Knowing your students can help you be a more effective teacher

by Julie Dodd

An important part of developing an effective undergraduate course is knowing your students.

Why are students taking your course?
Is this a required course? Is the course a prerequisite for another course students want or need to take?

What academic background are students bringing into your course?
What courses have they had at the college level before taking your course? What courses did they have in high school? And we, as college teachers, need to be aware that every student — even if they have the same course on their high school or community college transcript — has not had the same learning experience.

 What are students’ aspirations?
Often by knowing what students are hoping to do professionally, we can help them connect what they’re doing in the course to their long-term goals. That’s a great way to get students more engaged in the course.

nyt_cover_wWhat academic confidence level and support network do the students have?
That’s an even more important question than 10 years ago because more students arrive at college as first generation college students. And more students who graduate from under-performing high schools are at college and may feel like they are less prepared than their classmates from higher-performing high schools.

Paul Tough’s New York Times Magazine cover story “Who Gets to Graduate?” does an excellent job of discussing why many promising and academically capable in-coming freshmen never make it to graduation.

The article both provides research insights into why these students don’t succeed and discusses the program that the University of Texas/Austin uses to identify such students and to help them be successful.

UT’s program to help students be successful is guided by Prof. David Laude, who had taught the introductory Chemistry course at UT and developed his own approach to help students who were struggling with the course.

  • No remedial classes, as that very designation makes students feel like they aren’t prepared.
  • Smaller classes. Instead of being in a chemistry lecture of 300, the students were in classes of 50. (But that’s still a pretty big class.)
  • Being assigned to advisers who helped monitor the students’ progress.
  • Having upper division students as peer tutors.
  • Having the same expectations, lectures, assignments and tests as the larger section of the course.

And it works. Those set-up-for-potential-failure students complete Chemistry 301 with the same grades as the other better-prepared students. And those students who before were dropping out of college go on to graduate

I encourage you to read the story.

Paul Tough does an excellent job of explaining a complicated story about why college students don’t succeed and how the way teaching is designed can make a difference.

David Laude is an inspiring example for those of us who teach. We can analyze why some of our students aren’t successful in course classes and then be pro-active in how we design our course to help them.

As Tough points out: “Though Laude is a chemist by training, he spends much of his time thinking like a psychologist, pondering what kind of messages or environmental cues might affect the decisions that the students in his programs make.”

That’s back to working to know your students and then using that knowledge to help you be a more effective teacher.





‘Rebooting the Academy’ profiles innovators in higher education

by Julie Dodd

Rebooting the AcademyWhat are some of the trends in higher education and how are those affecting teaching, learning and jobs in higher education?

We’re going to discuss those issues in Mass Communication Teaching on Monday, Sept. 8, when we talk about “Rebooting the Academy.”

This was The Chronicle of Higher Education’s first e-book. Published in 2012, “Rebooting the Academy: 12 Tech Innovators Who Are Transforming Campuses” is a collection of profiles of innovators in higher ed — very few of whom are faculty members.

I’ve found it interesting to revisit the book this fall, seeing how those innovations are playing out two years later. I’m interested in hearing what the class considers to be the most exciting or most concerning developments, as they plan for careers in higher education.

Planning is key step for effective teaching — advice to new teaching assistants

University of Florida's New Teaching Assistant Orientation

More than 400 University of Florida graduate students attended the New Teaching Assistant Orientation, held in Carleton Auditorium. Photo by Julie Dodd

by Julie Dodd

The more than 400 new teaching assistants at the University of Florida have been busy preparing for the start of school by attending the New Teaching Assistant Orientation. I enjoyed being part of the team of faculty members, administrators and teaching assistants who made presentations for the orientation.

