“I’d rather sing you a song than draw you a picture,” is what I’ve been telling my math classes for almost 20 years now. I’ve always enjoyed music (I was one course shy of a Music minor) and I always enjoy an opportunity to sing. Even in my math classes, I would sing the quadratic formula to the tune of “Pop! Goes the Weasel” – something which my students always enjoyed.
When it comes to drawing however, that is a whole other matter. My stick figures are embarrassing, so you certainly don’t want me to draw complicated 3D figures in Calculus. If only I could sing about washers and cylinders for volumes of rotation in Calculus; unfortunately, a picture is better than a thousand words, or songs, in my case.
As educators, we know what student engagement looks like in the classroom. Students are focused on their work in front of them, they are collaborating with their peers, they are asking good questions, creativity is flowing… But now that things have moved online, what does engagement look like? Let’s start by asking ourselves what makes something engaging, and then explore some tools we can use in a digital classroom.
What makes something engaging?
A lot of research has been done around student engagement. Primarily, engagement revolves around student ownership of the material being presented. I know what you’re thinking. “I have a curriculum with standards I have to follow! There’s no room for student choice!” While you may be partially right, there are places in every course that allow for more student choice and input.
In an informal survey of my students, the feedback regarding what makes a class engaging is varied; however, there are a lot of commonalities. Students want to be able to pursue their own interests, feel heard and included, and know that they are supported when taking risks. They want teachers who are not too strict but are fair in their handling of the classroom. Even when the material doesn’t resonate with a student’s interest, teacher enthusiasm can change a mundane course into a potential major.
Daniel Pink, the author of the book Drive1, states that three conditions need to be met to trigger engagement.
Autonomy: Give students choice to work on a project that relates to the curriculum but is also interesting on a personal level for the student.
Mastery: The task itself can’t be too challenging or too easy. One creates frustration and the other boredom. The task should be somewhere in what is commonly referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone,” where the difficulty is just right for the learner.
Purpose: The student has to be able to link what they are doing to the wider world. Why should they know what you are teaching? Make the material relevant and you will get more student buy-in.
Instructional methods to increase engagement
Now that we know what student engagement looks like, let’s look at a few instructional methods that can improve our curriculum and retention. While creating your course, don’t worry about including all these options. Just choose a few to start and then ask for student feedback regarding what they liked and what they want to see changed next time.
In each lab report I assign, I ask that students relate the concept or technique to a real-world example. The identification of an unknown salt would be helpful in cases with contaminated water and is a critical skill to master. Here is an example of a student response from a lab where they determined the density of an element by graphical interpolation.
Example “Although this particular lab did not yield extremely accurate results, there are still definite real-world applications for using interpolation, such as to find the density or other measurable qualities of elements. It would be especially useful for finding properties (such as density) of the man-made elements which have too short of a half-life to be effectively examined or measured for mass and volume.”
Project-based learning (PBL) is where students complete a long-term assignment to solve a problem or answer a question. For more information about PBL, click here.
In my lab class, I try to make this an authentic question that students will need to make a recommendation on. As shown in the example to the left, here is the introduction to a basic percent composition of a mixture lab.
Example We are Minuteman Wallboard Co. and we have a severe problem. As you know, the inside layer of wallboard is made from magnesium sulfate heptahydrate. Our feeder company inadvertently gave us an unknown amount of calcium sulfate dihydrate in one of its shipments and this was mixed in with the magnesium sulfate heptahydrate before processing it.
Our advisory board has said that there is no reaction between the two compounds, however if the wallboard has 15% by mass or greater of calcium sulfate dihydrate in the initial mix before processing, the strength and durability of the wallboard will be compromised.
We have already made over $450,000 worth of wallboard stock from this suspected material. We do not want to give this to any of our retailers until we know if the mix had less than 15.0% by mass of calcium sulfate dihydrate. We are supplying you with a sample of the original mix before processing and would appreciate it if your company will help us solve our problem.
Chemistry has a large problem-solving component. My students enjoy working in teams on more complex problem sets, and then presenting their strategy to the class. In a number of cases, when two groups are given the same problem, they are able to articulate how their method was different than another groups, and how both are correct. In the picture below, groups worked on particle model diagrams showing correct stoichiometric ratios, phase, and molecular orientation.
Example of a Teamwork project
I teach Chemistry, which doesn’t seem like there is much opportunity for student creativity. I gave my students a project to create an ABC book using a set of clues. Here is an example of one page, showing both creativity and complex content mastery.
Example of a Creative project
HyperDocs or learning menus
Here are some examples of HyperDocs. These would be a great component to add to an online class. Students have choice over how they meet different assignment requirements. If the teacher has one or two mandatory skills to master, they can easily accomplish this while still allowing for choice in the rest of the activity.
Instructional tools available from Pearson
Creating a sense of community and collaboration is key to online teaching success. If you already have Pearson’s Mastering product with the eText, then you already have access to many great resources to increase student engagement.
Learning Catalytics is what we jokingly call “clickers on steroids.” This tool was developed by a Harvard professor who wanted to engage his students. It is an interactive student response tool that encourages team-based learning by using students’ smartphones, tablets, or laptops to engage them in interactive tasks and thinking.
As an instructor using Learning Catalytics, you can pose a variety of open-ended questions that help your students develop critical thinking skills, while simultaneously monitoring responses with real-time analytics to find out where they’re struggling. With this information, you can adjust your instructional strategy accordingly and try additional ways of engaging your students during class. Learning Catalytics also lets you manage student interactions by automatically grouping students for discussion, team-based learning, and peer-to-peer learning.
On the instructor side, there are over eighteen different question types to choose from so that you can find the best way to probe for student understanding. In Chemistry, I like to use the numeric expression, image upload so students can show their work, and the direction type when assessing dipole moments. Learning Catalytics can also be linked to your Mastering course so that grades can sync over.
Another platform similar to Learning Catalytics is Live Response, also by Pearson. Visit the website for more information.
When it comes to studying, students often say they’re not sure where to start, what to focus on, and when they’re exam-ready. Pearson has many tools designed to keep students engaged with your course material and encourages them to take charge of their own learning.
