Monday, May 2, 2016

Inside the Teaching Professor - Negotiating Feedback

by Tim Deines

In discussions of evaluation and assessment of writing and other academic work, feedback is held up as a nearly unimpeachable good. Writing teachers, for example, often use marginal and end comments to heavily supplement, if not replace entirely, traditional grammar correction. As long as the feedback is more or less immediate, we often assume, it is preferable to a grading regime that strictly quantifies the final product.

And yet, the translation from feedback to grade can be a difficult one for both student and teacher. As teachers, we’re often not sure if students read and practice the suggestions we make. We might imagine that a valuable exchange of insight and information is happening – especially in online environments – where none actually is. 

From the student point of view, if the student reads feedback, there may be a lack of understanding about how the feedback relates to the grade. Rubrics are one way of confronting this potential disconnect, but that sometimes just introduces one more variable into a messy, vague calculation.

Part of the problem is that today we tend to want to quantify everything that happens in the academy. But everyone knows that writing, for example, is not easily reducible to impersonal, objective numbers. 

In the April edition of “The Teaching Professor,” Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar discusses all of these issues in a piece called “Making Feedback Matter.” Sachar offers three bits of information that may help writing teachers and others better manage the relationship between feedback and grades

Sachar’s first piece of advice is “separate the grade from the feedback.” The main reason to do this is to remove the stigma of the grade from the writer’s self-perception as a person capable of doing that work. “Many students hold negative perceptions of themselves as writers,” Sachar says. “Removing the threat of bad grades can build confidence and motivate students to complete the assignment” (1). Sachar has found that students respond more positively and productively to feedback when the grade is removed from the assessment criteria. For most of us, this approach cannot be applied to the course as a whole, but there may be wiggle-room inside a course to experiment. 

Sachar also recommends assigning grades “based on student effort and improvement.” The point here is to emphasize writing and thinking processes while placing less weight on the final product, as important as that may be. “I want them to think,” explains Sachar, “not just about the quality of the final product, but the journey to get there.” In this way, feedback is attached to process and product, as opposed to some ideal result students feel may never be attained. 

Finally, Sachar suggests requiring a quick follow-up assignment based on the feedback. This can take any number of forms, and should not be a major undertaking. When students are asked to put the feedback to work in their writing right away, it follows that they will take much more intrinsic interest in the feedback. 

Sachar does us the great service of taking feedback seriously. If we are to rely on such a method in the academy – in writing courses, certainly, but also across the curriculum – it would be a good idea to understand the limits of its effectiveness. 

The Teaching Professor includes summarized articles from various educational publications, as well as original articles from university and college instructors. If you are interested in viewing articles in this and/or other publications, contact Tim Deines at or stop by the CTE, TLC 324. 

Reference: Sachar, Cassandra O. “Making Feedback Matter.” The Teaching Professor 30.4 (2016): 1. Print.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Three Tips for Protecting Students' Privacy

by Meg Elias 

When I was taking college biology in 1989, my professor motivated us by posting our exam grades on the classroom door with first and last names attached. We would rush up to the list of 300 and look for our names, ranked from highest score at the top, to lowest at the bottom. It may have been an effective motivator for some students, but it’s not considered an acceptable practice in 2016. When discussing or distributing graded items in the classroom, instructors should be mindful of students’ privacy. These three tips can help you avoid divulging information about an individual’s grades: 

  1. Place written grades on the second page of an assignment or test. As you pass out graded homework or exams, other students should not be able to see an individual’s grade on the front of the document. Placing the grade on the second page allows the student to choose whether or not to show their score to their classmates. 
  2. Have a pen and paper handy to write down a grade when a student asks during class time. Sometimes a student will approach the teaching station and ask you to look up a grade on Desire2Learn. Instead of stating the score verbally, write it down and hand the paper to the student. You can also jot down your office hours so that the student can follow up after class. Never allow the student to look at the gradebook screen if other students’ grades are visible. 
  3. Rehearse a standard reply to student inquiries that might violate another student’s privacy. If a student makes a comparison between their grade and a peer’s grade, you can reply with, “I cannot discuss any other student’s grades with you, but I would be glad to discuss your score during my office hours.” 
Remember that students have the right to share as much or as little as they wish about their scores, whether they are at the top or the bottom of the class. 

