Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What About....Best Practices?

Most of us have heard the term “best practices” bandied about, but where does it come from? The business sector, particularly those who develop business models for major corporations, coined the phrase decades ago and since it has expanded to apply to all types of fields and disciplines.

In the field of education, “best practices” might refer to those behaviors or instructional patterns used by teachers to gain some measure of success with their students. But what exactly are those and more importantly, can they be defined as practices that apply to all groups, in all situations? No, they cannot.

As we all know, teaching can be a subjective and highly personal activity. Most of us prefer it that way and want to continue down our own little road of “success,” not bothering to share what works or more importantly, to talk about what is not working. Some might feel intimated and afraid that perhaps they do not measure up to others in talent and skill of lesson planning and delivery. Some might feel that their methods might be considered too Avant Garde or too antiquated. Whatever the reason, it is difficult for teachers to expose themselves through open discussions with their colleagues. However, there are a few things we can do quietly, without calling attention to ourselves.

The “best practice” that we can all do is to try and keep up with current trends and evaluate how they might fit with our individual style of teaching. The “best practice” we can all do is to self-evaluate as we teach and to never be fully content with our product. The “best practice” we can all do is to be willing to try new ways of doing things in our classroom and to know that it is okay to fail. After all, to practice something is to get better and better at it over time and isn’t that the “best practice” we should do for ourselves and for our students?

For more about best practices or to share your ideas with us, visit the CTE in TLC 324 or email Carole Kendy at kendyc@star.lcc.edu.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Change-Up your Sign-Ups with Google Sheets

How do you instruct your students or your colleagues to sign up for a project or a potluck?
There are many different online tools to collect data, like Volunteer Spot and Sign-up Genius.  The easiest I've found, though, is Google Sheets.

Google Sheets is set up like Excel, and you have free access to it with a Google account.  In the example below, I set up dates and times for class field trips, and asked instructors to fill in their destinations.  The sheet can be shared with and used by anybody, even if they don't have a Google account.

Google has tons of great FREE trainings on the Google for Education site.  LCC instructor Anita Mills completed Google's certification program and is available to discuss more about that process. Anita can be contacted by email at mills87@star.lcc.edu.

For help with Google Sheets or to share your ideas with us, visit the CTE in TLC 324 or email Meg Elias at clarkm1@star.lcc.edu

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Teaching Tip - Adding New Technologies

Adding new technologies may enhance how online and face-to-face courses are delivered, but they also add a “shadow curriculum.” Essentially, students have the cognitive demand of understanding the new technology as they learn the course content. Similarly, faculty must now provide student support and instruction for that technology along with the course content.

Bob Andersen, Director of Instructional Technology at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, says, “Sometimes learning how to blog or use Twitter, Voice Thread, or a webcam becomes challenging and starts to take time away from the learning objectives of the course.” In the Online Cl@ssroom, Andersen provides some strategies for minimizing the negative effects of this shadow curriculum while getting the full benefit of adding the educational technology.

Anderson notes four important tools in making new technology work for students:


Don’t assume that expertise in one technology easily transfers to another, so carefully consider your options. Focus on your pedagogical reasons for selecting a technology then become comfortable with using it yourself before introducing it to students.

Sequencing and Scaffolding

Don’t throw students into the most advanced technology right away. Start simple and move to more advanced skills throughout the term. If you have a large goal in mind (e.g., having students create a portfolio or ebook as a project), introduce the technology early, then build on those skills throughout the semester.


When you introduce students to the technology, clearly explain about why that technology is important to their learning goals, as well as their future careers. Andersen emphasizes that instructors “need to be intentional” and “not simply slip in” new technologies. Sell students on the value of the technology in their lives.


In a low-stakes setting, introduce students to how the technology actually works. Provide face-to-face and online orientation to the technological skills they will be using in the course. Have resources available for students to review at their own pace.

For more great ideas about online teaching and adding technology to the classroom, visit the CTE in TLC 324, have a cup of coffee, and read the most recent issue of the Online Cl@ssroom.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What About...RateMyProfessors?

So, what about RateMyProfessors? In case you have never heard of it, this website, the largest in the world, allows students to evaluate over 8,000 schools and 1 million instructors. According to the site, “… a rater must rate the course and/or professor on a 1-5 scale in the following categories: "easiness," "helpfulness," "clarity,” the rater's "interest" in the class prior to taking it, and the degree of "textbook use" in the course. The rater may also share what grade they received in the course, rate the professor on their "hotness," and include comments of up to 350 characters in length max.”

But, really, just how much weight should these evaluations be given? Instructors scratch their heads when they see a low rating on RateMyProfessors and yet, their IDEA feedback reports glowing responses from their students. How can this be?

Critics of the website point toward gender bias in the methodology the site uses to calculate an overall rating for each instructor. Benjamin Schmidt, a professor at Northeastern University, created a searchable database of roughly 14 million reviews from the site. Schmidt found that male professors are far more likely to be considered "smart" or "brilliant" by their students (Huntsberry).

