounding moments your own.
Classic studies have revealed how important human touch is for us to thrive. Yet, Covid and a desire to be appropriate with others in all ways may have curtailed our natural impulses to give someone a hug, a squeeze of the hand, or a pat on the back. However, there are many ways to use touch as a safe focus point if interpersonal touch is unavailable. I have found great comfort in kneading dough, digging in the dirt in my garden, or immersing myself in a pool. Skin is the organ of touch, and we all have lots of skin. So, arms, legs, fingers, and toes all count and help us focus our attention on the amazing feeling of something like wriggling our toes in the sands at the edge of a body of water.
Beyond hearing your colleagues out, take a few moments to stop the noise and really listen. Don’t just hear, listen! Wherever you are, there is life happening around you with all its remarkable cacophony. Single out each sound, identify it, and then keep singling out and identifying. Don’t judge the sounds as good or bad, just life happening outside of your head. Write each down. You’ll be surprised by the lack of the worry noise that was in your head a few minutes earlier.
If you don’t have the time to take in a museum, my personal recommendation, or you aren’t near a beach to watch the ocean waves, look around your space. What have you chosen to decorate your environment? Do those things bring joy when you look at them? If not, you might choose to redecorate a bit. Or you might add a flower in a vase to that otherwise over-populated desktop. Deliberately look at something that brings up good feelings. It might be as simple as the tree outside, or the color of the sky. Really think about what you are seeing and take the time to notice all the details. And then, write these down.
Concentrating on smell stimulates many regions of the brain. Smell is one of the most powerful and evocative of our senses. Memories flow freely when we focus on the scents around us. There’s a very good reason fortunes are being made with aromatherapy. Essential oils offer a quick fix for many symptoms of stress like headaches. A diffuser in the area where you encounter the most stress may alleviate some symptoms. And, if a diffuser won’t work where the stress lives, rub a little oil on your wrist for a little unobtrusive sniffing when you feel the tide of irritations rising. Also, just noticing the smells around you can transport you to other times and other places where you encountered similar scents.
Last, but certainly not least, this one bears some self-restraint. Once started, you need to be alert to comfort eating that may result in more of you than you wish. I really try to have a good meal with colleagues as often as possible during the final days of school. Potlucks are even better. Everyone has to eat lunch at some point, so arrange an end of the term potluck to savor and relish each other’s offerings. Talk about the flavors, seasonings, and what each reminds you of. Share your memories over a shared meal. Some of my happiest memories of teaching involve our faculty lounge, the whiteboard with signups and snarky comments. In addition, consider the community and collegiality of being on the same ship bailing for all we’re worth to get to that vacation.
So, take these suggestions and truly make them the moments of your choosing. Moments focused on good tangible sensory stimulation lead to minutes, which lead to hours and days to weeks to months to years. And voila! Your life has been populated with many moments that you counted and turned into moments that mattered. CAUTION!!! Once you start this habit of being in the moments of your life using your senses, you may never come back to the mundane world of endless invasive and worrisome thinking.
Preventing cheating is a challenge we all face today given not only students’ ingenuity, but also the available student tools on the internet that publish tests and answers from many, many courses. And now there is . . .ChatGPT!!!
Although it may be difficult to prevent cheating entirely, there are steps that can be implemented, reducing the impact of cheating for the student learning assessment process for online courses.
I’d like to share with you the practical tips I found from Northern Illinois’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. These tips may help reduce cheating for the two most common uses of online learning assessments, which are testing and homework assignments.
Tips for testing – using learning management systems
Purposefully select assessment methods
Use online objective tests like multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false are best implemented for lower stakes assessing student learning. In fact, these types of quizzes are often best used as student self-checks in preparation for higher stakes assessments.
When assessing student mastery of course goals and objectives, objective tests may not be the best option considered among a range of methods. While an objective test can measure a student’s ability to recall or organize information, other methods are far preferable for assessing the higher order/critical thinking skills including understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
Mix objective and subjective questions
Online testing using multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false, fill in the blank might be a part of a summative assessment of mastery that also includes short answer or essay questions.
These types of questions are more subjective in nature and demand a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Consider questions that allow students to demonstrate higher order thinking skills with the application of principles learned for unique situations. While mixing objective and subjective questions does not stop information sharing, it can limit the impact on the student’s final grade.
Create your own question pools
Rather than using a fixed number of items that remain unchanged for each administration of the test, consider creating a question pool using any institution’s learning management tools.
Group questions by any number of criteria including topic, subject matter, question type or difficulty of the question. I would also suggest grouping questions according to the learning outcome associated with the question.
A pool will generate an assessment with randomized questions selected by the faculty member. Pools can be created from new questions or those in existing tests or pools. Pools are most effective when there are large numbers of questions in one particular group. For example, one might have a pool of true/false questions, another of multiple choice and a third for fill in the blank.
You might create an assessment drawing a specific number of questions from each of those pool categories. Faculty can also add new questions to pools each time the course is taught to expand the variability of questions. Conversely, older questions can be removed.
When creating a test using a learning management system, you are often given the option to randomize the selection of test questions as well as the order in which they appear. The benefit is that students are unlikely to get the same questions in the same sequence when taking a test.
This strategy addresses the issue of students who take a test at the same time in order to share answers. This is also relevant if faculty allows students to repeat the test. Each time this occurs, a test will be made up of questions that are randomly selected and ordered.
When possible, you should limit what types of feedback are displayed to students upon completion of a test. Providing test scores is important feedback that indicates how well students have performed and should be made available. However, through a process of elimination, students may be able to determine the correct answer for each test question if their submitted answers are identified as incorrect. Or if the correct answer is provided.
Students could lose the incentive to both prepare for testing or to seek correct answers by reviewing lecture notes, assigned readings, or through a group discussion after completing tests. Thus, faculty might reconsider whether to include ‘Submitted Answers’ as an option to be displayed to students.
This is especially relevant if faculty have allowed students to repeat tests. Each time a test was taken, students could attempt a different answer for a test question that was previously graded as incorrect. Correct answers to all test questions could eventually be accumulated and passed on to other students, or to students of future classes. Or answers could be posted to some online site where students can access exams from a vast number of courses and subjects.
We have to recognize that students taking an unproctored exam are free to use open book/notes. So you might decide to use time limits if allowed in the learning management system. Students who adequately prepared for a test may well be less likely to rely on open book/notes compared with students unprepared for testing. By setting a test with an expected completion time, unprepared students could have the most to lose as they spend time going over material, and risk not having sufficient time to respond to all the test questions.
Display questions one-at-a-time
If a test has more than 5 questions, do not choose the ‘All at Once’ option for displaying all the questions on the same screen. It is quite easy for students to take a screen capture of the displayed questions and share them with other students. While students can still screen capture pages with single questions, or even type them into a document, it is more time consuming and unwieldy.
Tips for homework assignments: assessing student progress and mastery
Create application assignments
Create assignments that require students to apply essential course concepts to a relevant problem. This encourages students to seek relevant information beyond the assigned readings and lectures and conduct independent research by identifying credible sources to support the development of their assignments.
Students can be required to report their progress on a regular basis through email, or through the journaling assignments offered in any Revel titles. This documentation makes it easier for faculty to see the development of a student’s work from inception to completion. In addition, it may possibly identify unexplained gaps that could occur if students used the work of others and claimed it as their own.
Faculty can add input at any point in this process to provide guidance, and perhaps suggest new directions for students. Both documentation of progress through regular status reporting and occasional faculty input can add a greater level of scrutiny to students. This can make it more difficult to pass off the work of others as their own. I use this method in my psychology courses by using my learning management system’s Discussion Forums. I require responses that use proper APA and documentation as well as student to student comments.
