The Flourishing Academic

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


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Helping Students Reflect on Study Habits

In January 2017, CTE interviewed Pamela Spigelmyer, Faculty, School of Nursing about her use of exam wrappers to help students learn. thumbnail_pamela-spigelmyer_0003

What is an exam wrapper?

It’s a reflection by students on their exam performance. It stimulates them to think about the effort they put into studying for the exam, and the barriers to achieving their best score. I ask students to do the following:

  • tell how much time they studied and estimate the percentage of time they spent on various study methods
  • analyze the reason for the points they lost on the exam
  • state their study plans
  • suggest ways I can support them for the next exam. [see sample wrapper below]

Tell me how you have used exam wrappers.

I have used them on the midterm exam in three different courses. Students can use their reflection on the midterm to improve their learning in the second half of the semester.

In my freshmen class this fall it went really well. I was surprised at the list of things they said they were going to do to improve for the next exam. When I asked, “what can I do to help you,” there were only minor comments. This makes sense, because I was already administering frequent quizzes and giving them clicker questions in class. They were getting practice.

What have you learned in the process?

Some of the comments I got back really opened my eyes to what students thought was effective study. For example, some students created 50-60 page study guides by cutting and pasting from the book. They explained that this guide was all they used for studying and claimed that it should have been enough. But they didn’t do well, and I was able to provide that as evidence back to them.

I put student grades into two ranges and made a chart of the study methods students in each range said they used. Then I presented it saying, “if you want to achieve a higher grade, here’s an idea of what some of your classmates did.” chart-low-high-performance

Once I had a student who honestly reported on the exam wrapper that she had studied zero time. She had not looked at any material in preparing for the midterm exam. She apparently didn’t implement the study methods we talked about after the midterm, and performed poorly on the final exam. Then, at the end of the course, she challenged the grade. The exam wrapper served as evidence that she hadn’t put in the effort needed to achieve a better grade.

Do you have a way for students to refer back to their reflection? How do you administer the exam wrapper?

They always have the wrapper available on Blackboard. Right after the midterm exam closes, the exam wrapper assignment opens up. I tell them it is not graded, but it is required. Most students complete the 10-15 minute reflection within the 24-hour window.

Here’s the sequence: students take the online exam, receive the score immediately and then are asked to reflect on the exam and their studyingexam-wrapper-assignment-sp2017

I tell students that I use exam wrappers to identify areas where I can help them improve, and that they should use it for looking at their learning and areas for growth.

How have you used exam wrappers to help students?

Several students have mentioned stress anxiety. This gives me an opportunity to guide students to the Counseling and Wellness Center. In the past, they could have struggled without me knowing, but now I can pick that up at midterm.

Here’stwo-answers-multiple-choice another example. I can see from exam statistics where students get it down to two answers and can’t pick the right one; this is very typical for nursing exams. That tells me that I need to be more explicit in helping them choose between the two. There’s always something in one that makes it better than the other, and they’re just overlooking it. So we do practice questions that are specifically close in two answers.

Sometimes they say, “I just didn’t know the content,” which suggests that they didn’t prepare enough and I outline the way high achieving students study.

Before the exam, I also provide a study template. It just lists the course objectives and tells how many exam questions will be related to each objective. It shows the importance of sections. When there is a lot of material, it’s only fair for students to know how to prioritize their studying.

I like that way of tying it to the course learning objectives.

I also do frequent quizzing – which helps them gauge their learning. I don’t give them answers for items they miss, but just indicate the reading chapter it came from. That forces them to go back and find it.

Do you have any suggestions for your colleagues? Is anyone else doing it that you know of?

Several faculty colleagues have asked me for this assignment, and they have started to implement it. Others use a similar kind of method that they have created.

Do you tie this assignment in with a nursing competency?

I haven’t, but that would be a good idea. I never thought of that. It would fit under “professionalism and growth.”