Designed by learning scientists, the Pearson Prep app automatically creates online flashcards from students’ notes and other materials. It also gives students access to expert decks that align with their Pearson texts and narrow in on key concepts.
We know from learning science, and from our work with more than 850 students, that spaced practice is key to effective studying. Pearson Prep relies on spaced practice to create personalized study routes. When students get a card wrong, that card appears again sooner. If they get it right every time, it moves to the bottom of the deck.
Students can quickly see how much progress they’ve made and how ready they are for their exam. This feedback engages students in metacognition, which we know is essential for success.
With Pearson Prep, students can make the best use of their study sessions and feel more confident going into exams.
eText mobile app
With the Pearson eText app, students can download their Pearson eText to their smartphones or tablets to keep on learning no matter where the day takes them. The app organizes all of their Pearson eTexts, including their MyLab and Mastering eTexts, in one place. Even without an Internet connection, they have access to reading and study tools that help them learn wherever and whenever they choose.
Part of developing a good course is also developing a good relationship with your students. Make sure that they understand why they are doing certain tasks, and why it will help them in the long run.
The most integral part to student engagement is communication. Being available for your students, giving them a space where it is OK to make mistakes, and reaching out when they are struggling are definitely not a part of your curriculum, but it is human nature. Communication is a two-way street, however, and soliciting student feedback about what works for them is also critical.
Ensure that your students can give you timely feedback on whether certain educational approaches are working for them. In my teaching, I have often found that students don’t know how to give effective feedback. Before asking, give them some basic guidelines to frame their thoughts.
Here are some key points to share about giving good feedback2:
Tangible & transparent
Keeping students engaged in your course will lead to better retention, better relationships, and stronger grades. It takes time, dedication, and honestly, a bit of risk-taking to put everything together, but the outcomes are clearly worth it.
Sources 1Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Penguin, 2011. 2Wiggins, Grant. “Seven keys to effective feedback.” Feedback 70.1 (2012): 10-16.
Many of you have had this kind of email from a student:
“I am not sure why I got a 78% on the assignment. I followed the instructions correctly and yet the MyLab product graded it wrong. Why did I get these questions wrong? I think something is wrong with the MyLab or Mastering Product. I need you to look at this now and change my grade.”
Many students will blame the system or something external instead of looking at themselves as the reason for not doing well on course assignments. Trying to make students responsible for their own learning is not an easy task. Providing feedback on these assignments is essential to shifting the focus of learning to the student.
Feedback can be best described within the web article titled, The Importance of Feedback for Student Learning, as “Feedback is commentary on the student work, individualized to best accommodate for the needs of each student, personally” (Sources).
The next question that arises is how can you make students review your feedback? One way according to the Khan Academy is to, “…empower and drive students as they’re learning is to encourage them to monitor their own progress. This allows learners to track their own improvement, figure out what they need extra help on, and set their own goals” (Academy). Making students monitor their own progress can lead to better student success.
All Pearson MyLab and Mastering products have some form of feedback that students can use to help enhance their understanding why they received their grade on an assignment. It is important for you as a faculty using the product to understand the type of feedback provided and encourage your student to use it. As the faculty advisor for MyLab IT, I will highlight in depth the type of feedback provided within MyLab IT. I will also point out some of the learning science behind MyLab Math. I encourage you to contact the Faculty Advisor at Pearson to learn more about the type of feedback in each of the MyLab Products.
Type of Feedback found in MyLab IT
Within MyLab IT, there are three types of assessments, Simulations, Grader Projects, and Objective Based Quizzes. Simulations take the student into a simulated Word, Excel, Access, or PowerPoint environment. Students are asked to complete specific skills related to the MS Office products such as inserting images in Word or creating formulas in Excel. With Grader Projects, students download a set files that include an instruction document and starting file. Students then work offline within the actual MS Office application to complete the project. Students then come back into MyLab IT and upload their document for grading.
There are two types of feedback provided within the Simulations, methods to complete, and student actions. The methods to complete helps the student understand all the methods possible to complete the skill within the simulation. This type of feedback helps the student understand all the ways they could have completed the task if they got it wrong. If multiple attempts are allowed, the students can then try the task again making sure to use one of the methods to complete the task.
Student actions allows the student to view a movie of exactly what they did within the simulation task. Many students using MyLab IT will say they keep doing it right, but it kept being marked wrong. The student actions can show them that they were doing the task wrong. See more on Student Actions here
The feedback within Grader Projects helps the students know why they were marked wrong on specific instructions. One type of feedback is called the Scorecard. This feedback shows the student which instruction they wrong and by clicking on the dropdown arrow to see exactly what they did that was wrong. The other type of feedback within Grader Projects is called a Live Comment report. This report is similar to you marking up a document where the student got things wrong and providing comments as to why it was wrong. However, this markup is done by MyLab IT. See more on Grader Projects here..
Type of Feedback found in MyLab Math
Thank you to Bonnie Rosenblatt, Faculty Advisor for MyLab Math, for providing the screen shots and information about the feedback found within MyLab Math. Instructors can add comments to individual questions within an assignment. Adding these comments can encourage the student to do better on the next assignment or to understand why they got the question wrong.
Making your student responsible for their own learning will make them a better student and to a better worker when they get out into the work world. When students send you an email and says that something went wrong, it was not my fault that I got something wrong, please encourage them to research the why on their own. They can use the feedback built into the MyLab and Mastering products to help them be a better learner.
Online faculty often require their students to take proctored tests to help safeguard the academic integrity of their courses. Research has shown that students regularly cheat in courses they do not value, which are usually fact-based courses such as math and science (Anderman, 2017; Trenholm, 2008).
In a position paper published in 2012, the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges recommended that instructors of online math courses require students to take at least two proctored exams that constituted a minimum of 50% of students’ course averages. The idea was for at least half of students’ course grades to be based on assessments that students were observed completing. While a review of the literature on academic integrity and the propensity for cheating in online classes is beyond the scope of this article, it suffices to say that proctored testing is an important issue and a key requirement for many online faculty.