Create group assignments
Create group assignments that require students to interact with group members regularly. Groups can be made responsible for determining the functional roles for each member, establishing a mechanism for accountability (i.e., submitting weekly progress reports), and sharing drafts of individual progress on a group project. For a project to be truly collaborative, each group member should be familiar with everyone else’s work, and be able to describe how every group members’ contribution supports the whole group assignment.
Students who are using the work of others may not be able to adequately describe the significance of their ‘own’ work, or how it contributes to the group’s overall project. Group projects for me have been improved with online students using the Revel tool, Shared Media. I’m able to group students and have them submit a shared document or recording for evaluation.
Create assignments that require presentations
Conduct asynchronous online assignments for class presentations. This is easily accomplished with the same Shared Media tool in Revel. I have been using this video upload tool for over 13 years with my public speaking students.
Students may be asked to submit a progress report or use a Journal to reflect on what they have learned in the past week that supports work toward the presentation. You might consider using a discussion forum for these progress reports where classmates can contribute to one another.
To further scrutinize work on the presentation, students may be asked to include time for questions and answers. Students who have developed the presentation should be comfortable answering a range of topic-related questions from an arranged audience. I required my speech students to have an audience of 7 adults and include a Q&A that is captured on video as well as their speech presentation.
Check for plagiarism using SafeAssign
SafeAssign is a remarkable plagiarism prevention tool that detects matches between students’ submitted assignments and existing works by others. These works are found on a number of databases including ProQuest ABI/Inform, Institutional document archives, the Global Reference Database, as well as a comprehensive index of documents available for public access on the internet.
SafeAssign can also be used to help students identify how to attribute sources properly rather than paraphrase without citing the original source. Thus, the SafeAssign feature is impressive and effective as both a deterrent and an educational tool.
Using any of the Writing Assignments in the Revel tool can have this Safe Assign evaluate any submission for plagiarism.
Use discussion assignments
Creating Discussion Board assignments require students to demonstrate critical thinking skills by responding to a relevant forum topic.
You may also design a rubric that is specific to the Discussion Board assignment and develop questions that require students to respond to every rubric category.
Having assignments that are very specific makes it more difficult for students to use portions of a previous term paper or other sources.
Include academic integrity policy statement in the course syllabus
As faculty we need to include a policy statement regarding academic integrity in the course syllabus.
In addition, reiterate academic policies for students taking an online course and clarifying guidelines for completing tests and assignments so that students are not confused about what they can and cannot do.
While this, in and of itself, may not be sufficient to change behavior, its acknowledged presence in the syllabus acknowledges a commitment to honesty in the academic arena. It also establishes the clear expectation that academic integrity is an important principle to live by.
Faculty may also choose to mention this policy using the ‘Announcements’ feature in any of your learning management systems, or while conducting a live web conference session.
Preserving academic integrity is an ongoing challenge for traditional face-to-face, blended, and courses that are entirely online. While a number of expensive technology solutions, such as retinal eye scanners and live video monitoring have been developed to prevent cheating in online courses, the practical recommendations above can reduce the impact of cheating on assessing student performance online.
Most of us teaching college today have encountered the drives and initiatives to create inclusive classrooms. The pandemic and debates over social justice have challenged many of us to examine and re-examine how and what we teach. Safety protocols, strong debates over the role of diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education may have left many teachers feeling burned out with adjusting.
With the enormity of changes in education, we sometimes need to take a breath and think about small changes we can make to yield big results for student success. James Lang writes in Small Teaching; we should consider taking “an approach that seeks to spark positive change in higher education through small but powerful modifications to our course design and teaching practices.”
I needed to find descriptions of what an inclusive classroom looks like or explanations of some of the terms used in these initiatives. I discovered this from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Central Florida, “In an inclusive college classroom, the participants work together to create and maintain a climate of openness and respect that encourages individuals to share their perspectives and thought for the purposes of mutual understanding, growth, and development. Inclusive classrooms are welcoming, secure, diverse, and interactive. In an inclusive college classroom, instructors strive to be responsive to students as individuals with many intersectionalities, as well as cognizant of students’ uniqueness and value in relationship to the broader classroom culture.”
Intersectionality is the interconnection of social constructs such as race, class, and gender. And this construct applies to both individuals and groups. Intersectionality creates overlapping and interdependent systems that may foster discrimination and disadvantage, or conversely, may create privilege and entitlement.
How can we help our students develop attitudes that accept our differences and allow each individual room at our tables to be who they are, feeling comfortable, accepted, and welcomed? How do we address the almost infinite differences intersectionality creates with all the diverse opinions, ages, backgrounds, races, religious, sexual identities, gender identities and educational backgrounds, abilities and capabilities?
This just seemed absolutely daunting to me when I considered the vast and varied intersectionality presented in each of my students’ lives. However, after reading Lang’s Small teaching I felt more empowered to make changes in my teaching and course-room designs.
The COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 revealed challenges for students and teachers worldwide. By the end of the 2021 school year, students in K-12 were months behind in math and reading. Students and teachers had faced changes in schedules, new teachers midyear, internet challenges, and Zoom exhaustion.
These changes forced a sudden change in traditional teaching and learning styles. The digital transformation in education advanced exponentially, creating new opportunities for students to learn through video rather than solely for gaming.
The value of video
Teachers learned how to use videos to keep their students engaged. Video provides the much-needed flexibility and personalization to individualize learning experiences for specific student needs. Students benefit by watching at their own pace, anywhere, anytime, allowing them to stop, rewind, and play again to meet their needs.
Many of you may be experiencing those end-of-term emotions ranging from relief to exhaustion. On top of all the final grades and last-minute faculty duties, it’s time to think about the next term’s classes, whether that’s a short summer session or getting a jump on Fall class designs.
If you’re a Revel® user, I suggest you examine your aggregate class data from the easy-to-access dashboard view before automatically copying the current course into the next term’s course shells. The dashboard view gives you a wealth of actionable data.
The Revel dashboard is a completely different tool for analytics than I have ever used in terms of providing numbers that reflect what was working and what needed improvement. The data helped to inform my decisions about the efficacy of the current course and implied changes I could make to the current design to increase students’ engagement and content proficiency next term. Let’s walk through what I found most helpful.
Educator Dashboard insights
The Revel Educator Dashboard provides a great deal of information in the following areas:
aggregated class data for a view of overall performance
score details to see class performance on each type of assessment assigned
struggling and low performing student gauges for quick identification and communication
assignments with due dates as well as additional details, including challenging items
settings tab showing assessment types and ways to improve the course design
When reviewing the assessment data, I ask myself if there are any settings or scoring policies that I might change to increase both engagement and comprehension.
The view score details section provides aggregate scores for students on each type of assessment assigned, allowing me to note assessment types that received low scores. This can indicate a lack of understanding or a lack of participation. By drilling into the details of some assessment types within the assignment view of the grades section, I might see a lack of participation rather than low scores. This could indicate I should assign greater value for these types of assessments if I feel they are sound activities for students to become proficient with the content.
Increasing the weight of certain assessments might incentivize students to complete them. Or, by allowing fewer attempts for the Revel module or chapter quizzes, students may be less likely to complete the quizzes without fully understanding the concepts they should have read before taking the quiz.
You might choose to exclude certain types of assessments next term if you feel the value is less than you wish for students to expend energy and time completing. In that manner, you might increase compliance on the assessments you feel are more robust in helping students acquire the knowledge needed to become proficient in your courses’ required outcomes.
