5 tips for structuring and grading group projects

Being able to work effectively in a team setting is an important skill in many jobs. So to help students develop the ability to work in a team, many college courses incorporate group projects. If you’ve used a group project in a course you’ve taught, you know that successful group work doesn’t just happen. Krystin Anderson offers advice on how to develop effective group projects.

by Krystin Anderson

Krystin Anderson

Krystin Anderson

So you want to use a group project for your students.

If you feel some apprehension about using group projects, you are not alone! Group projects can cause anxiety for teachers and students alike, both of whom are afraid that what is meant to be a positive, collaborative learning opportunity will become a nightmarish conflict of personalities and interests resulting in tears and failure.

(Click College Rant: I hate group projects for one student’s musings.)

However, group projects offer opportunities for students to complete something they could not on their own, not only because of the time constraints within a semester but because a single student may not have the all skills that a group of students could bring together.

Group projects also help students learn how to work in groups and to become interdependent—a skill most media professionals use frequently throughout their careers.

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Changing your course syllabus as you are teaching the course

by Julie Dodd

How much can I change the syllabus while the course is underway?

That’s a question that I’ve been asked when I lead workshops for teaching assistants and new faculty.

uf-syllabi-websiteEspecially when you are teaching a course for the first time, it’s difficult to know if you are creating the right course design.

  • Do the students have the academic background that you thought they would?
  • Have you allocated enough time for major assignments and projects?
  • Did you include enough time in class for you to present the key concepts and to provide time for students to engage in active learning activities?

You get weeks (or maybe just a few class sessions) into the course and realize that you would like to change the syllabus.

I’m a big advocate of syllabus assessment and redesign. However, I’d strongly recommend that during the term you are teaching the course, you should give careful consideration before making any significant changes to the course, such as eliminating a major assignment or test or adding an additional unit or project.

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Taking your undergraduate students to professional conferences

by Julie Dodd

Attending professional conferences can be a great opportunity not only for faculty and graduate students but for undergraduate students.

Rob Marino, associate professor at College of Central Florida (Ocala), has been taking undergraduates from the staff of the Patriot Press, CF’s newspaper that he advises, to professional conferences since 2004.

Rob Marino

Rob Marino, adviser of Patriot Press at College of Central Florida. In 2017, Rob was named College Media Association’s Distinguished Newspaper Adviser at a 2-year College or University.

He and his students attend the Florida College System Publications Association’s statewide convention each fall and attend two conferences annually hosted by the College Media Association and the Associated Collegiate Press. He and his staffs have attended conferences in Austin, Louisville, Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York City.

I asked Rob to share advice from his experience of attending more than 40 conferences with undergraduate students.

Julie Dodd: What are the benefits of taking your college students on professional conferences?

Rob Marino: Taking the students to state and national conferences allows my students to network with students at other colleges. They attend sessions at the conference and get to experience different cities. Some of the students have never flown before, so that’s part of the learning experience. Much of the learning is outside the hotel doors. They attend media tours and participate in the photo shootout contests, which lets them explore the city. The conferences provide so many educational opportunities for students from smaller towns and colleges.

By attending conferences with students, I can attend more conferences and have the opportunity to network with other media advisers.

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Teaching strategies: Responding to Hurricane Florence (and other disasters)

by Julie Dodd

As a professor at the University of Florida, I’ve experienced several major hurricanes  during the academic term and know how such disasters can impact students and course plans.

Hurricane Florence imageI’d like to offer a few suggestions for instructors who are now dealing with the impact of Hurricane Florence — or for instructors who have to deal with other kinds of disasters that affect your students and your classes.

Keep up to date with your university’s policies regarding the emergency.

Universities typically are prompt in sending announcements to faculty about developments in response to a disaster – when the university is closed, what resources are available, etc.

If you’re an adjunct faculty member or a teaching assistant, you may not be receiving those announcements. Be sure to check the university’s website and ask a faculty member to keep you up to date with developments.

Realize that a major disaster, like Hurricane Florence, will affect students in many different ways — from emotional to financial.

Students in the path of a hurricane may have had their apartments or residence halls flooded and lost all their belongs, including laptops, textbooks and class materials.

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Teaching advice: Syllabus design and strategies for starting the school year

A view from the back of Carlton Auditorium during the orientation for UF’s new teaching assistants.

by Julie Dodd

Julie Dodd at UF TA orientation

In small classrooms or large auditoriums, I like to include ways for students to be active participants in class. Photo by Ashleigh Kathryn

“A Positive Start to Your Teaching: Your Syllabus and the First Week of Classes.”

That was my topic for the the Orientation for Graduate Teaching Assistants at the University of Florida.

More than 400 new TAs spent the day at the orientation that was designed to help them be better prepared to take on their new teaching duties when classes start next week.

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Attending new teacher orientation — maximizing your experience

by Julie Dodd

UF TA Handbook 2018-2019

That auditorium looks like C130 in UF’s Chemistry Lab Building — one of the 17 auditoriums I’ve taught in as a UF faculty member.

Thousands of teaching assistants across the country are getting ready to start a new academic year. [More than 136,000 teaching assistants were employed in the most recent count by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.]

Many of those teaching assistants are new and will be attending orientation sessions as part of their preparation.

For more than a dozen years, I’ve been a presenter at the University of Florida’s orientation for new teaching assistants, sponsored by the Graduate School and the Teacher Center. I really enjoy helping the more than 400 new TAs each year be better prepared for success in their teaching.

Here are five suggestions for how to maximize your experience as you attend a new teacher orientation. 

#1 – Consider the questions you have about teaching in general and your teaching assignment.

You’ll be more engaged in the sessions if you consider those sessions as a way of answering questions you have about teaching. So before going to the orientation, make a list of questions you have…and then add to your list as other questions occur to you as you participate in the orientation.

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Effective transitions between classroom activities

by Julie Dodd

As instructors, we’re often so focused on the content of the lesson that we don’t think about the importance of structuring effective transitions between different segments of the class.

students editing in computer lab

Having students work in pairs or small groups promotes active learning. But it’s important to plan your transition between activities to make good use of class time.

A reader of my blog who is a math teacher noted that lack of smooth transitions can lead to losing class time or even losing students’ attention for the rest of the class.

That comment motivated me to share some tips about structuring transitions between classroom activities.

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