Arranging for online students to take proctored tests can be a tedious process. Students unable to take tests on campus with their instructors due to time or location must work with their instructors to identify acceptable alternative locations. Furthermore, instructors must send their test information to each approved proctor so that students can be given supervised access to their tests.
For instructors teaching multiple online classes with multiple students in each class needing testing accommodations, the logistics and the preparation of forms can be quite time consuming. However, a new and very easy option for proctoring is now available for instructors using MyLab!
Pearson recently entered into a partnership with ProctorU, a well-known provider of online test proctoring since 2008. Once an institution secures a contract with ProctorU, instructors are given an institutional key which they use to enable the ProctorU feature in their MyLab courses; this is similar to how the Lockdown Browser works.
Once enabled, ProctorU can be required for selected tests or quizzes. The process for students could not be simpler; students log into their MyLab courses and access their tests or quizzes as they normally would. When students press the Start Test button for a test with ProctorU enabled, a window pops up that walks students through the steps to start their proctored test experience.
After completing the multifaceted identity verification process that includes biometric keystroke analysis, facial recognition, and challenge questions (www.proctoru.com), students are monitored virtually by their webcam, microphone, and ProctorU software. Both the students and their computer screens are recorded while taking the test, and any questionable activity is flagged so it can be reviewed by the instructor either in real time or after the test has been taken.
This “auto proctoring,” which uses artificial intelligence to identify and flag suspicious behavior, has a one-time cost per course that is significantly lower than what students would pay for live proctoring of a single test at a physical location. In addition to its low cost, the ProctorU integration with MyLab allows students to schedule their tests for any day and time. So instructors using MyLab can now easily incorporate proctored assessments into their courses without compromising convenience for their online students.
Here is a scenario that I am sure most of you have experienced in your teaching career:
Sam is one of your students in your course and is having some issues with one of the assignments. He sends you an email asking for help. You respond with what you think is a detailed answer. Sam responds and asks more questions. You then respond again spending more time and energy typing another detailed answer. Unfortunately, Sam emails again still not understanding what he is supposed to do for the lesson.
Now let’s look at this scenario again but add something you may not have thought of doing:
Sam is one of your students in your course and is having some issues with one of the assignments. He sends you an email asking for help. You do a short video and audio of using your computer screen detailing and showing Sam what he is supposed to for the lesson. Sam responds and tells you that he is all set and understands what to do for the assignment.
In the second scenario, by providing the video to the student, he can quickly see and understand the assignment. These short videos are called Screencasting. According Educause’s 7 things you should know about Screencasting, the definition of screencasting is “a screen capture of actions on a user’s computer screen, typically with accompanying audio.”
The above scenario where student is asking a question via email provides just one example of how screencasting can be an effective learning and communication tool. It does not matter if the course is online, face to face, or blended because students will always send you questions.
In other situations, using screencasting for reviewing students’ work can be very powerful. As a personal example, I teach a Web Design class. My students need to complete several activities each chapter where they are building a website using HTML and Cascading Style Sheets.
Each chapter builds on the previous, so it is important for my students to master each chapters’ concepts. I have a rubric that I use to grade the student’s work but, in some cases, doing a screencast to point out the issues with the student’s work is much more effective.
In following video that is 2:32 minutes long I can show and explain to the student what is wrong with their web page and show what it should correct. This is much more effective than typing up a long email.
You will need screencasting software in order to create them. In this section, I will outline a paid and free version of screencasting software.
SnagIt from TechSmith
Snagit is the best option for screencasting if you willing to pay a little bit. The education price for Snagit is $29.95 and worth every dime.
Snagit not only will do screencasting but you will also be able to capture images on your computer. Please watch the short video below about Snagit. I captured from the TechSmith site and used my computer audio to capture the sound. I highly recommend spending the money for this software.
Screen-0-Matic is a free screencasting software. There are some restrictions on the length of the videos which are limited to 15 minutes maximum. This should not be a problem when doing short screencasting videos. Plus, there is a branded logo from the company on all their free screencasts. Again, this may be an issue. Here is a quick example of a Screen-o-Matic video.
Screencasting can be a very powerful way of communicating with your students. An important benefit of screencasting for students is the ability to watch the video as many times as they wish. Students can also stop and watch portions of the video. It is very worth your time and energy to explore the world of screencasting.
In order for an online course to be successful, one must first divorce their thinking from the traditional face-to-face classroom, and consider several key components of the online course experience. Let’s focus on the big items…
One of the most natural starting places for creating an online course is the lecture. This can of course take many forms. The lazy alternative is to simply tell students to read the chapter, but this is, as one might expect, unfair and inadequate. Our students look to us to explain, and that is, of course, one of our primary jobs.
Many instructors make their initial videos mimic what they might do in front of a class, and some even attempt to record their actual classroom lectures. For quite a few reasons this is a bad idea. Let’s address a few of these issues.
If you actually record your classroom, this will include extraneous comments and questions from the students in the room that day. This does not provide an “inclusive environment”, as some might argue. What it does provide is audio distractions for students trying to focus on critical material.
Yet another problem with this style of lecture capture is length. Ideal videos for an online course should be “small bites”. Each video should address a discrete topic (commonly a chapter section) and no more. Ideal time on a video of this sort falls between 3 – 10 minutes. This provides a few key benefits. Students don’t have to remember where they were in an hour-long lecture should they need to leave/return. Students can easily watch/rewatch a short video in available time even with a busy schedule.
How should you actually capture your lecture? There are several useful tools/techniques that can serve this purpose.
At hand for most instructors is PowerPoint narration. Both PowerPoint and Apple Keynote permit users to record narration on each slide. While you certainly can then share narrated presentations with your students, that relies on students having the original software to play the presentations. An easier option is to simply export a video. Powerpoint: File>Export>Create Video. Keynote: File>Export to>Movie.
A more robust option would entail use of screen capture (sometimes called “screencasting” software such as Camtasia (Windows or Mac) or Screenflow (Mac). These apps allow capture of the entire computer screen or a portion of the screen. More importantly, they permit robust editing of the video after the initial recording. This provides an easy remedy for an instructor who has made an error during the lecture. They can simply pause and correct the error. One would then remove the error in postproduction prior to saving the final video.