I acted weekly based on the struggling and low activity student gauges by sending a brief email to those students and it made a dramatic difference in my classes, both face to face and online. For three years I conducted my own efficacy study by examining the effect of using this intervention strategy with my low-performing students. I opened the dashboard view early Monday mornings after the Sunday due dates and dropped each student an email stating I noticed they were having some issues in completing their work in Revel the previous week. I would tell them to contact me if I could be of assistance with anything.
This simple, very quick intervention was so telling during COVID-19 when students would email me back and share things like they had little connectivity at home with four siblings using the same Wi-Fi, or they had lost their homes and were in the process of moving. Issues that I had no ability to resolve yet tugged at my heart. However, I could put skin on the computer by letting my students know I cared and connected with their struggles. Even if the student was simply slacking, they knew I was an active presence in the online classroom. We know from research on distance learning that human connections between students and teachers, and between peers, are often the variable that increases persistence to completion.
Over our three years of COVID-19 I have seen an increase of slightly more than 25% retention in my online classes and 13% in my face-to-face classes. Apparently, being engaged with the content outside of class was equally important as in-class presence.
Deeper course analysis
The next question I pose for myself relates to what I can change or renew for even greater success next term.
When you scroll beneath the dashboard to the assignments and you see challenging items, this means there are questions on the quizzes that many of your students did not answer correctly on the first quiz attempt. This could indicate the concept is difficult to grasp by simply reading the material.
When you dig deeper, you can see the exact question/concept where students struggled. This information has prompted me to add some of my own content to the Revel material to increase students' understanding. For instance, with psychology, operant and classical conditioning are concepts often confusing for intro to psych students. I have added material in my LMS, class, or Revel by using the highlighting and sharing a note feature to increase students’ understanding of that difficult concept.
I also like to look at overall trends in the term by scanning the dates, the scores, and the participation. This can inform me about seasonal changes in students’ performance such as midterm slump, spring break fever, or those times in any of our terms where students’ performance historically declines.
Student engagement tactics
Interventions to increase student engagement might include reducing the number of assessments or using more active engagement assessments, such as asking students to present or to work collaboratively to engage them more fully.
If you go to the resources tab and open your book, you can select the section you found of challenging items. Highlight that section, add a note or even a URL to create an active link in your students’ notes. You could add a TED talk, or, as I did with my psychology students, a link to YouTube of The Big Bang Theory show where the actors are using operant and classical conditioning to train their significant others. When you share notes like this, the information appears in your students’ notebooks, and they can use your notes as study guides.
Revel offers the right amount of actionable data for me to understand my students’ progress, their engagement, and where they experience challenging concepts. The platform also helps me improve my delivery, increase student success with Revel, and helps students become proficient in the learning outcomes.
I’ve been teaching public speaking for over 25 years. When I decided to teach online 15 years ago, I looked for a tool that would allow my students to upload their speeches for me to grade.
Did I mention my predecessors teaching online speech were using snail mail and VHS tapes? Well, I came a long way, baby! I was one of the first teachers in the US to use the newest video upload tool, MediaShare, which has evolved into the multifunctioning Shared Media.
Why Shared Media?
This Pearson tool allowed me to accept student videos of the length required for speeches and to grade them in one stop. And as the years rolled on Shared Media got better and better. It is a tool that allows you to “share” any type of media to your students and you can ask them to share any type of media back with you; audio, documents, images, or videos.
You have so many options when creating assignments. You can send your students an example of a bad speech and ask them to critique it and send you back the critique in a document. Or you can send instructions for preparing and delivering a recorded speech and ask the students to share with you their video along with their outline and even the PowerPoints® or images they’ll use for visual aids.
I can now use one of the pre-created speech grading rubrics or create my own. And I’m able to require peer evaluations using a rubric I choose for students. I even have the ability to team students into groups, so they become the cheerleaders for each other’s speeches as they offer peer support and suggestions.
Give it a try
Since my early beginnings 14 years ago teaching online speech courses for my college, I have met many instructors who firmly believe teaching speech online is an impossibility. Nay, I say! Have you tried Shared Media? While we cannot replicate a face-to-face environment for students online, I can certainly simulate the types of activities that build the same skills needed for either a virtual or real-world speaking event.
I’ve even been able to share my successes with neighboring colleges who’ve asked me to demonstrate my online speech classes and have used them as a model to implement their own online speech programs using Shared Media.
Now I can teach speech from anywhere. And I have. From mountain tops in Costa Rica, to sailing ships in Indonesia. If there’s an internet connection, I can support students as they learn the skills of speaking publicly.
Have you tried using videos to resolve problems or provide innovative solutions in your online classrooms? Effective video usage can foster both individual student learning and increase a sense of community in an online world.
Teaching via video can be synchronous like a live Webinar or Zoom conference, but there are many other methods, including asynchronous video, to enhance your students’ online learning environment. In these COVID times, with so many instructors new to online teaching and attempting to provide or mimic the face- to-face learning environments, many have turned to the use of synchronous meeting tools.
There is often the feeling students are being deprived by being forced out of the classroom and online. This phenomenal upswing in synchronous online learning has been nicknamed the Zoom Boom. However, research is indicating this synchronous surge is simply not sustainable in the long run. There are issues with different time zones, mobile connectivity, as well as teacher and student screen time burnout.
A deeper dive into asynchronous videos
For these reasons, I’m focusing on asynchronous methods of using video to enhance the online classroom and engage your students more fully. There are four areas or goals where using effective videos can help instructors solve some unique challenges in the online learning platform.
Videos can increase student engagement in ways that enhance their understanding of the material.
Videos can help you assess the formative stages of their learning. Are they making the progress needed to succeed?
Videos can offer you methods of presenting difficult or demanding concepts, requiring students to demonstrate their mastery.
Videos can provide feedback to your students on their submissions in timely, meaningful and personal ways.
I have eight suggestions for video activities that enhance the digital learning environment, hitting all four of the goals stated above.
Expand on the written content.
Personalize the digital experience.
Flip your classrooms so they become learning centered rather than teacher centered.
Give clear and memorable feedback to students.
Demonstrate processes or concepts difficult to convey through written content.
Encourage your students’ creativity, demonstrating their mastery of the content.
Be informed about students’ formative learning with populated analytics.
Using the same type of analytics you can evaluate your students’ engagement.
Introducing micro lectures and more
Here are three suggestions for expanding on the written content through instructor-created, short videos. These activities focus on your specific course, adding to the content for added clarity and depth.
Chapter or concept overviews
Micro lectures are not long, nor do they attempt to cover the entire chapter. Above all, they are not boring. They should be short and interactive. And they need to chunk content in short management increments. You should capture your students’ attention as well as meet accessibility standards, such as closed captioning.
As a communication professor, I can offer you some production tips for making your movies of these micro lectures.
Think about covering the difficult single concepts you know students have struggled with in the past. Keep them short (3-5 minutes max).
Make good eye contact with the camera.
Be enthusiastic! You want to be a Tigger on film, not an Eeyore.
Be sure to use good light coming from the front rather than the side or behind.
Use a headset with microphone for optimal sound quality.
Make the videos interactive by asking questions, providing questions before and after.
Provide a transcript.
Keep your lectures focused with no more than four main points.
Be sure to use some type of attention getter in the first 15-30 seconds. It might be a question, a brief story, a startling statistic, a striking picture, a piece of music, or any other method that draws the students into the presentation.
Use far more images than bullet points when using a PowerPoint with your micro lecture.
New visual material every 10-15 seconds. It keeps listeners’/viewers’ attention.
Edit or re-record if needed.
And, be sure to use closed caption so your videos are accessible.
You can apply these same principles when creating walk-through demonstrations for your students of the course overview or a module/chapter overview.