Related posts: Helping Students Learn from Returned Tests   The Finals Lap: Tips and Ideas for Final Exam Review

SAMPLE EXAM WRAPPER

  1. Approximately how much time did you spend preparing for this exam?
  2. What percentage of your test-preparation time was spent in each of these activities?
Activity Percentage of Time
Reading textbook section(s) for the first time
Rereading textbook section(s)
Reviewing homework-quiz question/concepts
Reviewing in class practice questions
Solving case study questions from textbook
Reviewing your own notes
Reviewing additional materials/websites posted in class weekly folders
Other: (please specify)

3. Now that you have looked over your graded exam, estimate the percentage of points you lost due to each of the following (make sure the percentage add up to 100):

Reason for lost exam points Percentage
Did not know/remember the content on the exam
Did not understand the question
Did not read the question/item carefully
Missed key words in the question
Did not read all distractor /potential answers carefully
Had difficulty choosing between 2 answers
Read/inferred more into the question than what was stated
Careless mistake (selected the wrong response accidentally)
Changed the answer
Experienced test anxiety/ inability to focus
Other: (please specify)

4. Based on your responses to the questions above, name at least three things you plan to do differently in preparing for the next exam. For instance, will you just spend more time studying,  change a specific study habit or try a new one (if so, name it), solve more case studies, practice more questions, or something else?

5. What can I do to help support your learning and your preparation for the next exam?

 

 


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Using Academic Posters in the Classroom

by Steven A. Perry, PhD student in Systematic Theology at Duquesne University. His work focuses on theological anthropology and the intersection betwheadshot-2een theology and contemporary life.

Ask the typical college student today about their media intake and you will get a bevy of responses: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix…and the list goes on.

Technology has become ubiquitous in our society. A quick glance at the modern college classroom shows that instructors have a DVD player, a computer and/or a projector at their disposal.  However, these teaching tools only become useful if we use them wisely.  The question for the contemporary educator is this: how can we capitalize on our students’ media savvy to engage the content and skills of our course? While the pervasiveness of technology presents new challenges to the pedagogical task (ah hem…cell phones anyone?), I believe one way teachers can tap into their students’ digital aptitude is by assigning academic poster projects in the classroom.perry-poster

Images are powerful—and educators can capitalize on students’ creative impulses by inviting them to put their digital skills to work in the service of their grades.

Academic posters offer students the opportunity to apply their aesthetic sensibility and mental acuity to a specific research problem. By choosing thought-provoking course material and encouraging students to ask questions, educators can position the academic poster assignment to be a significant form of active learning. The advantage is that it forces students to present their ideas visually. Translating ideas from simple text into an interactive format requires a strong grasp of the research question and fosters critical thinking skills.

Interaction can take multiple forms: the presenter and people viewing the poster can engage the ideas together.  The poster can also open up interactive media capabilities, for example, through QR codes enabling viewers to view a related video on their own device.

Done well, the act of creating an academic poster necessitates that students ask deeper questions. As a bonus, students can submit their course work to research symposia or conferences.  Academic posters have become common in humanities conferences in recent years, influenced in part by the sciences.  These visual displays of learning can tap into students’ natural media instincts.

Assigning as part of a final research paper or project the requirement for students to visually present their findings in front of the class helps students develop real world skills for the workplace. Presenting and organizing information by communicating through images and text gives students the opportunity to take research and make it their own—putting their own unique stamp on issues presented in the class. Utilizing PowerPoint as a simple presentation format or even poster boards with text boxes and pictures cut out and pasted can help students avoid the pricey printing fees of producing one large poster.

Using academic posters in the classroom helps students learn to communicate visually in an image-dominant culture. If “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then it is vital for us teach our students when and how to use the right ones.

Student experience

by Emtinan Alqurashi, doctoral candidate, Instructional Technology and Leadership at Duquesne University.  Her research interests include onlineemtinan-alqurashi-headshot teaching and learning, students’ learning experience, and instructional technology.

As a student, I created an academic poster presentation in the Qualitative Research course (Education, Duquesne University). In order to prepare for the poster research presentation, students were asked to write and submit four draft sections for review and feedback.

  1. Title and brief description
  2. Introduction and literature review
  3. Entire draft
  4. Final proposal and poster presentation

My project, “An analysis of motivational beliefs, expectancies, and goals and their impact on learners’ satisfaction in online learning environments in higher education,” focused on students’ online learning experience with an emphasis on self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, goal setting and their relation to student satisfaction. I went on to present this poster at the 2015 International Education Conference in Orlando.  The course assignment had prepared me for this opportunity.  alqurashi-poster-title-abstract

The benefit of the poster session as a final assignment is that students are forced to think critically and get feedback to improve their ideas, research questions, methodology, analysis, and more. Preparing a visual presentation that summarizes written research is not a skill that students come with; I had to learn how to visually present my learning.  The peer interaction helps you see how far can you take your idea, that your idea may need a twist, maybe the problem is not clear, or there’s related research you didn’t know about. Also, by listening tocam05569 other presentations, you learn to improve your own research skills and knowledge.