If you have more suggestions or if you would like to discuss teaching tips, email Meg Elias (, or stop by the Center for Teaching Excellence, TLC 324.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Teaching Tip - Branching Scenarios in PowerPoint

by Meg Elias

I was asked recently about creating branching scenarios for online learning, where students make choices and are guided to different screens based on their answers. One fairly simple option is to build the scenario in PowerPoint, publish it in iSpring (available at the CTE), and then share it with students in D2L. The result is an interactive learning activity that can take the form of a role play or even a multiple choice quiz.

Process Outline
Step 1: Create a map of your scenario on paper. Planning is key, here, to save time later. Below is a sample plan for a simple branching presentation: 

Step 2: Create a PowerPoint containing the text from the scenario. In the example above, I would create: 
  • An introductory or title slide 
  • One slide with the scenario and the three answers 
  • One slide with the “Sorry” message 
  • One slide with the “That is correct” message 
  • One slide with the Perfect Policy Award 
Step 3: Add the “branching.” Right click on one of the “Answer” boxes and select Insert Hyperlink. Under the Link to panel, select Place in this Document, and select the slide that has the result that corresponds to that choice. For example, in the “Answer 1” box, create a link to the “Sorry” slide. 

Step 4: Save the presentation and publish it in iSpring as an HTML5 file, and upload it to D2L. Click the presentation below to see the finished product using the methods outlined above. 

CTE Staff are available to help with this process. Email Meg Elias at, or visit our technology room in TLC 324 for assistance.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Teaching Tip - Effective Use of Videos

by Leslie Johnson 

I recently participated in a Webinar led by Zac Woolfitt, a lecturer at Inholland University in The Netherlands, who has researched the effectiveness of using video in higher education. Based on his research, Woolfit made some recommendations that made a great deal of sense to me. 

First, he noted that videos should not be very long—10 minutes at the very most. Woolfitt believes that 3-5 or 5-7 minutes, depending on the topic, is optimal. Take much longer topics and break them up into smaller chunks that will keep students’ attention and allow them to easily digest the main point of each video. 

Woolfit especially promoted what he referred to as the “theory of constructive alignment.” Simply put, develop a clear student learning outcome for each video you make and connect some type of assessment to that video. He suggested that the main point of each video should become a question on an exam or quiz. 

However, he also suggested using other types of classroom assessment techniques to reinforce the content. For instance, instructors can have students teach the main point of an assigned video. In a hybrid or “flipped” classroom, break the students into pairs; assign each student a separate video and have them teach the main concept to their partner. In a purely online class, students can be assigned to summarize the video in a discussion forum. 

Woolfit advocated requiring students to ask a follow-up question about each video they watch. Whether it’s done as part of a discussion forum, through email, or during a face-to-face meeting, students can ask for clarification or more information and receive participation points. 

As far as production goes, Woolfit recommends trying to create most videos in just one take. Have a script prepared so that errors can be kept to a minimum. He also advises instructors to keep post-production editing to a minimum. Just like our face-to-face lectures, content (or how we present it) will probably need to be changed on an ongoing basis, so instructors don’t get a great deal of return on crafting perfect videos every time—and students certainly aren’t expecting videos every time. 

Finally, Woolfit recommends a variety of videos. Sometimes, you might want to do a simple screen capture; at others, you may want to record your PowerPoint slides with you speaking over them. For certain lessons, you may want to actually have yourself filmed presenting a lecture to a live audience. 

At LCC, instructors have several resources to help them produce class videos. Kaltura screen capture is available within Desire2Learn. You can create more complex and fully edit screen captures using iSpring and Camtasia, which are available in the CTE’s technology support room (TLC 324). Media Services also has a Podcasting suite, which allows for better quality sound and video capture. In the Teaching Technology Sandbox, faculty can have a lecture recorded as they deliver it to an actual class. 

Please feel free to stop by the CTE during open hours for assistance using Kaltura, iSpring, or Camtasia. If you are interested in using the Podcasting suite or the Teaching Technology Sandbox for Faculty, contact LCC’s Media Services.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Teaching Tip: A Guide to Critical Reading

By Guest Blogger, Tammy Root

Are you looking for ways to help your students get more out of assigned readings? Here are five easy reading strategies that can be used in a variety of disciplines. 

1. Turn and Teach: This strategy can be used in two different ways. A). Give students a topic and have them turn and talk about it; this is a great way to activate prior knowledge. B). Have students read an article, or chapter, and have them turn to each other and teach one another what they just learned. How simple is this strategy? 