Make a personal connection
Next, let’s look at how videos might personalize both the digital presence of you and your students. These are methods that put “skin” on the computer, that let your students know more than a cyborg is monitoring their progress.
Provide a video introduction from you to your students on the first day of class.
Provide course navigation videos from you to the students that are specific to their course, walking them through how to use the online tools.
Have students create a self-introductory video. You might suggest they share some type of story, like the best thing they’ve ever eaten, or the vacation of their dreams. Do not let them get away with, “My name is Betty Boring. I was born in Borington, and I went to Boring High School.” Really true stories keep us interested, and they’re memorable. It’s why we all understand the phrase, “Tell me another story.”
These introductory videos are powerful ways to create community within the course. We know that emotional connections are one of the most powerful components for student persistence. Any method that increases the connection between instructor and student, and between students increases that emotive piece of the puzzle for decreasing student attrition.
Making class learning centered
Using video assignments can provide information you need to flip your classroom, teaching to the most challenging concepts to that specific group of students. You might use:
Student discussion forums
These types of activities vary the way students interact with the content before classes or before the next week. Having students view a micro lecture before class, completing a short online quiz on difficult concepts offers information to you about student engagement and student progress.
Video quizzes can gauge engagement through data such as time on task, as well as information on questions most missed. You can then fill in the gaps with your own teaching strategies. And don’t forget your Learning Management Systems such as Canvas, Blackboard, Brightspace by D2L or Moodle provide data, informing instructors about student progress.
Videos can also provide us with the ability to give asynchronous talking feedback in an online environment by:
offering students recorded individual or group feedback from you.
recapping the week’s progress using a video message.
briefly discussing the week’s challenging material and common errors.
I began providing a video on Sunday night when COVID created massive changes in schools in March. My students, already in online classes with me, expressed such appreciation for my new weekly summaries with them about class progress with the material. And, it gave me a chance to speak with them about the challenges they were facing in their personal worlds as well, offering to help students find the support they might need.
Give them the microphone
Videos are the perfect environment for the demonstration of processes, skills, and course navigation. Let students demonstrate their mastery of the skill or concept by tapping into their creativity, engaging them with tools they are already familiar with such as:
Harness their inner director and ask them to create videos that demonstrate their proficiency with assignments such as:
Individual presentations such as speeches
Group projects presentations
Demonstrations of a skill or principle
Using the right tools
Once you’re comfortable with some of the tools at your disposal, you can take it to the next level with the many tools offered for video production and presentation. I’m just going to highlight some of the more recognizable tools and what they can do.
Pre-created videos are a great way to start. They are often accessibility compliant and professionally made depending on the site you choose.
YouTube has the broadest range, but may not be academically sound.
Publishers often provide clips which adhere to academic standards and are accessibility compliant like Pearson’s Clips, or premade video quizzes.
TEDx often provides videos that are both compliant and academically sound.
There are tools to help with video mixing, or combining several videos to demonstrate a concept. These can encourage student creativity and a deep understanding of the content of the course. Two of these are:
And, MediaBreaker (Students can create a mix of videos they locate, encouraging them to find current materials that demonstrate critical thinking about course content in a current real-world application).
Backchanneling is another way to engage your students. This is what we do when we are messaging friends during a less than engaging meeting. Phone messaging and Twitter were the original backchannels. And, while we might view these as distractions from the main event, backchanneling is engaging, community building and maximizes time if directed and focused on the lesson. Tools for this include:
Twitter. Students are very familiar with Twitter, but this does not provide protected space, nor is it academically designed.
Backchannel Chat can provide live time streaming commentary on videos students are viewing. Students can also make comments or ask questions.
Hotseat was designed by Purdue University based on a Twitter model and provides a free backchannel tool in an academic setting.
If you want to create your own movies designed just for your course and your students, there are tools offering you a range of possibilities.
EdPuzzle allows you to create your own video quizzes with embedded questions rather than a beginning essential question.
Loom allows you to screen share and create short easy walkthroughs for a class or just one student.
Camtastia is a robust video tool with many creative possibilities, but it is not free. Snagit allows you to screen share and save computer space as your videos are housed in their cloud.
TEDEd is a well-used video creation tool allowing you to stand on the shoulders of educators around the world as well as to share your repository of educational video creations with others.
Easy as pie
So, if you’re just beginning to use video in the online environment, or if you are well into your video use, keep it simple and easy as PIE.
Plan what you want the video assignment to solve for you or your students. Implement the tool that does this for you in the easiest and most effective way. And then Evaluate not only the students’ performance and engagement, but how well the tool worked for you.
Pearson Faculty Advisors have become educational first responders during this COVID-19 crisis; diving in to help professors use online tools effectively. We are teachers partnering together to share, learn, and pave the way in this brave new world of internet instruction.
Teaching online is nothing new to us. We’ve logged many years of working online with tools, instructional designs, and various learning management systems. But, watching every teacher in the United States move online in a matter of a few days, regardless of their comfort with distance learning, has been eye-opening. It’s challenged attitudes about online learning environments and the role of a college professor.
So many instructors are struggling with old ways and new challenges, trying to pound traditional classrooms to fit into bits and bytes. I’ve begun to recognize a clear dichotomy in instructional methods: restorative vs punitive. Looking to the experts for ideas, I discovered abundant pedagogical literature on this, making it far from being an original idea. The research is often directed at classroom management and changing student behaviors, but the principles apply to the consequences associated with our assessments, and whether they dish out “punishment” or increase learning.
Liberating learners vs. catching cheaters
There is much consternation amongst “instantaneous” online higher education teachers struggling to hold on to teaching methods that may not be functional for online classes. In brick and mortar classrooms, student mastery was often assessed through paper tests distributed with time limits, monitored by the roaming instructor to reduce cheating, and collected and graded by the teacher.
I’ve seen much hand wringing about how online environments simply cannot police students the way the classroom teacher could. And while the sudden shift to all things digital may revert to traditional classrooms, there may be lessons to be learned. These may be applicable for teaching anywhere and at any time. These atypical days are giving us time to reassess and find new ways to view classroom strategies or policies.
I’ve listened as teachers have listed the many ways they’ve discovered students can cheat by sharing information, invalidating their final scores. I’ve watched frustrated teachers try to create duplicate online classes that were once face-to-face, missing opportunities to increase student success. They are often missing the chance to use digital methods effectively, teaching the same principles in a different manner.
After hearing so much anxiety, I want to share some thoughts about how to be the rock star content expert, maintain your teaching rigor, and remain true to your unique personality with online learning. This may even transform that physical classroom in a return to the old normal.
What do I want from them?
There are so many disciplines and courses in higher education; it’s impossible to cover how every discipline should assess their student’s success. The following suggestions can be generalized and customized to meet the needs of specific courses and content.
“What should my students know by the end of my class?” should be the first question we ask when determining how to assess student progress. Much, or most, of class energy is spent acquiring information to pass the final assessments demonstrating mastery. Whether the course is psychology, speech, statistics, advertising, marketing, biology, or nursing, the time spent acquiring content is the formative stage of learning. Instructors are responsible for providing tools during these acquisition stages to help students “learn” the material in order to critically think through how to apply the new information in real world settings.
What do they need from me?
We are the facilitators of formative activities that help increase our students’ metacognition; helping them to know what they don’t know, and how to acquire the unknown information so they can apply it when required (tested). While formative activities will vary widely, their purpose remains the same.
These classroom techniques are meant for student learning, not assessing mastery by the instructor. I like to ask myself when selecting formative activities, “Is this something I can get out of the way of my students’ learning and let them be the captains of their own ship?”