The poster presentation helped me not only to develop a strong research proposal, but also gave me the chance to interact with peers, talk about my research, and receive constructive feedback.

Examples and tips on making academic posters:

  1. Duquesne University Undergraduate Research Symposium  http://www.duq.edu/research/student-research/undergraduate-research/urss
  2. NYU Library: How to Create a Research Poster: Poster Basics  http://guides.nyu.edu/posters
  1. YouTube Video: How to create a Poster in PowerPoint  https://youtu.be/1c9Kd_mUFDM

 


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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.


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Fizzle or Finale: The Final Day of Class

by Steve Hansen, Director of Faculty Development at Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence

Many courses end with a fizzle.  Frank Heppner (2007) aptly says, “In most classes, The Last Lecture was about as memorable as the rest of the class had been – that is, not very.”  The final class should bring the course to an appropriate conclusion or finale.

“For many. . , the last day of class comes and goes without ceremony, yet it provides an opportunity to bring the student-teacher experience to a close in a way that students appreciate and enjoy” (Lucas and Bernstein, 2008).

How can you make the final day into a finale?

Summarize the course content

“Ask students to create concept maps illustrating major aspects of course content and showing how they are interrelated” (Lucas and Bernstein, 2008).

Give a Memento

Mementos do not need to be expensive to be meaningful.  An instructor of Ecclesiastical Latin distributed postcard-size copies of da Vinci’s Last Supper to her students.  I still have the memento on a bookshelf in my home.

Pass the Torch

Invite your current students to pass on advice about the course by writing brief letters to students who will take the course in the future.  Instructors can use the letters to improve their teaching or excerpt the best advice into a section for future syllabi about “Succeeding in the Course: Advice from Former Students”

Make Emotional Connections

Christopher Uhl (2005) ends his large (400 students) Environmental Science course by inviting students to explore the emotions that they have encountered over the semester.  He organizes reflection around four ideas: acceptance, gratitude, integrity and hope.  In exploring acceptance, Uhl asks his students to be truthful about their performance during the semester and to think about how they will change their study habits for future classes.  “I invite my students to reflect on their disappointments.  Specifically, I ask: How did you let yourself down?  When did you hand in ‘BS’ instead of honest work?  In what ways did you fail to honor your own potential?”  Uhl then asks students to reflect on “what new action they might take in future courses to enhance their learning, given what they acknowledge as their shortfall in my class.”  Next, Uhl asks students to explore their feelings of gratitude.  He invites students to talk about what they might be thankful for because of the class.  After exploring acceptance and gratitude, Uhl invites his students to explore integrity.  He asks students to consider how taking the class will impact their future thinking, actions and behaviors.  Finally, Uhl concludes class by expressing his hopes for the students and asking them to share “their hopes for themselves and for each other.”

Encourage and Inspire

Frank Heppner (2007) describes Richard Eakin’s final lecture for a course in embryology: “Eakin’s Last Lecture was legendary, and students who had taken his course in previous years would come back to hear it again and be inspired.  The lecture was a reminiscence of a life in science and the joy and thrill of having the opportunity, as a young man, to work in laboratories where discoveries about the fundamental nature of life were being made.  He made a point of the fact that he had not been some sort of geeky super-genius as a youngster, but had instead been blessed with a strong sense of curiosity.  I can still recall being amazed by that – surely such a man must have been an exceptional student?  Why, that might mean that I might do such things some day.”

Celebrate Students’ Work

In writing-intensive courses, end the semester by celebrating the writing of your students.  Before the last day, assign students to select a piece of their work to read aloud in 2-3 minutes.  On the final day of class, each student reads the selection, and the class responds to each reading with applause. (http://teaching.berkeley.edu/newsletters0607/newsletter13.html)

Resources:

Heppner, F. (2007). Teaching the large class: a guidebook for instructors with multitudes. San Francisco: Joosey-Bass, 2007.

Lucas, S. and Bernstein, D. (2005). Teaching Psychology: a step by step guide. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Uhl, C. (2005). The last class. College Teaching 53(4): 165-166.

What do you do to end your course with a flourish? Leave a comment telling us what you do to make your last class of the semester something to remember. The Flourishing Academic and your colleagues would love to hear from you!