My presentation was “A Positive Start to Your Teaching: Your Syllabus and the First Week of Class.” You can download the PDF handout of the slides (5MB) – dodd_2014_UF_TA_orientation_slides

[You can check the UF Teaching Resources tab at the top of the blog for a list of links to helpful teaching resources, including syllabus policies and the UF Undergraduate Catalog.}

I appreciated everyone participating in the short peer-to-peer discussions on topics related to teaching. Thanks to those of you who asked questions, which included:

  • What activities can you use to learn student names?
  • What are tips for international teaching assistants for whom English is not their first language?
  • What advice do you have for how to avoid discipline problems that can be caused by cellphones?

Preparing for the presentation is always helpful for me, as talking about planning for teaching success helps me in my own class planning.

Thanks to Drs. Paul Duncan, Winifred Cooke and Rhonda Moraca for coordinating such a helpful program. For more information on support for teaching assistants (including the “Teaching at the University of Florida” handbook), check the UF Teaching Center.

9 tips for improving your course syllabus — and the way you teach the course

by Julie Dodd

students editing in computer lab

Think about how you can get your students more actively engaged in class. Peer work can be a way of helping students better understand course content. Here students in a writing course I teach, provide feedback on a writing assignment.

Colleges and universities around the country will be starting a new academic year in the next few weeks. Students and their parents will be arriving on campus with carloads of boxes to move into residence halls. Campus maintenance crews are preparing the grounds, and construction teams are trying to finish campus remodeling and building projects.

And faculty, adjuncts and graduate students are planning their classes. Now’s the time to do some thinking that can improve the course — making it a better learning experience for your students and a better teaching experience for you.

1. Reflect on how the course contributes to the students’ big picture of learning

Salman Khan, in his One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, reminds us as educators that students become more engaged in learning when they see the value of the course beyond preparing for an exam or completing a graduation requirement. Especially if you are teaching an introductory course, help the students connect with the value of that subject area. Your approach to the course could help some students decide to take more courses — or even major — in the field. For the other students, they will have a better understanding of the concepts as they connect to life issues.

2. Align SLOs with course content – readings and assignments

Especially the first time you teach a course and especially for new faculty members, the tendency is to select a good textbook and then structure the course to match the textbook chapters. Start first with what the Student Learning Outcomes are for the course – which you may be determining but also may be determined by the overall curriculum structure. In Understanding by Design, Grant P. Wiggins and Jay McTighe explain the process for mapping out a course — starting first with the student outcomes and then designing appropriate activities and assignments.

Continue reading

3 tips for teaching large classes

by Ilyoung Ju
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

Ilyoung Ju

Ilyoung Ju

The number of large classes at universities has been increased due to the efficiency and the financial pressure of budget cuts from state legislatures. For this reason, it becomes important for instructors to have an ability to teach in a large class setting.

Teaching a large class can have several challenges:

  • Involving students in active learning.
  • Personalizing the class environment.
  • Working with diverse students’ needs and backgrounds.
  • Managing classroom disruptions.
  • Adapting one’s teaching style to the large lecture situation.

Here are some tips for being more successful in teaching a large class:
Continue reading

8 technology tools college teachers can use

by Jieun Chung
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

Jieun Chung

Jieun Chung

College teachers’ approach to teaching has changed due to the increase in technology tools available.

So, why do teachers use technology?

Technology can help demonstrate points and material in a more helpful way. Teachers can present their lectures in various ways. Also, technology encourages students to share their thoughts both during and outside class.

Students can access various contents by using technology, which promotes students’ opportunities to expand their knowledge, devote more focus to the course material, and experience increased motivation to actively learn.

Continue reading

Grading rubric provides clarity for instructors and students

by Greenberry “Tripp” Taylor
Master’s student, University of Florida

Greenberry "Tripp" Taylor

Tripp Taylor’s teaching assistantship is working with undergraduates in the Innovation News Center.

Having a checklist usually makes things simpler and more efficient. For example, if you go to the grocery store with a list, chances are you can make it in-and-out quickly because you know exactly what you’re looking for.

This is a good way to think of a rubric – a very advanced, evaluative checklist used by instructors. Just like a grocery list, instructors can take time and think about what objectives they want an assignment to have. Having set expectations can help eliminate subjectivity, and also shave some time off the grading process.

Continue reading