Low stakes assessment of student progress includes activities that encourage students to reflect, collaborate, teach others, review, apply, or create. Incentivizing with points is vital for full participation. However, exams designed in anxiety producing high stakes testing environments seldom produce the long-term retention that incremental low stakes self-assessments do.
Consider formative activities such as group projects, encourage collaboration through discussion forums, offer opportunities for reflection through journaling, or ask opened ended questions on short, low-stakes quizzes.
Get out of the way and let them learn!
If you like auto-graded, time-saving multiple choice quizzes, leave them for student self-assessments. They can be great tools to let the student know what they don’t know yet, encouraging them to go back and review. But they tell us little about what students are retaining long-term and are rife with possibilities for easy “cheating.”
If quizzes are low stakes, there is little reason to spend the energy to cheat. I would ask, “If the student Googles the answer in a low stakes self-assessment, who cares?” It matters little whether they learned the information from reviewing the content I provided or from Google. If they spend the energy to look up the answer, they most likely will remember the question for some time to come. My passion for teaching is to produce life-long learners who seek information from every source available.
How do I know they got it?
There is a time for all instructors to summarize the total progress their students have made, or are making, during the term. Again, these “summative” assessments will take many forms depending on your specific course. I encourage instructors to think about limiting the number of these high-stakes assessments.
Keep in mind most of class time is spent in acquiring information or forming a new knowledge base. Students need enough time to get comfortable with the content before they really show you their critical thinking skills and applying their new information to unique and practical situations.
A personal example
Here’s a scenario that shows moving from formative to summative student assessment techniques:
Weeks are spent training psychology students through low stakes assignments to write in correct APA style.
The formative assessments are 250-word discussion forums in proper APA, encouraging students to review classmates’ work, compare their thoughts, and make comments on each other.
There are usually 8-10 short, shared essays.
By the end of the term, students demonstrate their mastery of both content and APA writing style through a summative research paper.
All assessments, both formative and summative, provided little chance or incentive to cheat as the essays and paper are submitted for originality checks. Students are ENCOURAGED to collaborate with each other, asking classmates’ input before submitting their final research paper.
Becoming a Titan
We all are challenged to keep teaching fresh and alive, to stay abreast of what is changing in our world, our students’ lives, our students’ learning, and our own wants and needs. I don’t want to create a classroom made for my needs. Rather, it should be one to help the maximum number of my students achieve their goals, persisting toward their degrees. As you think through how to provide formative steps toward knowledge acquisition that summarizes student progress, ask these questions:
In each segment/chapter/module/increment of learning, what should my students remember?
How can I help them submit that information to their long-term memory? See this source for some ideas on retrieval practice.
How can my students demonstrate they have mastered the concepts I feel they need from my course?
What kinds of assessments can I use that limit cheating and demonstrate real learning? See this resource for ideas about summative assessments.
Rock stars, every one
This may seem radical, but I want my students to share questions and answers, learn from each other, and become co-intelligent. I want to teach them that life is a group, not a proctored exam. Life is about solving large problems as a community, not being checked in isolation to see if we know everything about anything on one big exam. I want to be a learning facilitator. It’s all about my students’ learning, not about my need to perform. I may not be the rock star from your past. You may not remember my name. But if the tunes I taught you long ago hum in your head when you see a problem needing a solution, I’ve earned the title “Teacher”.
Strolling with her toddler in the suburb of a large city impacted by the pandemic, a professor friend reminisced about ‘normal’ life for herself and her daughter. She missed her days at the college, and for her child, the nurturing day care center. For at both places, they found connections, meaning, and comfort.
My friend longed for her office, her classroom, and the physical presence of her students. She missed the mental challenge of being asked pointed and intelligent questions where she needed to be on top of her academic game to answer. She felt nostalgic for the smell of the library, the sight of the sun shining on her desk and papers in the early morning hours as she reviewed notes for upcoming lectures.
She missed that slight thrill she got just as she rounded the corner going into her classroom. These images were so opposite to her sad thought that the quiet and deserted streets she walked felt like the end of the world, and she was surprised that it had ended so quietly.
If the effects of the pandemic can feel so terminal to a young, gifted academic with everything in front of her, what must our students who are suddenly forced into online learning environments feel?
We once stood in front of them, guaranteeing the protection of freedom of expression, if respect to all was upheld in our classes. We built a sacred space, created by mutual respect, open mindedness, and acceptance. Classrooms were a safe place to be vulnerable enough to listen to new information, consider it and expand the size of our boxes.
Students had their own sacred spaces too: at the coffee shop to share class notes and ideas, or at a study group in library meeting rooms. Our students are emotionally invested in the places they learn. This ‘new world’ of higher education during a pandemic is very unlike what they imagined college life to be.
While their teachers work heroically to provide virtual course content, the students miss the sensual stimulation of smells, sounds, and the touch of a physical environment. Many of us are missing that emotional connection to those physical places and the people there. While we professors are experienced enough to grasp the magnitude of this event and anticipate a hopeful new normal, our students often lack the life experience to rise above feelings of permanent loss.
Our students may be dealing with family members sharing increasingly cramped quarters, challenged with internet connectivity, stressed from reduced incomes, and isolated from friends. They’re now exclusively using mobile devices or computers to continue expensive investments in college.
These feelings of loss and helplessness are things that we can help reduce. Here are some suggestions from college professors and online sources to decrease the distance between our students and create virtual sacred spaces to help them reconnect with us in new, potentially more intimate and meaningful ways.
Email your students often
Reach out about more than content instructions. Tell them you understand how stressful lives have become and that you are there for support, not to add stress.
Your learning management system lets you send videos through email. At least once a week, I send a video message to my students, sharing my own challenges and telling them how proud I am of their persistence and grit. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t had a haircut for more than a month, or that my husband may forget and walk behind my camera.
In fact, my students have shared how much they appreciate “being in my home with me.” Now, as if never before, it is important to find ways to emotionally connect with others through these virtual social interactions.
And, while we can’t offer smell-a-vison, or taste TV, we can provide a more relaxed communication channel with our students to help them know we are real and very much invested in their success.
Now isn’t the time to be punitive or judgmental. While assessing performance requires that we judge the progress students are making, we need to rethink how we do it. Are we assessing progress towards mastery, or penalizing for missing deadlines, or not adhering to classroom policies, which may not even apply in a virtual classroom?
Assignment deadlines may become low priority in a home where young children need access to the only home computer to finish their homework, and the lack of income means a lack of food in the home. While some of us complain about the “COVID 15” pounds we are gaining, many of our students are struggling to find enough to eat.
Relaxed due dates have been received by my students with immense gratitude. They tell me know how much it has meant to them to know I really want them to succeed.
Being supportive does not mean throwing rigor out the window. It does require careful evaluation, sometimes on a case-by-case basis, of the emotional and physical needs of our students in context of the crisis and realistic expectations of academic standards.
Many are concerned about online cheating. Consider this instead: what is the desired learning outcome, and can it be assessed in a different manner other than typical high stakes exams? Can you assess your student’s mastery with an essay or open-book timed exam? Might a group project offer a final evaluation of the course content?
Be a positive influencer
Use language that lets your students know you are expecting a new normal. While education as we’ve known it has changed, it can be better. Remind students of their advantage of their social media proficiency. Ask for their input on ways for your classes to be virtually connected.
I’ve learned about super useful free conferencing tools from students who’ve been group gaming with them for years. Who knew? Give them the lead and let them show you how creative they can be. You will help them focus on what they can do increasing their self-efficacy.
You need to be on your game for resource referral. Where can your students find WIFI? Computers? Tutoring? Counseling? Many of your colleges already have policies and solutions to these questions.