Since we have addressed the idea of editing, we should bring up the idea of closed captions. Any instructor providing lecture videos should be extremely aware of remaining ADA compliant with any materials produced. Both Camtasia and Screenflow have features that allow you to insert true closed captions. One strategy that makes this process easier is lecturing from a pre-written script. This will enable you to simply cut/paste the actual words read from the script into the captions track during editing.
One cannot have “good video” in absence of “good audio”. To that end, it is strongly recommended to not simply rely on the microphone built into your computer. Bad audio is distracting and is a disservice to your audience.
You may wish to consider either a headset mic such as the Logitech H390 Noise Canceling headset (around $25 from online retailers).
Alternatively, you may want to consider a more robust studio microphone such as the Rode Podcaster. Going with this option, you may wish to include a boom arm to mount the mic to your desk. This configuration is a bit more expensive (around $350 total for mic and arm) but provides exceptional audio quality. As a side benefit, this certainly puts the online professor into “recording mode” when you pull the microphone boom arm over in front of you. As a user of a system like this, there is a lot to be said for the level of focus that a good microphone brings to your workflow.
One hallmark of an online course is, of course, online homework. Your publisher’s platform is an ideal place to go for ready-to-go assignments. Depending on your discipline you may wish to consider Mastering, MyLab, or Revel. Your publisher also has Customer Support teams standing ready to help you learn all about designing effective assignments.
Ideally for each chapter, one should consider pre-lecture, mid-lecture (tough topics), and post-lecture (chapter quiz) assignments.Some instructors express concern as they first begin assigning online homework that they don’t want to assign “too much homework”. That approach is actually counter-productive.
Ask yourself: How many times have students come to you to ask, “What else can I do to study?” Now remind yourself, have you ever said to students: “For every hour you are in the classroom, you should spend 2-3 hours outside of class studying.” It is actually common for an online course to have more homework assignments than a similar face-to-face course.
A final consideration should be point value. Students won’t be invested in assignments that are simply busy work that don’t contribute to their overall outcome. A good target range would be 10 – 25% of total course grade. I myself set a value of my students’ online homework at 20% of their semester grade.
Securing high stakes exams
Most schools will require some form of proctoring on high stakes exams. These are the “traditional exams” we’re all familiar with. There are several options for having these exams proctored for your online course.
If you happen to be teaching a discipline that uses MyLab you’re in luck. MyLab has a partnership with ProctorU, an online proctoring service that watches both what happens on a student’s screen and watches the student and immediate environment through the computer camera. In this form, ProctorU is utilizing an artificial intelligence engine rather than an actual human proctor. At present, this option is not available in either Mastering or Revel, thus proctored testing in those platforms is not currently an option.
For schools that insist on proctored exams there are a few options.
On-campus Testing Centers are available at most campuses, and students of those campuses can usually test for free. If an online student does not live near the instructor they may still utilize a campus testing center near their home, but they may have to pay a per-exam fee. In such cases, students should provide contact information to their instructor and obtain permission to use the testing center at the alternate school. In either case, details needed to take the exam should be communicated to such a testing center by the instructor. Exams can either be paper based, run on publisher sites (Mastering, Revel, Pegasus, MyLab) under password protection, or via questions uploaded to the school LMS, again under password protection with Testing Center staff entering the password which remains unknown to students.
The second option would be a proctoring service such as ProctorU.com. These companies provide pay-by-exam services for students (free for instructors to set up) and involve a human proctor watching the student, immediate environment, and student’s computer screen. The service provides incident reports including screenshots, video, and descriptions of incidents. The cost to the student depends on the amount of time permitted by instructors. My own students typically pay about $30 per exam. It is worth noting that the pay scale is based SOLELY on the maximum time an instructor permits. In particular a student cannot rush through the exam for a cheaper session. So, there is no monetary incentive for them to finish an exam early. Most students don’t consider this their primary exam strategy, but rather use it in a pinch when they can’t come to campus.
Online Discussions Options
One critical component of an online class is providing a way for your students to feel connected to the instructor and their classmates. There are several options for this component of the class.
Publisher platforms (Mastering, Revel, MyLab, Pegasus) all include asynchronous discussion forums, as do most of the common LMS platforms such as Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Canvas, and Moodle. Many, if not most of these, require the student to be logged into the platform in order to see current and past posts, or to reply.
An interesting alternative solution can be found in app-based discussion platforms such as GroupMe. I began using GroupMe a few years ago and it has revolutionized my online class discussions. At the beginning of the semester I create a Class – GroupMe group and send the invitation link to my student email list.
GroupMe can be accessed in a browser, as well as on-device apps. Students can configure GroupMe to send them group messages as SMS texts. Students and instructors can post messages that appear in real time. The history of the discussion is available to scroll back through all the way back to the creation of the group. Participants can post text and images. The group creator can create group polls. As exam time approaches I post sample questions for students to answer and encourage them to create their own. What ensues is often an impromptu study session.
This app creates an on-device environment that most of my millennial students seem to relate to, in a communication form that speaks to them at a core level.
I have had students over the past 2-3 years tell me that they feel more connected to me and other students in my online classes than they have ever felt in any face-to-face class. So, if you are considering creating an online course, stick with these core principles:
Produce a lecture component that is easy to consume and ADA compliant.
Design and assign homework that contributes to your students’ success.
Find a way to securely deliver high-stakes exams that satisfies your administration and is accessible to your students.
Communicate! The students in your online course should not feel as if they are in a vacuum. They should feel a part of a community who are all on a learning journey together with their instructor leading the way through the course material
Data literacy skills are no longer reserved for data scientists. Organizations today look for employees who can comprehend data, generate insights, and put it to actionable use for their business. But there’s a gap. According to a recent report by the Data Literacy Project and Qlik, only 21% of 16–24-year-olds are data literate. This suggests that schools and universities aren’t providing opportunities for students to gain the skills they need to enter the working world.
