The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence


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Please… Step Away from the Podium

McFalls 2012Marsha McFalls, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Director of Educational Technology, School of Pharmacy, Duquesne University

I recently read “Waking Up to Tired Teaching” by Maryellen Weimer (Faculty Focus, March 1, 2017). It was timely as I had recently celebrated 15 years of teaching at Duquesne University. As I reflect on those years, I am amazed at how my teaching has changed.

As a practicing pharmacist, I, like many other practitioners moving into higher education, was not trained to teach.  I had 3 weeks to prepare my first course, so I mirrored what my professors had done while I was a student. I prepared PowerPoint slides, note cards, and handouts. Each slide and handout was full of information. I stood behind the podium and tried not to “read” the slides to students. Students seemed to like my course. Teaching evaluations were always high. But as the years passed, I found myself faced with “tired teaching.” I wanted to engage students. I wanted them to getcartoon podium excited about their learning, interact with each other, and apply the material to something meaningful. I knew there had to be a better way.

In the Duquesne Master of Instructional Technology Program I learned about new teaching methods and innovative ways to interact with students. One thing I knew for sure—I had to get out from behind the podium. It no longer felt right to stand at the front of the room giving students facts and information while they fervently wrote every word that came out of my mouth. Real learning does not come until students do something with that information.

So I decided to incorporate two new methods of classroom experiences: flipped classroom and team-based learning.

Now, I record videos of slides with voice-over. Students don’t need to see me as they listen and view new content. Instead, they need me there for the more complex tasks of applying and creating with content. Following the flipped model, students are expected to view these videos prior to class. Then in the subsequent class, they engage in team-based learning to solve real-world problems. Of note, these classes have 140-160 students in large lecture halls with immovable stadium-style seating. Certainly not the ideal place for team learning, but it works!

2016_06_Flipped-classroom

Students take a quiz at the beginning of class using Nearpod, an interactive presentation and assessment tool. Through Nearpod I can create presentations using slides, video, audio, or websites, which the students view on their own devices. Viewing it on their own screen instead of the large projection screen makes it a more intimate experience. When I am among the students, it changes the entire dynamic of the classroom. I spend time with each group during the team-based learning sessions and participate in their discussions. I clarify concepts they might be struggling with and ask questions to stimulate further discussion.

During the times I am lecturing (or what I prefer to call presenting), I use Reflector software to “mirror” my iPad. I show slides and videos, annotate websites, and demonstrate various apps we use in the course.  All of this can be done without being tethered to the podium. I am excited again about teaching because I get to interact with students on a different level.

Every year I try something different.  It is important to continue to discover what you don’t know. I find inspiration by observing what K-12 teachers are doing. Yes, it is challenging to translate K-12 educational methods to higher education, but it can be done with slight modifications. If we continue with the “I speak, you write” way of thinking, I think we, as educators, will miss an exciting opportunity to engage with our students in a new way.


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Rhetoric, Combs and Rhizomes: Q & A with Dr. Derek Hook (Part II)

hook-headshotarvin-simonby Derek Hook, PhD, Associate Professor in Psychology at Duquesne University & Arvin Simon, MA, Doctoral Student in Psychology at Duquesne University

Derek’s work focuses on psychoanalysis with expertise in the area of critical psychology and psychosocial studies. Arvin is an Instructional Consultant for Teaching Assistants at the Center for Teaching Excellence.

In response to Arvin’s generous characterization of the ‘rhizomatic’ nature of my approach to graduate teaching and in relation to his two direct questions, I (Derek Hook) would like to offer a few brief thoughts. watch

  • I am worried that I won’t have enough time to cover all the material! Is facilitating a discussion an efficient use of my lecture time?

Perhaps not always, but we could reverse the question: surely NOT facilitating a discussion in class is often a bad use of teaching time. This is often the case when the material is overly theoretical, when it contains much that is paradoxical or counter-intuitive, or simply when students (and professors!) are not sure they properly understand the texts in question. Discussions, particularly when paired with the tactic of asking students to frame the inquiry, can be a good way of ensuring that students read in the first place. Through student participation, systematic errors or questionable assumptions can be revealed, then engaged and worked with.