For example, our college is creating a parking area where students can stay in their cars and gypsy off the college wireless internet to complete assignments. Drive-in WIFI! And, Student Services offers virtual counseling sessions at no cost to our students.
Many internet providers are offering home service at no cost during the pandemic, and some colleges are loaning laptops to students to finish their college terms online. There are many new and innovative solutions being created on the fly to help students.
If you need ideas, just Google the need; you’ll be surprised to discover the commitment and innovation of educators and professionals nationwide.
Some may be asking, “How can I afford a new digital tool when I already paid for a book?” Pearson is working hard to provide students with access to digital learning environments at no cost while they adjust to a new normal of distance learning.
Please remember, you are also essential workers and first line protectors. You can create new sacred learning spaces for your students, and discover your own well of creativity and innovation. Write to them, support them, be flexible with rigor and show compassion tempered with the desire for them to learn. Be a voice of hope for their futures. Need some inspiration? Give this shout out to your students to encourage self-care. Feel free to borrow:
We’re all in this together. I want you to know I care about more than just your grade in this class. I care about how each of you are navigating these strange days and new ways. I want to take a minute to offer some tips for taking care of yourselves.
According to the CDC, you may feel any or all of the following symptoms of stress during this pandemic:
Changes in the way you sleep (more or less than usual)
A hard time concentrating
Intense moments of fear over your health and the health of those you love
Changes to your existing chronic health conditions (asthma, high blood pressure, etc.)
Desire to escape through alcohol or other drugs
You may have added stress by setting a few high and unrealistic goals during what may feel like an extended vacation. These might include:
Lose 20 pounds
Learn a new language
Make straight A’s
Become the model student, wife, husband, parent, child, (fill in the blank)
Write a novel
Read the top 20 books recommended by professors nation-wide (one I make every summer and break)
You might want to lower the bar on some of these. This is not your spring break. And it is not the best time to fail to reach goals you have set. You need to feel good about yourself, not set the stage for failure and frustration.
But you do need to have goals that are attainable and measurable to help boost your mood when things are tough. If you’re still lying on the couch after crawling out of bed at noon and eating chips and salsa for breakfast it’s time to expect a little more out of your days. Self-awareness and self-efficacy are some of the most important factors in happy, successful people.
To develop your self-efficacy, try setting challenges for your day like:
Stay in school and finish the term (even if it means you are not the star student you were 6 weeks ago). Finish! It’s good for your brain.
Talk with me about problems you are encountering with this new online learning.
Tell me what you need in order to pass the course and we’ll find a solution together.
Set a realistic calendar that you can adhere to in order to finish the work needed.
Set your day with gratitude. (I know it sounds corny, but it really, really works.)
Eat healthy (I didn’t say diet, but you can do better than chips and salsa three times a day.)
Stay connected to your peers (you’re a master at this already but keep it up)!
Exercise (doing a Jazzercize class on YouTube with those in your home or virtually with friends may provide your laughs for the day.)
Laugh a lot. (Turn on any movie that makes you roll on the floor even if you watch it every day).
Turn off the news except for quick catchups. (There were many people who gave themselves post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following 9/11 watching news 24 hours a day.)
Wherever you find comfort and hope, stay in that quadrant at least once a day with purpose. (You might meditate, pray, read the writings of your religious faith, or just uplifting authors who motivate for the good).
Get outside of yourself. Do something every day for someone else. Do it deliberately. (You might call someone you know is alone or make some masks for friends or front line workers, do a chore for someone else in your house as a surprise. It’s amazing how much we get when we give just a little.)
Seek online counseling services if you feel drawn to damaging behaviors. There are so many excellent resources for this. If you need help finding a resource, please let me know and I’ll be happy to share.
I will close as I began. You are not alone. We are in this together. I know we will get to the other side and we will have discovered so much about the depth of our strengths, creativity, persistence, and compassion.
Online teaching has gone viral! COVID-19 is causing teachers, who never thought they’d teach this way, to dive right into unchartered territory. Learning how to use technology to deliver content and evaluate students’ mastery of course principles is happening–almost overnight—and often without much guidance for instructors.
Faculty are often working more hours than they can count, trying to quickly ramp up so their students have little disruption in their learning.
Creating online learning environments is daunting, even for seasoned online instructors with weeks of lead time. But now, face-to-face face teachers are under the gun to get these courses up and running pronto. Those teaching in Spring 2020 are under pressures no one ever anticipated.
Add on to that the stress of self-isolation, homeschooling children, and sharing home office spaces with partners and children. Self-care is vital for any caretaker, and right now, it’s vital for teachers too.
This article offers teachers self-care tips to destress and renew so they continue to offer their expertise and talents to their students in these unprecedented times.
Use the Pomodoro method of working. Complete 25 minutes of intense work followed by a 5 minute break. Repeat 3x if needed. Then take a 30 minute break before beginning the cycle again.
Remember, a 40-hour work week included water cooler time or meetings. Four hours of intense work per day is really an ambitious goal. Clearly, sometimes we spend more time and sometimes less, but don’t let working online dominate your entire day.
You need designated down time. Make rules for working hours that suit your most productive times and around other people and duties in your home.
Designate a workspace (even if you have to share). Straighten and clear your work area every day. Try to keep this space only for your online teaching. Leave it when you have completed your work and don’t return “just to check.”
If you have to share a desk or computer with others, create a schedule and a way to remove your tools for work. Try putting your office tools on a cutting board you can take with you when you exit or find a box for your files/papers. This way, you have a portable workstation you can remove to prevent others from disturbing.
3. Teaching support
You are not alone. There are plenty of resources for teaching online, some at no cost. Sites like Pearson’s can provide you with online teaching tips as well as faculty experts to consult about best practices for teaching online.
4. Take care of your students
By now you may realize how time consuming and emotionally draining maintaining an online presence with your students can be. Take these steps to help take care of your students, and yourself!
Remember #1 and don’t feel you must be physically present 24-hours a day because your students may email you at 2 a.m. And while you need to find ways to create a real relationship at a distance with your students, they didn’t have access to you in the classroom beyond their class times and your office hours. The same rules also apply online.
Be clear with your students when you will and will not communicate with them. Defining expectations reduces misunderstandings that can occur when asynchronous communication becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Be cognizant of this crisis and consider bending some rules in your class that made sense before but may become less relevant now. Practice flexibility.
Focus more on collaborative activities between students if possible (shared Google docs or other methods of online collaboration).
Offer students some live time virtual meetings with you.
Create short video messages to your classes showing your willingness to understand how this crisis is impacting their lives.
If you follow the Pomodoro method mentioned above, use the breaks for some type of physical exercise. Intense mental focus is relieved by short bursts of physical activity.
Try using an exercise ball to stretch out your back. Or you jump on that stationary bike or step machine.
Designate off time for physical workouts every day. Being confined in our homes doesn’t mean we can’t work out. Use YouTube for dance workouts (you can do this with anyone in your home or alone).
Take a walk (keeping safe distances). Getting outside, even if it means on the roof of your building, will do wonders for your attitude. Morning sun is particularly important, so try to get some of those early morning rays on the top of your uncovered head.
6. You are what you eat
Eat well, but not deprived. Now may not be the best time to go on that diet, but it is a time to eat well.
Comfort foods like chips and candy aren’t the best mindless munching snacks. Instead, try nuts, fruits, or crunchy veggies. Reserve your “treats” for designated times and make sure to really focus on the enjoyment of that special something (chocolate for many of us).
Eating out is not an option currently, so find ways to get fresh vegetables, fruits, and other groceries in safe ways. There are companies that will deliver fresh veggies and fruits to your door weekly, and many markets are providing curb side pickup or deliveries of preordered items.