Business school programs can play a pivotal role in helping their students develop the technical prowess to wrangle data. Here are the three data literacy skills that every business school graduate should have in their skill set.
Analyzing and interpreting data:
Combing through sales data—transaction systems, customer interactions, and demographic data—to uncover trends and identify gaps can give sales teams a competitive edge.
Making data-driven business decisions:
Translating data into usable insights for a business—for developing new practices and driving decision-making—can give individuals in finance and operations roles a leg up.
Communicate data insights:
Telling data stories to different audiences effectively—visually and with words—is a valuable skill that helps individuals formulate and employ successful marketing strategies.
Help your business school students advance their careers by complementing their curriculum with skills training in data literacy. To learn more about the technical and professional skills your students need to succeed, download our ebook, “Preparing career-ready students.”
At technology-driven workplaces, employers expect employees to have a working knowledge of Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Ensuring your students are taught how to use these programs will set them up for success when they enter the workforce.
Here’s how the Microsoft Office suite can arm your students with the technical skills they need to flourish in the real world.
Organizing data and insights with Excel
Not only should students be able to organize, analyze, manipulate, and present data within Microsoft Excel, they should be able to communicate their insights in a way that helps build a business’s competitive advantage.
Creating polished business documents in Word
There’s more to Microsoft Word than word processing. Business students can harness intuitive editing features, advanced formatting options, tables, lists, and sleek design elements to create documents and proposals.
Presenting ideas to a group with PowerPoint
Business school students are no strangers to PowerPoint. But understanding the ins and outs of the software can turn a basic slideshow into a dynamic presentation that lets their professional skills shine.
Staying connected and organized with Outlook
Whichever industries your students pursue, a solid grasp of Outlook is likely to come in very handy. The ability to manage emails, calendars, and tasks will help them stay organized and productive.
Support your students by helping them sharpen their technical skills in Microsoft Office. Discover more technical and professional skills your students need to succeed after business school in our ebook, “Preparing career-ready students.”
Although women fill 47% of U.S. jobs, they only hold 24% of jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.* Despite an increase in awareness regarding gender inequity, women are still underrepresented in STEM careers.
It’s time to bridge the gender gap and open the doors into the scientific and engineering fields for women. Hear from Dr. Catherine Murphy, professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois, co-author of Chemistry – The Central Science,and senior editor of the Journal of Physical Chemistry, about her STEM journey and how to overcome obstacles that women in these fields face.
Why did you choose to study chemistry?
I always liked nature and science from a young age and had great chemistry teachers in junior high and high school, so I became a chemistry major in college.
How have you dealt with competition and the gender gap in the STEM field?
My advice is to do good work and eventually reasonable people will recognize it. I was the first woman hired on the tenure track at my previous university (University of South Carolina in 1993), and the faculty there really were excellent at making sure I had good mentoring.
How has technology changed your life, particularly in STEM education?
Technology makes it possible for me to work anywhere, all the time. That’s both good and bad! I use a little technology when I teach classes, so students can text answers rather than raise their hand.
What advice would you give to women wanting to enter a STEM field?
You can do it! Double down on math and read widely to find your technical interests. Don’t let one not-great instructor in an intro class discourage what could be a lifetime of scientific joy.
Higher education is moving into a new phase when it comes to the power of technology in the classroom. More sophisticated learning tools are being developed, and they promise to fundamentally change how instructors teach and students learn. Such advances are being met with a mix of resistance and acceptance. Some educators worry that new technologies may diminish their role in the education process will eventually replace them, or that digital learning tools are too costly, or not necessary. Some are concerned about the amount of work involved with incorporating technology into their courses. Despite such uneasiness, a growing number of educators are adopting the tools and using them in innovative ways to enhance student learning.
Among other products, Learning Catalytics is an interactive student response tool that educators are using in classrooms and lecture halls to pose questions and poll students’ understanding real-time with graphical visualization. We are continuing to develop even more advanced learning tools, including technologies that can assess critical thinking skills and broaden tutorial capabilities.
According to higher education experts, many educators are turning to technology to enhance the learning experience, deliver improved outcomes, and to manage increasing class sizes and varying learning styles. They are selecting course materials that are available in digital format, and they’re using interactive tools to check students’ progress and mastery on assignments when completing course assignments. Many educators are redesigning coursework to blend online activities with classroom experiences. Some are sending texts and emails to nudge students to keep up with assignments, while others are recording and streaming lectures for students to view outside the classroom at their convenience, on a variety of mobile devices. A number of educators are even setting up labs where students can use sophisticated technology to conduct research.
For example, the college of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign two years ago unveiled its Illinois Digital Ecologies and Learning Laboratory (IDEALL) where students can set up technology–enhanced learning environments and then use technology to study the impact on learning. The lab features state-of-the-art equipment, including 360-degree audio- and video-recording systems, ceiling-mounted cameras, and 55-inch touch-screen tabletops. University researchers say the entire lab operates as a data-collection device to track learners’ interactions with technology. They use data analytics techniques to identify patterns and relationships among the learners’ movements, responses, discussions, and other actions to gain insight into their levels of engagement.
H. Chad Lane, an associate professor of educational psychology, says the high-tech lab is making a “huge difference” for student researchers, and is an energizing, popular, and much-sought-after resource.
Although students might be gravitating toward digital tools, many education technology experts say their use will not replace instructors. Digital learning, the experts say, makes educators better able to meet the students where they are technologically, better able to adapt lessons for varied learning styles, and better able to reach more students. Those benefits, the experts say, translate to stronger academic success, improved retention rates, and higher graduation rates.
“Students learn best when there is an available instructor because those personal interactions and relationships are a very essential part of the teaching and learning process,” says Barnes. “Technology is simply backing up the instructor because the instructor cannot be there at every moment for every student.”
Indeed, students can access digital coursework on their own schedule, anytime, anywhere, on their personal device of choice. Digital products also offer a flexibility and malleability that print books cannot. Electronic materials can be easily updated by publishers, and they can be integrated with other technologies to become even more adaptable. Interactive learning solutions typically present topics in small chunks, along with a video, audio, or other teaching aid. Students can highlight and take notes, and they test their knowledge before moving on to the next topic. The interactive capability helps students grasp the concepts, accounts for their different learning styles, allows them to work at their own pace, and pushes them to be more engaged in their studies—all while helping to reduce the cost of learning materials by as much as 70 percent.