It is a good idea to work with ‘questions from the floor’ and use them to direct students to crucial facets of the text. ‘Preparing to be spontaneous’ is a nice oxymoronic way of framing this approach to teaching: I come prepared (perhaps with some possible talking-points, crucial debates, points of uncertainty, critical challenges, etc.), but keep these in the background until needed, precisely as a way of drawing out crucial facets from what emerges in more general discussion. I also make sure that students have access to scaffolding materials covering the main material (i.e. handouts with summaries of key arguments; schematic, diagrammatic depictions of the material; accessible secondary readings, etc.), which they have in front of them when one decides to risk a slightly more open-ended discussion. This is also the learning environment where I believe teachers learn the most; they are ‘unscripted times’ when teacher and student alike approach a set of ideas from a different set of problems or conceptual concerns.

Constantly asking for examples from students puts them to work on thinking how their lives are – in a manner of speaking – also a topic of learning.

Sometimes the best and most effective practical everyday examples of the ideas in question come from class discussions. I am always on the lookout for fresh examples of key ideas, because they are often what students remember best about a given theoretical notion. Constantly asking for examples from students puts them to work on thinking how their lives are – in a manner of speaking – also a topic of learning. It also means that the learning continues beyond the parameters of the classroom, to the movie theatre, the realm of earlier personal memories, to the realms of fiction and popular culture. Soliciting examples is a great way of prompting discussion and also, importantly, of isolating instructive counter-examples (i.e. pointing to why certain apparent ‘examples’ DON’T work).disc

  • I am concerned that if I lead discussions on difficult topics then students might get offended or offend one another. What can I do to create a conversation that does not shut people down?

in teaching, the basic unit of information should not (at graduate level, anyways) be a fact, an isolated assertion, but rather a tension, a dynamic, a contradiction, a pair of terms, a debate

Perhaps the obvious point is to concede that discussions can be a risk in certain student groups – especially when lengthy and gratuitous tangents seem a strong possibility – and yet they bring the dimension of ‘liveness’ to the classroom, and with it, a sense of the unpredictable and spontaneous. A great deal of emphasis should be placed first though on facilitating trust in a given student group, and avoiding the snooty or judgmental intellectual atmosphere and enabling an atmosphere where everyone can – and should – contribute.

One suggestion here is that in teaching, the basic unit of information should not (at graduate level, anyways) be a fact, an isolated assertion, but rather a tension, a dynamic, a contradiction, a pair of terms, a debate. This may not always be possible, but, this idea can at least frame discussions, so that views and counter-views are taught together in a way that prioritizes the spirit of intellectual debate, of hearing out, of considering unintended consequences, of Devil’s Advocate kinds of arguments. This type of framing also sometimes adds momentum to developing discussions.

It is often a very good move to acknowledge areas of uncertainty, indicating from time to time that one does not completely understand something. It lets students know that they too should be allowed to ‘think out loud’, to extrapolate, guess, take a stab at what some or other evasive or difficult conceptual formulation might mean.  If one can communicate a collaborative ethos or approach to working through materials, this often helps a great deal also. Signaling that we are explorers – and indeed, a team of explorers – of a given theory goes someway to dissipating counter-productive rivalries within a group of learners.


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Rhetoric, Combs and Rhizomes: Q & A with Dr. Derek Hook (Part I)

hook-headshotarvin-simonby Derek Hook, PhD, Associate Professor in Psychology at Duquesne University & Arvin Simon, MA, Doctoral Student in Psychology at Duquesne University

Derek’s work focuses on psychoanalysis with expertise in the area of critical psychology and psychosocial studies. Arvin is an Instructional Consultant for Teaching Assistants at the Center for Teaching Excellence.

For the past four years, I (Arvin Simon) have taken coursework towards my doctorate in clinical psychology. I have also enjoyed wonderful courses on philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Martin Buber to name a few. Each of my instructors found creative ways of presenting course material to students who did not have a background in philosophy. Dr. Derek Hook was one such instructor who stood out to me in the way he was able to lead instructional, collaborative and engaging discussions.

With Derek’s permission, I have written a reflection on how I experienced his class discussions. Derek was then invited to read my manuscript and respond with his own comments. This intertextual exchange might serve to illustrate how relations of power and knowledge were negotiated both as an object of study in our class (on Michel Foucault) and as a pedagogical discourse that was enacted between instructor and students.

My mentor, Dr. Steve Hansen, shared with me three types of conversations that can occur in a classroom.

comb

A comb conversation

First, there are what he called rhetorical conversations. These are basically instances where the instructor is lecturing at students without giving them the opportunity to meaningfully critique the text or initiate discussions on a topic that interests them. The second type of conversation, comb conversations, frequently occur in classes where personal material is shared. Here, the instructor invites students to respond to the text but conversations are restricted between the instructor and an individual student. Because of mutual vulnerabilities (e.g. not wanting to seem ignorant; sharing personal opinions) the student and instructor may feel safer having a private conversation in the context of a classroom discussion. The third, and most difficult type of conversation to initiate, is a rhizomatic conversation. Eponymously named, the rhizome conversation does not stay fixed between an individual student and instructor. In fact, the conversation may extend in several different directions and involve multiple layers of interactions. These conversations are geared at getting students to engage with a) the material (instructional) b) the instructor (collaborative) and c) each other (engaging). Dr. Kathryn Strom has written extensively about applying the philosophical concept of the rhizome in the classroom.

rhizomeThere were a few things that Derek did very well to create rhizome conversations.