2. Reading with a Question in Mind: Have students turn the title, and each subtitle, of a chapter into a question (using who, what, when, why, or how). The students will then read the text and answer their questions. This strategy allows students to become “detectives” while reading and stay focused! 

3. Sketching Through the Text: Not every student learns through reading and writing, some students are more visual. This strategy allows those visual students a chance to put words into their own language through pictures! Have students read a section of a chapter or article then have them draw what they just read. This strategy can be used in place of summaries. This is also a great way to review material when studying for a test. 

4. Quote Mingle: Take a copied version of a chapter or article and cut out different quotes. Have the students read the quotes and come up with a title for the chapter or article. After students read the text, see how close their title was to the actual title. This gives students a focus while reading. 

5. Text Coding: Text coding is a short-hand version of text annotating. Below is a link with examples of codes for students to use while taking notes as they read. I also encourage students to make up their own codes. 

If you would like to know more reading strategies I use in my classes, please email me at; I will send you an example! 

Daniels, Harvey, and Nancy Steineke. Texts and Lessons for Content-area Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2011. Print.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The World Classroom: Experience of Learning at LCC, Part 1

Last night I caught a vision of what experiential, hands-on education can look like. For three hours, in the Centre for Engage Inclusion, I met with Patty Ayers, Kamar Hamilton, Paul Hernandez, Anne Heutsche, and Kali Mujamdar, and we learned how effective student learning happens through a Service Learning paradigm and application. 

Service Learning is not new, but it remains a unique pedagogy that uses student community involvement and activity to achieve specific learning objectives in a given academic course. While it may appear similar to community service, Service Learning is not simply about helping people and communities in need, important as that may be. Rather, it’s about learning how to integrate and translate traditionally classroom-bound academic study into the broader social, political, and economic environment. 

Ayers, Heutsche, and Mujamdar have been teaching and talking about Service Learning for a while now. With the arrival of Paul Hernandez, LCC’s Chief Diversity Officer, new blood is reinvigorating old efforts. Hernandez has a history of working with at-risk K-12 populations, inspiring them to imagine themselves succeeding in college and university contexts, and teaching them practical skills that can turn higher-education aspirations into reality. 

As I write, Service Learning is gaining precious momentum at LCC and in the broader Lansing area. We are cultivating connections with Eastern, Grand Ledge, and Eaton Rapids High Schools, for example, by training our sociology and history students to work with at-risk students at those schools. Our students develop the skills they need in Service Learning workshops to communicate effectively with Eastern students about the possibilities of their academic careers beyond high school. The high school students, in turn, provide important information that the LCC students can use to further their research activities—ethnographies and local histories, e.g. 

When I expressed some reservations that perhaps my writing and literature courses were not quite right for Service Learning, interested though I was, Hernandez reassured me that “Service Learning is for everybody.” There is not an academic discipline imaginable that can’t be turned in the direction of Service Learning. Neither does such pedagogy need only deal with other educational institutions. When it comes to Service Learning, the world is our oyster, and the only limits lie in the imagination itself. 

In future blogs, we will continue to explore advantages of ‘experiential’, active education, and how it can be used to advance higher education here at LCC and beyond. 

If you would like to discuss Service Learning, contact Tim Deines at or stop by the CTE, TLC Room 324.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Teaching Tip - Mid-Semester Feedback

As part of the review of instruction here at Lansing Community College, all sections are given IDEA surveys during the last quarter of the semester. The objective of these student evaluations is to give us information to inform our teaching, but by the time we hear this feedback, the students who gave it are long gone. 

The IDEA surveys are required, but we also have the opportunity to ask our current students what they need while there is still time to implement changes. The mid-point of the semester is a good time to regroup and ask students what’s going well and what needs improvement. 

The Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown University has some suggested questions for soliciting input mid-semester: 
  • What aspects of the course have been especially helpful in terms of your learning?
  • What aspects of the course could be improved?
    • What changes could the instructor make to improve the learning environment?
    • What changes could you make to improve your own learning/studying in this course? 
These questions could be answered during a five minute break in lecture or in a D2L survey. After you look over the results, hold a short debrief addressing any student concerns. Concentrate on one or two changes you can make, and try to keep a positive atmosphere. If students have made suggestions that you cannot (or choose not to) implement, I suggest addressing this with the group. Give clear explanations without being defensive … remember that you did ask them for feedback. Students will appreciate being heard, and you may have the chance to close the circle. 

If you need help setting up a D2L survey or would like to discuss mid-semester feedback, contact Meg Elias at or stop by the CTE, TLC Room 324.