The interactive capabilities also help the instructors by giving them a broader reach to connect with students, an opportunity to give feedback outside class, and the ability to adjust and optimize their instructional plans. Instructors can electronically observe what assignments have been completed, how long it takes students to do them, and how they score on the online quizzes. Educators can send notes to students, prompt them online, or modify a lecture, assignment, or coursework, if they see that students are not understanding a concept.
(This is the last part of our three-part series “Goldilocks and the Three Bears of Critical Thinking.” Read part one and part two).
Empty calories or nutritious porridge?
Most students acknowledge that easy classes tend to serve the empty calories of rote memorization and regurgitation; however, when given a choice, students often pick such an option over a more rigorous course that serves the nutritious porridge of critical thinking.
We see this behavior when students “shop” for the easiest professor. In all honesty, I can’t blame them. It’s only natural that students are pathologically hung-up on grades when parents, scholarship committees, and collegiate programs are GPA obsessed.
During my 15 years of teaching introductory microbiology and anatomy and physiology to allied health students and tomorrow’s nurses, I have heard the phrase, “I have to get an A” countless times. However, a high GPA is not necessarily linked to passable work-skill competencies or even average critical thinking skills.
This is partially why standardized tests have become important screening tools for admission into colleges and graduate programs. When students say they, “have to get an A,” perhaps we should reply that an A is useless if it’s not packed with vitamins. So, how do we make a healthy porridge that students will try and perhaps even enjoy?
A recipe for porridge
Students often avoid trying the critical thinking porridge because they are afraid to fail. It’s no wonder they fear failure—society’s message is pretty clear, “We don’t have time for you to learn from your mistakes.”
The good news is we can get students to try the porridge of critical thinking and position them for success if we add pedagogical ingredients that: (1) foster a growth mindset, (2) require that students are prepared to participate in class, and (3) include context-rich assessments that provide ample opportunities to practice in the Goldilocks zone of development.
Let’s delve a little deeper into each of these ingredients.
Intelligence mindset matters
Psychologists tell us that how we perceive intelligence may affect our academic experiences. Some people have a fixed intelligence mindset, which means they see intelligence as static. In contrast, others see intelligence as cultivable, and are said to have a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset often interpret a struggle with tough course material as proof of an inherent lack of ability.
They are therefore, more likely to give up when courses challenge them and they are prone to excusing themselves from the struggle with cop-out phrases such as, “I’m just not a math person,” (or fill in your choice of discipline).
As educators, we have an important role in shaping the intelligence mindset of our students. We should emphasize that just as students can strengthen their muscles through training and pushing their boundaries, so too can they strengthen their minds through practice.
Prepared to participate
My gym teachers never made dressing out optional. We were required to come prepared to participate, otherwise we were as good as absent. The same should hold true when it comes to academic classes. If we expect students to be prepared to participate, then we can’t make being prepared to participate optional—we must require it.
To do this I use Pearson’s MyLab and Mastering platforms, which integrate Socratic coaching and immediate wrong answer feedback so that my students are redirected before misconceptions take root; this also affords them a chance to ask about missed questions in class. I don’t delude myself into thinking that everyone will do the work, but certainly more do it than if I didn’t require it.
Requiring that students are prepared to participate through a warm-up exposure to the content facilitates more meaningful content exploration in class.
Plus, because the online platform gives me diagnostic information and specifically points out where students are confused, I can practice precision training with my students instead of making assumptions about what they do or don’t understand. That optimizes our class time and keeps boredom at bay.
The Goldilocks zone for development
The work we give students must be relevant to their careers which means it must put content in context. Case studies, word problems, and reflecting on loosely defined problems are good exercises, but only if they are in the “just right” zone for student development.
That means the work can’t be too easy, nor can it be frustratingly difficult. There’s a reason we don’t use James Joyce novels to teach 6-year-olds to read.
Goldilocks’s triumph over the bears in the forest of critical thinking doesn’t have to remain a fairy tale. We can help students navigate the forest of critical thinking by filling their prerequisite knowledge gaps, overtly teaching critical thinking, and providing context rich exercises in their zone of development.
To accomplish this, we can’t rely on teaching strategies that were designed to support the education goals of the Industrial Revolution. In this Information Age, where information is cheap and easy we must leverage technology to get students from where they are to where they need to be.
There is more than just a grade at stake. The innovators of tomorrow are in our classes, let’s not feed them to the bears.
Hear directly from Dr. Norman-McKay in her recent webinar Thinking Critically from Day ONE of Class on how to explore and apply case-based content to facilitate deeper thought and authentic learning opportunities.
(This is part two of our three-part series “Goldilocks and the Three Bears of Critical Thinking.” Read part one).
Bear-ier #2: The bear that lacks a map through the critical thinking forest
Map-less Goldilocks beat the odds when it came to escaping bears, but it’s unrealistic for us to expect that all students, or even most students, can safely navigate the forest of critical thinking without a map. However, we regularly have this expectation.
Most college faculty say they value critical thinking and most say they teach it. Indeed, I used to believe that I was overtly teaching critical thinking; but when students failed at it I realized that I had mistaken modeling critical thinking, assigning it, and expecting it for overtly teaching it.
The symptoms that I was not overtly teaching critical thinking were all there; students continuously got frustrated with higher level assignments, they complained when assigned case work, and they regularly said that they didn’t even know where to start on the critical thinking based assignments I gave them. My students were struggling to overcome bear-ier #2—the lack of a map toward critical thinking.
Time to be honest…
The truth is I wasn’t trained as a teacher—I was trained as a scientist. Many college faculty share this history with me; they too were hired for their specific discipline credentials versus their teaching credentials. Accrediting bodies evaluate institutions based in part on faculty credentials.