1) He clearly modelled a willingness to learn from both the text and his students. When discussing difficult passages of text, Derek wondered aloud about the ambiguities and contradictions in the text and even shared his own uncertainties as to the meanings. He invited us to collaboratively engage with him in making sense of dense material while also scaffolding our hermeneutics within social and historical contexts. This is consistent with rhizomatic conversations that aim to be transparent about the way that knowledge is formulated and the effects that it has within academia and the broader social-cultural context.

2) By incorporating written reflections with close, textual analysis Derek was able to invite students who would not ordinarily speak in class to share their thoughts. Derek seemed to always hear student opinions in a generous light and recognized that we might not be experts on the material but we had very worthy ideas that could be fruitfully related to the class. Rhizomatic conversations are horizontal (vs. hierarchical, vertical) in nature and invite collaborative and open-ended inquiry into complex subject matter where linear, authoritative knowledge is often subjective or incomplete.

3) Derek encouraged us to make the material our own by relating it to examples of our own clinical work or scholarship. Rhizomatic conversations are often interdisciplinary and recognize multiple intersecting lines (e.g. politics, economics, ecology) that each bring a different perspective to bear.

desks

Part I of this post concludes by inviting Derek to respond, in Part II, to two common concerns instructors might have in leading rhizomatic conversations:

  • I am worried that I won’t have enough time to cover all the material! Is facilitating a discussion an efficient use of my lecture time?
  • I am concerned that if I lead discussions on difficult topics then students might get offended or offend one another. What can I do to create a conversation that does not shut people down?


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Summer Classes: Opportunities for Teaching and Learning

by Steve Hansen, PhD. Associate Director for Faculty Development at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University

For Faculty and TAs

Use summer classes as an opportunity to try something new in your teaching repertoire.Summer classes are often intensive in nature.  This requires that you employ a purposeful sequencing of the course to increase students’ learning.  In a non-summer class, the sequencing of the course usually looks unfortunately like this: 

Class Time:       <Lecture> <Lecture> <Lecture> <Lecture> . . . <Exam>

Homework:       <Reading> <Reading> <Reading>      

Several problems arise when an instructor employs this approach during the summer.  First, the intensive nature of summer classes do not allow for lecturing in a relaxed pace because each class meeting is equal to about a week’s worth of lectures in a traditional course.  Lecturing for three hours or an extended period is pedagogically problematic because studies of students’ attentiveness during lectures show a flagging of interest within fifteen minutes.  A second problem with the lecture-reading sequence is that students in summer classes have less time between classes to read the equivalency of a week’s materials.  Finally, a third problem with this sequence is that it depends on summary assessment and lacks formative assessment.  When professors assess student learning in this manner, they miss the opportunity to influence student learning through giving constructive feedback that benefits the overall retention of the materials.

Your summer courses will benefit through employing a different sequencing that is more dynamic and builds active learning strategies into the lectures that allow you informally to assess students’ learning and adjust your teaching:

Class Time: <Mini-lecture + Active Learning + Mini Lecture + Group Activity> . . .

Homework: <Carefully Selected Readings Highlighting Key Information>

To make your summer course more dynamic, intersperse lectures with active learning techniques such as icebreakers, minute papers, think-pair-share sessions, group work, and discussions.  In addition, you should trim the readings to essential key texts.  Interspersing your lectures with active learning that focuses on key readings will allow you to monitor student comprehension of materials and give students feedback that is constructive, frequent and timely.  For a successful summer class, intersperse your lectures with active learning and focus on essential readings that you employ in class activities.

Hamster summer

For Students

Students take summer courses for a variety of reasons.  Some take summer courses to lighten the load of the regular school year; others take summer classes because they want a particular course they cannot fit into the regular term.  Whatever your reason for taking summer classes, there are some strategies that will help the summer go more smoothly.

Summer classes are usually intensive by nature.  You will cover a semester’s worth of materials in a shorter period.  Here are some types for surviving the intensive nature of summer classes:

* Plan your summer.  Be sure you find time for vacation, rest and personal well-being before or after your summer class.