This may be the time we all learn to create shopping lists and stick to them, making meal plans, maybe even cooking those recipes we’ve been saving and never trying.
Remember as you plan and eat well, we will all emerge from our cocoons in time; while a few pounds to shed may not be something to worry about, gaining 20 or 30 pounds will decrease your sense of well-being, creating additional stress. So, refer to #5 again!
7. Take care of your feelings
Most of us are overwhelmed by this crisis. Be gentle with yourself if you find you are less patient with others, have times when you just want to be completely alone, feel anxious, or find yourself in a cleaning or cooking frenzy. These are just signs that you need to decompress a bit.
Take up that hobby you’ve been putting off; use yoga or meditation to set the tone for the day or to decompress, or relax with a book in the evening. There are many free apps that can help you with these types of activities.
Reach out virtually to friends and family through regular video meetings. Free resources such as Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts, or Teams in Outlook can help you connect real time with those you love.
Attend virtual concerts that many orchestras and musicians are creating to provide comfort and inspiration, watch live cameras of zoos or wildlife, or start that blog you’ve been putting off.
Externalize your feelings in healthy ways by talking with supportive people either in your home or at a distance. If these feelings result in prolonged depression, please know there are many online counseling services that provide counseling. Counselors nation-wide are mobilizing and also working from home to help decrease stress and depression.
8. Care of others
One of the greatest methods of self-care is to flip the focus of helplessness or irritation and think of ways you are already caring for others. Look for fresh ways to be supportive of friends, family members, and your community that you hadn’t considered before.
There are sites and apps that offer opportunities to volunteer virtually in a number of ways beyond just donating. Often getting out of ourselves and into the needs of others lifts our spirits, increases our self-worth, and spills over to the jobs at hand; caring for the educational and sometimes emotional needs of our students.
Know that while you may not be getting the applause and ticker tape parades you deserve, your tireless efforts to provide ongoing education are not without notice. We will come out on the other side of this, and hopefully with greater depth in our understanding of what teaching and teachers mean and can come to mean to the students today facing challenges we have never encountered.
You are the trailblazers, teaching the leaders who will face new worlds of challenges. Take care of yourselves! The world needs you!
My colleagues and I often chaffed under the stress of needing to get ready for our classes while attending the dreaded college-required professional development sessions on “Outcomes” designed to comply with accreditation. We were offered little more than college-dictated Educationese required inclusion in our syllabi.
Most of the outcomes were far too broad and vague to be measurable, and I began to daydream about how to make these days have some merit. I started to muse about outcomes. I needed a definition beyond what’s left at the end of something.
Specifically, what is a useable learning outcome? What would meaningful outcomes look like? Linda Nilson tells us that learning outcomes are what we want our students to be able to do by the end of our course. Therefore, it makes sense to think about designing meaningful course-specific outcomes by looking at the desired end and working backwards, determining the building blocks needed to reach those goals.
Patricia Cross stated the sole purpose of teaching is learning. This does not mean the teacher is the singular path to learning. In fact, learning often occurs best when the wise teacher gets out of the way to allow it to happen organically. Conversely and sadly, there can be a great deal of teaching with little, to no, learning.
I felt myself in the later position more than I would like to admit, working so hard while my students expended little energy. I was expending the lion’s share of classroom energy. I wondered how to flip this energy grid, so the students would become the primary energy consumers.
Learning scientists tell us that deep learning is not easy, it takes effort. Effort = expenditure of energy. So, if my students spent little energy, and learning consumes lots of energy, then the ratio of teaching to learning was seriously off-balance in my classrooms. I was doing so much teaching that was not resulting in a proportional amount of learning. I realized I needed to become the classroom learning facilitator.
I daydreamed about my ideal class with students learning. Teachers often believe we are the keepers of knowledge and only from our mouths may students learn. We’re the rock stars, dancing as fast as we can in front of the class, exhausted at the end of the day. And, while rock stars often get glowing student reviews, studies have shown students often mastered less than students in classrooms with methods focusing on learning outcomes rather than what the teacher teaches.
Sound outcomes contain three statements:
how the outcome will be measured;
what the conditions will be for demonstrating the outcome;
and, the criteria for evaluating the student’s performance of the outcome.
How the outcome is measured might be stated in terms like; define or compute. The conditions for measurement might include; speeches, portfolios, or maps. Finally, the criteria for evaluating are the rubrics developed to measure progress.
There are cognitive, psychomotor, affective, social, and ethical outcomes; however, I am only examining cognitive outcomes. Bloom’s taxonomy remains an excellent framework for developing cognitive outcomes. These cognitive processes begin with knowledge. Without knowledge, students have no material with which to construct an end result.
Parroting new information in order to remember is the first rung. This might be coupled with comprehension, the second learning process, where the student is able to express the information in their own words. The third rung is application, using newly acquired information in unique situations. The fourth step analyzes the new information understanding how the components relate. Synthesis follows as students use isolated components creating new skills or products. The student reaches the top of the cognitive structure and is able to see from a new vantage, evaluating the relevancy of this learning.
It is important to note that outcomes have little merit without motivated students. Maslow’s hierarchy of need offers an excellent frame for motivation – beginning with the subfloor of meeting physiological needs and safety concerns, moving to a sense of belonging, leading to increased self-esteem, and culminating with self-actualization.
I am able to address each in my classrooms, creating environments with little effort that are physically comfortable, a safe space emotionally and physically, with collaborative activities increasing belongingness, giving constructive and meaningful feedback that increases self-esteem, and encouraging students to design their paths to uniquely defined success leading to self-actualization.
The principles of Bloom’s learning ladder coupled with the scaffolding of human/student motivations in Maslow’s research integrate learning and motivation producing my dream classroom.
The learning outcomes were supporting my course redesign. I reviewed assignments, assessments, and classroom strategies. If I found an activity or evaluative tool having little connection to the learning outcomes, I eliminated them, creating other activities better aligned with outcomes. I limited the number of outcomes so I could measure each and offer timely feedback so students had a very transparent view of what it would take to be successful.
My class gradually became far less about how much material I was able to cover than about how much progress students were making toward a final goal of mastery. This sometimes led to decreasing the amount of content I had assumed necessary simply because the textbook offered X number of chapters.
I kept in mind the BIG question, “What do I want my students to be able to do when they walk away from my course?”
Now, a warning! This outcome-based, learning-centered environment is often noisy. I have had one or two neighboring professors, request a room change due to the enthusiastic discussions and sometimes raucous laughter emanating from my students’ engagement with each other and the course principles.
I once had a provost, invited to visit student end-of-term presentations, become so engaged with the students and their learning that she remained for the entire class rather than the few minutes she had intended.
I’ll also warn that you must be prepared for changes in yourself. Motivation is infectious. The more motivated I became to create a sacred space for my students to learn, the more motivated they became to learn, which in turn reenergized me. I had found my teacher fountain of youth. The energy grid was teeming and flowing all over the place, back and forth from me, to students, to outsiders. I went home at night, not exhausted, but energized.
So, I guess I’ll express gratitude for those many tedious and painful college “Outcome” in-services for boring me into daydreaming and taking action.
Several national studies (Swail; American Institutes for Research; Lake) purport approximately 60% of all college students attending four-year institutions persist until graduation within 6 years. Thus, there is a 40% attrition rate nationally.
American tax dollars contribute to the grants, scholarships and financial aid used by many students. According to LendEDU a college drop-out has incurred about $14,000 dollars in student aid debt. About half of these loans are in default. There are high stakes involved at the institutional level as well.