In general, the minimum qualification to teach college credit courses is a Master’s degree with 18 or more graduate credit hours in the discipline being taught. There’s no requirement that faculty have official training in teaching or even an iota of teaching experience. Consequently, many college faculty have very little if any training in teaching, never mind a specific course in how to teach critical thinking.
My point is that we’ve embraced a “you just do it” mindset when it comes to collegiate teaching, so it’s not entirely shocking that we’ve applied that very same mindset to critical thinking—”you just do it.”
Of course, this is garbage. You don’t “just do it” any more than you just fly a plane or you just play the piano. It takes training and it takes practice, just like learning the course content does. While we don’t expect students to learn how to read on their own without an overt curriculum, it seems we often expect self-teaching when it comes to critical thinking.
In light of this, it’s not surprising that so few students are competent at critical thinking, even after earning a college degree.
Critical thinking cartography
Unfortunately, when students fail at critical thinking faculty get frustrated and we may assume that “students just aren’t ready to think critically.” The thing is, students can think critically and they are ready to do it if we give them the tools. It’s up to us to help them overcome the barriers they face to developing their critical thinking prowess—we must give students a map to critical thinking.
This is why I developed the S.M.A.R.T. framework as map toward critical thinking. Because my courses are focused on training the healthcare team of tomorrow, I thought about how trained clinicians and scientists approach problems. I also followed the literature on the neurological aspects of how we learn and how we develop critical thinking skills.
Years of teaching and experimenting with thousands of my own students led me to distill the process into the five steps in S.M.A.R.T. These steps are easy to teach, model, and evaluate students on—and students can readily remember them. Because S.M.A.R.T. is a map for higher order problem solving, these five steps can be applied across disciplines.
Getting S.M.A.R.T. about critical thinking
The S.M.A.R.T. approach is a stepping stone style methodology that provides a cognitive scaffold for sifting through large amounts of information and applying it to solve higher order problems.
This is part one of a three-part series “Goldilocks and the Three Bears of Critical Thinking.”
Meet Goldilocks, she’s a college freshman. She doesn’t realize it, but she’s one of the few students who will avoid being eaten by bears lurking in the critical thinking forest of college. Most stakeholders agree that critical thinking is a key competency that higher education should shape in students.
How did we get here? I’d argue education is simply at a new crossroads borne out our society’s entrance into the Information Age. We’re in this mess because our education system was designed for a bygone era. Allow me to explain…
Compulsorily serving students since 1647
In biology, a favorite tenet is that “structure is related to function.” In applying this lens to compulsory public education at the K-12 level, we find that its function was to train students to read just well enough to navigate the Bible and follow directions. Compulsory education also reinforced punctuality and obedience.
Basically, it was designed to inculcate students not shape them into critical thinkers. So, it’s not surprising that most college students enter college unable to avoid bears in the collegiate critical thinking forest.
For a long time, information was hard to get. In fact, most collegiate faculty remember a time when they physically had to go to a library to get information. In today’s Information Age, information is cheap and easy to come by.
Google processes about 40,000 searches every second—that’s a lot more questions than we’ll ever be able to cover in class. People turn to the internet before they’ll go to a doctor and some even trust the internet more than their doctor.
There’s no doubt that the rapid evolution of how we access information necessitates a revolution in how we teach and assess students. Just knowing information isn’t enough; students must be able to think critically.
Goldilocks meets the three bears of critical thinking
It turns out that the forest of critical thinking is full of bears. As an author of a textbook with Pearson, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a lot of faculty all over the country. These conversations help inform text and classroom tool development to best help students and faculty overcome real pedagogical challenges.
In my conversations, it’s easy to pick up some recurring themes. In fact, the top three barriers (or bears, as I like to think of them) to helping students become adept at critical thinking are the following:
Bear-ier #1: Many students are underprepared.
Bear-ier #2: Students lack a map through the critical thinking forest.
Bear-ier #3: Students are scared of critical thinking exercises; they don’t like porridge.
Introducing bear-ier #1: Under preparedness
Our first bear-ier is under preparedness. We’ve all encountered underprepared students. That’s not surprising if we consider the Nation’s Report Card.gov reveals that high school seniors are grossly underprepared for college.
Reading wise, about 37% of high school seniors are ready for college, 27% are ready to take on college level writing courses, 25% are math ready, 22% are science ready, and a measly 12% are ready for History 101.
Big deal you say—not everyone is going to college; maybe just those who are college ready end up going to college. Well, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics, about 67% of high school graduates in 2016 enrolled in college.
That leaves us with a significant portion of college freshmen who are not college ready. Under-prepared students face an uphill battle to learn new content, never mind working toward thinking critically about that content. So, what’s to be done?
Using technology to conquer “bear-ier” #1, under preparedness
Ultimately, we tend to teach diverse students who have differing knowledge gaps. This is where we can leverage technology and text materials to help our students fill their gaps and lay their foundation so they can build on that foundation in class.
Educators and students don’t have to “go it alone” as they navigate the forest of critical thinking. Rigorous platforms like Pearson’s MyLab and Mastering apply advanced algorithms that can tell students what they know, what they don’t know, and what they don’t even know they don’t know. These invaluable tools quickly identify and remediate knowledge gaps.
Arguably, the technology is there for more than just identifying and filling knowledge gaps. In fact, if all we get to in class is remediation content, then there’s no way we’ll have time to get to critical thinking. I use technology with my students so that they come to class prepared to participate.
Here’s a little secret…students don’t need a graduate credentialed professor to teach them basic vocabulary and low level foundational material. Let the technology do that so your class time is spent pursuing higher-order applications.
Don’t miss part two of the series to explore “bear-ier” #2: The bear that lacks a map through the critical thinking forest.
Hear directly from Dr. Norman-McKay in her recent webinar Thinking Critically from Day ONE of Class on how to explore and apply case-based content to facilitate deeper thought and authentic learning opportunities.
In the spirit of always learning, we have an extensive lineup of free, professional development webinars that will leave you with actionable ideas and strategies to effectively implement digital learning tools that will increase student engagement and leave you with the freedom to do what you do best: teach.
Pick and choose from over 50 webinars that span across all disciplines featuring renowned authors and digital learning leaders, like you.