* Prepare to give your summer courses all your energy. When classes are in progress, you will need to focus exclusively on course work because of the rapid pace of summer classes.

* Put forward a strategy to accomplish what the course requires.  Know the deadlines, assignments and readings that are scheduled.  To avoid becoming overwhelmed by the pace, make a calendar that keeps you ahead.

* Participate in every class.  When you participate, you learn more because you are actively engaging your brain which increases your memory.

* Plan to enjoy the experience.  Since summer classes meet so frequently for longer periods with smaller enrollments, you will find the opportunity for more interaction with instructors and fellow students.  You will find that the summer experience is more personal.


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The Finals Lap: Tips and Ideas for Final Exam Review

by Steven Hansen, Associate Director for Faculty Development at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University

Though it may seem to students that finals are eons away, professors and teaching assistants know that these last weeks fly by all too quickly. And so, as you prepare (or prepare to prepare) for that final lap, you may want to consider how you want to prepare your students and avoid those desperate emails at 5am on the day of the final. You know the ones. If you didn’t know better you could swear that the droplets of nervous sweat somehow traveled through cyberspace and into your inbox along with them. Reviewing for final exams is a valuable way to help students learn and reduces student anxiety related to finals (Weimer, 1998).

Here are some tips and ideas from CTE’s Teaching & Learning Tips Archive for those final reviews both in and out of the classroom.

Offer a Final’s Feast

A final’s feast is like the last supper for your class.  Have door prizes, snacks and review materials.  Marvin Druger (2006) calls his review session a Biofeast.  “Near the end of the General Biology 121 course, I organize the Biofeast.  This is designed as a celebration of the completion of the course.  A dining hall manager sets up a special meal, complete with hors d’oeuvres, tablecloths, and a huge cake, and students get a ticket for this event.  A review session for the last exam and door prizes are part of the festivities.  TAs also attend, and the Biofeast serves as a memorable climax to the first semester of the course.”

(not a realistic representation of a Final’s Feast)

Review an Old Exam

“I hold a review session before each major exam.  Basically, I review an old exam, and many questions on the actual exam are modifications of questions asked on old exams.  The rationale is that I know what I think is important for students to know, so why not tell them?  Students should not have to guess what’s important in the instructor’s mind.  For example, I want students to be able to analyze inheritance of ABO blood groups.  So, I tell them that a question on the exam will be similar to the following question: ‘If the mother is type A and the father is not AB, which of the following could not be the blood type of the child?’ The actual question on the exam will simply change the blood types in the question.  Also, former exams are available on reserve in the libraries, so that students can review content and get an idea of the style of the exams.” (Druger, 2006)

Set a Phone-in or Email Time

On the night before an exam, a professor (or a TA on duty) sets up block of time dedicated to taking calls or emails from students to help answer last-minute questions (Druger, 2006).

Give a Practice Exam

“Practice tests help students gauge what is expected of them. But practice tests are most effective when students take the tests, rather than read them as though they were study guides” (Davis, 2009).  If you let students spend half of the review time taking the practice exam, use the remaining review time to answer their questions.  Having taken the practice exam, students will have plenty of questions during the remaining time.

Interactive Review with Students as Experts

“Plan your test review sessions to be as interactive as possible. Instead of doing the usual ‘Q and A,’ organize the material in a more meaningful way. For example, you could send out an outline of major topics in advance and have students e-mail their questions to you ahead of time. Compile a list of the best questions and ask students to prepare answers prior to the session. Direct these questions to the students in the review before answering them yourself. You should have some ‘experts’ in the audience when it’s time to review. If students omitted some important questions, guide them to design questions for remaining topics. The practice in writing their own questions and answering them will be invaluable” (Joanne Holladay, “Your Role in Preparing Students for Finals,” University of Texas).

Resources:

Davis, Barbara Gross. (2009). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Wiley Publishers.

Druger, Marvin. (2006). “Experiential learning in a large introductory biology course.” In Joel Mintzes & William Leonard (Ed.), Handbook of college science teaching (pp. 37-44). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Kearney, Patricia , Plax, Timothy G. , Hays, Ellis R. andIvey, Marilyn J.(1991) “College teacher misbehaviors: What students don’t like about what teachers say and do.” Communication Quarterly 39: 4, 309-324.

Weimer, Maryellen. “Exam review sessions.” In Maryellen Weimer & Rose Neff (Ed.), Teaching college: Collected readings for new instructors (pp. 123-124). Madison: Atwood Publishing.