According to a study of retention at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2016, the cost to that one university of losing almost 40% of their enrolled students during that 6 years was $86 million. Given the high financial impact to society, institutions, and students, the study of college retention and student persistence has become an important one.
Beyond financial loss
While retention has hefty financial implications, perhaps more important, college degrees prepare students to critically evaluate the needs of their society and to understand how to effect change for the better. Retention also affects the national reputations of colleges where legacies, among other advantages, are at risk in institutions with high attrition rates. Finally, and perhaps most critically, the impact on the individual student of attrition, withdrawal, or dropout goes beyond crushing college loan debt.
The impact on self- esteem and self-efficacy results in far more pervasive and damaging long-term consequences than mere financial limitations. The assault to self-worth may be the greatest danger of college attrition and the most important reason to show concern for increasing student retention. An examination of student retention can help us change the retention narrative, and help our students write brighter and more hopeful futures for themselves and our society.
What we can do
There are factors that lead to attrition beyond the control of institutions and instructors. Student abilities, skills, and preparation come with them to college. As do their personal attributes, values, and knowledge base. While we know students with the character trait of resilience are far more likely to persist against negative factors, colleges cannot control whether a person has this trait or not.
The outside influences, often leading to student dropout, such as families, jobs, or lack of support are factors beyond the scope of college control as well. While programs within colleges may ameliorate the effects of some of these influences, these influences come with the individual and vary widely between students.
The good news is there are a number of factors colleges and instructors can influence. Several of these factors are defined by Alan Seidman (2012). Seidman purports these may be the greatest contributors toward student success. These include; expectations, student support, involvement, and feedback.
Expectations clearly communicated to students from their institutions and teachers is critical for student comfort, increasing engagement. While it is common knowledge that syllabi are contracts of the class expectations between the student and the teacher, institutional expectations are equally important.
Students will most likely interact on an institutional level before having access to individual classrooms. Schools that have clear mission statements, clear and comprehensive student orientations, clear student handbooks, and information to access support services go a long way toward creating an open and transparent environment where students feel respected and valued. This atmosphere of clear expectations should flow into each classroom, reducing confusion and miscommunication, creating an atmosphere of comfort and clear outlines of how to succeed.
Student support should have a three-pronged approach providing services for academic, social and financial support.
Academic support may be provided through tutoring centers, peer, and faculty mentoring programs, computer proficiency workshops, writing centers, computer labs, and service-learning centers. Not only do academic support centers help students in their classes, but they foster social networks between peers, teachers and the student, creating learning communities.
Social support in college has been linked to positive student engagement, potentially increasing retention. Social centers designed to bond like others for common goals or common identities have shown value in creating climates of collaboration in colleges. Social groups might include clubs or centers for foreign students, service groups, ethnic identity, or spiritual unity, among any other traits that bond groups.
Financial support may take the form of required workshops on financial responsibility for any student on financial aid, or grants and student financial rewards, or student work programs. Some colleges have even offered short-term small cash loans to students struggling at the end or beginning of terms. Students who have a clear understanding of what they are getting for the amount invested are armed with information about the investment and may make better choices about wise expenditures of their energy, time, and resources.
Involvement studies (NASPA; Purdue University) indicate students who feel positive emotional connection to their educational environments, through peer or faculty connections, are more likely to persist. College student populations have evolved from primarily residential students to the majority of students commuting.
With busy, active lives beyond the borders of college campuses, involving students in campus life has become a challenge. Dissociated students are far less likely to find the support needed to weather the inevitable stresses of college. Programs such as peer and faculty mentoring also foster an atmosphere of connectedness.
Methods of student involvement in the classroom include group projects designed for students to connect through remote or social media communication. Class time can also be allocated for group work. In short; happy, connected people are more likely to want to remain connected to each other and the environment that fosters those connections.
Feedback is often overlooked as a critical factor in student retention; however, it is the one factor that is absolutely in the control of the institution and instructors. Transparency by all parties is the key ingredient for solid and satisfactory problem solving. Students need to know how they can succeed and what they need to do to get there.
Institutional feedback comes in the form of monitoring student’s academic standing. Students need accurate and timely assessments of their degree progress. They need clear communication of their GPA, college and national standing, as well as communications from financial aid concerning their current debt and estimates of debt upon graduation. Students also need early warning when they are steering off the path to successful completion.
Instructor feedback answers the common student questions of: “What is my grade? How do I measure up? Can I pass this course? Our assignment assessments are our feedback to these questions. The practice of assessing content mastery with only one or two major exams or papers gives little indication to students of where they are going off the rail before it was too late. This should not be the case in a learning-focused classroom.
Learning-centered classrooms should offer immediate feedback on formative low stakes assignments. That feedback should be clear and meaningful resulting in the students increased awareness of what they know or don’t know. This translates into better metacognition and students are less likely to overestimate their knowledge acquisition.
The learning-centered classroom
Learning-centered classrooms demand students learn first-hand, moving away from the teacher centered classroom, where learning is strained by passive listening with little interaction. After implementing new learning-centered feedback strategies in my classroom such as quick mini quizzes using clicker type answering providing immediate feedback in a low-stakes situation, I saw striking results in improved preparedness and retention.
Learning-centered classrooms are also collaborative. Building learning communities within the classroom is often the only peer association commuter students will have. Collaborative learning has been shown to produce greater levels of intellectual development. Teachers can foster this through group work in the classroom assignments.
These might be problem-solutions focused or project-based. Service-learning opportunities in the classroom allow students to work together and apply the academic principles they are learning to real world settings. Other classroom activities that have been suggested in the book, “Make it Stick,” as excellent methods for student learning include:
Spacing Retrieval Practice, based on the testing effect, where taking tests increases the ability to be a better test taker. Activities that lend themselves to this might be short quizzes, one-minute essays, self-analysis activities, or partnered homework assignments.
Interleaving is cycling back to previous learning and bringing it forward for application. Reviews, reflections, quizzes, short essays, or group presentations might lend themselves to this type of assignment.
Elaboration gives new learning meaning and commits it to longer-term memory through application. Essays, scenario creation, group projects and presentations are all able to offer opportunities to elaborate on new knowledge. One particularly successful activity has been to have groups teach a portion of the new concepts for the week.
Generation is the process of finding creative and innovative solutions to problems or assignments. Offering students opportunities to submit drafts with feedback generates deep understanding of the concepts building towards a more successful final product. Working in groups to resolve a difficult problem is also effective in generating deeper understanding through the lens of other perspectives.
Reflection reviews new learning, making applications to prior learning or novel situations in real world settings. Service-learning group projects with field notes foster reflection on how the classroom principles apply in practical settings. Essays and scenario activities also allow students to make meaning of new information.
Calibration teaches students how to judge what they know. It increases metacognitive skills and helps student more accurately assess the time and energy expenditures needed to succeed. Testing of any kind as well as self-evaluation aid in calibrating, as do peer evaluations.
Collaborative learning-centered classrooms where homework is due prior to class, where the student was provided immediate feedback on homework before coming to class, where the teacher has access to performance data from the homework, allows the instructor to focus on those concepts deemed most difficult for the entire class.
This classroom is now flipped to address this specific group of students with their unique learning needs. The flipped classroom lends itself to collaborative learning and interactive problem-solution activities that address the most difficult concepts using valuable class time effectively.
As a young teacher, my classroom was all about my teaching; how creative I could be thoroughly covering all the material. I now see my classroom is not about my teaching, it is about my students’ learning.
I am empowered to know that while retention is an enormous problem impacting our society, colleges, and students, there are things we can do at the institutional level and the classroom level to combat student attrition and student dropout rates, leading to more students meeting their goals and achieving successful and productive futures.