Unable to attend live? No problem – all webinars are recorded and available to you at your convenience.
Showcase your learning
Digital credentials allow you showcase the learning you’ve achieved. When you attend one of the webinars live and complete a brief assessment at the end, you will earn a Digital Learning badge via Acclaim to share with your networks.
Yvonne Vannatta, Product Marketing Manager at Pearson recently sat down with Susan Riedel, author and Marquette University professor to talk about the challenges instructors face when teaching Electric Circuits and the best practices Susan uses to tackle them.
Yvonne – What is the biggest challenge instructors face when teaching Circuits?
Susan – Mastering the many different circuit analysis techniques presented in Electric Circuits requires most students to solve a lot of problems. It is often hard to convince students that they cannot simply read through a worked example problem, or watch an instructor solve a problem at the board – they need to actively solve problems themselves in order to learn the circuit analysis techniques.
While I typically assign 10 – 12 problems each week for homework, the students would benefit from working at least twice that number of problems every week. So I have to find ways to get students to solve lots more problems than I assign for homework.
Yvonne – What strategies do you use to engage students in more problem solving?
Susan – I use a combination of Learning Catalytics questions, pre-lab questions, and old exams to present and ask students to solve more problems.
I use Learning Catalytics to pose questions to my students throughout my lectures. They get a small amount of extra credit for attempting to answer the questions, even when they answer incorrectly. I usually start the lecture with a Learning Catalytics question focused on the material we covered in the previous day’s lecture, as a way to review the material and remind them what we are working on.
Then throughout the lecture I pose Learning Catalytics questions that may ask them to complete a problem I started to solve for them on the board, find a way to verify that the problem’s solution is correct, or discover some interesting property of the circuit we are analyzing.
The students are solving additional problems, not just watching me solve them, and I am getting real-time feedback that tells me whether or not the topic I’m covering is being understood by the students.
About once every two weeks, I pick a lecture day and turn it into a group problem-solving challenge, again using Learning Catalytics. The students work together in small self-selected teams to solve several circuit problems.
I wander around the classroom, look over their shoulders, answer questions they ask, and encourage them. Even though I don’t present this as a competition, they like to compete and see how their team stacks up against the other teams in the class.
They are actively solving problems that are not assigned as homework, and I can observe what material they may be struggling with, so I can adjust my next lecture accordingly.
The Electric Circuits class I teach has an embedded lab. There are 11 labs during the 16 week semester. Each lab requires students to complete a pre-lab assignment that they turn in to me for grading two days before the lab. I return their graded pre-labs within 24 hours so they can correct any errors they made before building the circuits in the lab.
Every pre-lab has two parts – an analysis of one or more circuits, and MultiSim simulation of those same circuits to verify the analytical results. So again, they are solving additional circuit problems that are not assigned for homework, then simulating those same circuits and eventually building the circuits and acquiring and analyzing data.
Students take an in-class exam every 4 weeks. I make all of my old exams available to them so they can solve the exam problems as a way to study for the upcoming exam. I never provide my solutions, to encourage them to solve the problems themselves and not merely study problems and their solutions.
They can check their solutions during my office hours and during an evening Study Group I hold the night before the exam. Again, they are willingly solving lots of additional circuit problems that are not formally assigned in order to prepare to take the exam.
Using the combination of Learning Catalytics, pre-lab assignments, and old exams, I usually get close to my goal of having students solve 20 – 25 circuit problems every week, even though I formally assign about half that number as homework.
Yvonne – What is the biggest challenge students face when taking Circuits?
Susan– Many students struggle with the initial step in solving a circuit – where do I start? Consider that a simple circuit with a dc source and a few resistors must be described by six or eight independent equations derived from Ohm’s law and the Kirchhoff laws.
This often overwhelms a student seeing circuit analysis for the first time. Most of my students would be discouraged by the prospect of entering six or eight equations into their calculator correctly to solve for the circuit’s voltages and currents.
So when students finally discover a tool like the node-voltage method, they realize that six or eight equations are not necessary to describe simple circuits. But many students still need some guidance to use the general-purpose circuit analysis tools.
Yvonne – How do you prepare students to find that starting point?
Susan – To help students first learning to use the general-purpose circuit analysis tools like the node-voltage and mesh-current methods, I have always constructed a step-by-step procedure for them to follow.
The step-by-step procedure tells them what kinds of equations to write (KCL or KVL, for example), how many of these equations to write, where to write those equations in the circuit, and how to check their solutions to those equations by balancing the power in the circuit.
We have now formalized these step-by-step procedures in the 11th Edition of Electric Circuits, where they are called “Analysis Methods.” The Analysis Methods give students the confidence they need to solve circuit problems because they know how to start the problem and what procedure to follow to reach a solution.
Initially students rely heavily on the Analysis Methods but they eventually need to follow a step-by-step procedure less often, often preferring to take a more intuitive approach.
For most students, following an Analysis Method initially allows them to grasp the circuit analysis concepts faster than students who are not given a step-by-step procedure to follow. Students using Analysis Methods spend less time trying to decide how to solve a problem because they follow a set of steps. They finish their assignments faster and endure much less frustration along the way.
Yvonne – What advice would you give to instructors new to teaching Circuits?
Susan – There are so many resources available to instructors teaching Circuits, and a lot of thought and hard work have gone into the design and implementation of these resources. Instructors should take advantage of as many resources as time allows.
Learning Catalytics is a terrific resource for active learning in the classroom, supplying real-time feedback to instructors that enables them to identify material their students are struggling with.
Mastering Engineering has tutorials that guide students through important material using intelligent feedback to assist their learning, video solutions for many different problems, automated grading for assigned homework, and many other useful features.
Software simulators allow students to study a circuit with changing component values, plot circuit variables of interest, and use many different types of analysis including dc, transient, and ac steady-state. Many students benefit from the virtual laboratory experience that a simulator provides, even if an actual laboratory experience is not available to them.
The more resources an instructor can bring to bear on the Circuits material, the more likely it is that the instructor will align with the various learning styles of all students in the classroom, leading to the success of every student.