Furthermore, in another study done by researchers at North Carolina State, students taking online courses, who had never met their teachers, gave significantly lower scores to professors with female names. “Students who thought they were being taught by women gave lower evaluation scores than students who thought they were being taught by men. It didn’t matter who was actually teaching them … the instructor students thought was male, received a 4.35 rating out of 5. The instructor students thought was female, received a 3.55 rating …” (MacNell and Shipman).

So where does this leave us? Well, know that students can leave multiple comments, making it appear that many students are saying the same thing about you. By logging onto different computers and using different email addresses, students who may have it “out for you” could be sabotaging your rating. Since most of the rating categories revolve around the ease of a course and how easy it is to get an A from the instructor, take heart if your ratings are a bit low. Challenging students is not a bad thing. What counts is your desire to work with students and deliver quality every time you step into the classroom!

For more information, see us in the CTE or email Carole Kendy at kendyc@star.lcc.edu.

Huntsberry, William. “How We Talk About Our Teachers.” NPR. 23 Feb 2015. Radio.

MacNell, Lillian and Matt Shipman. “Online Students Give Instructors Higher Marks If They Think Instructors Are Men.” NC State News. 9 Dec 2014.

Change-Up Your Lesson Introduction with "Today in History"

How do you start off your time in the classroom?  Those first few minutes can be problematic, with students shuffling papers, taking off coats, finding pens, starting up laptops, checking email and social media.  Some instructors get into the habit of repeating an opening phrase such as "Okay, I'm going to get started now,"  while others jump right into content leaving the slower students behind.

Another option is to ease into the lesson with a piece of relevant news or historical trivia.  Check out the website TODAY IN HISTORY for a daily rundown of political events, science milestones and famous birthdays.  Using August 22 as an example, I found that the Mona Lisa was stolen, Ray Bradbury was born, and Brazil entered World War II.  For lighthearted content, go to THE NATIONAL DAY CALENDAR to find that August 22 is National Tooth Fairy Day and National Pecan Torte Day!  Yes, really.

For more ideas on how to ease into lectures or to share your ideas with us, visit us in the CTE or email Meg Elias at clarkm1@star.lcc.edu.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Change-up your Communication Using Remind

Especially in online classes, I am always looking for ways to connect with students and open more lines of communication.  I currently make use of an online program called Remind (formerly Remind101) to give students a heads-up about deadlines and even to send encouragement during exam week.

Remind is a free online program or smart phone app that allows students to receive texts from you without revealing any personal information.  You set up an account and a "class," then invite students to join by sending a text to a specific number.  You can then send out messages or schedule them to be sent at a later date or time.

Student reaction has been positive, with about half of my students opting to sign up.  I send just one or two texts per week, and students can drop the service at any time.

For more information, visit us in the CTE or email Meg Elias at clarkm1@star.lcc.edu.

Sign up for a FREE Remind Account

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Teaching Tip - Richard Light on Writing

In Making the Most of College, Dr. Richard Light explains that writing has a higher impact on student engagement in a course than any other determining factor. “The results are stunning,” he says. The amount of writing students complete is more linked to their engagement in the course than time spent on the course, the intellectual challenge the course presents, the students’ level of interest, their impressions of the instructor, as well as whether or not the course is required. In short, if you want students to be engaged and learning, have them write more.

As a result of his interviews with students, Light offers these suggestions when it comes to including writing assignments in college courses:
  • Shorter papers are better than one longer paper. Light found that students who write four, five-page papers spend about 40 percent more time on their writing than students who were asked to submit one, 20-page paper.
  • Have students write for each other, not just the instructor. Students who read and respond to each other’s work noted that doing so empowered them to explore new ideas and try new techniques with their writing.
  • Focus writing assignments around a substantive course topic. Allow the students to explore content in-depth on their own, and provide feedback and support as they go through the process.
If you would like assistance developing writing assignments or activities for your class, contact the Center for Teaching Excellence at 483-1680.  Making the Most of College and many other titles are available for checkout from the CTE Library in Room 324 TLC.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

AUP Tip - Locking Your Computer

In the college’s Acceptable Use Policy, one item of “inappropriate conduct” is defined as: “Failing to log off any secure, controlled-access computer or other form of electronic data system to which you are assigned, if you leave such computer or system unattended.”

With IT making access to systems more seamless (fewer logins), this policy is prudent.  If a user wants to leave the computer temporarily and return shortly thereafter, locking the computer makes sense.  Windows Users can lock their computer using a single key combination, Windows_Key+L.  When the user logs back onto the computer, it returns to the exact state where they left it.  While locking is not available for an Apple OSX user, an equivalent state can be achieved if the user first sets their computer to require a password to unlock a sleeping computer or a screen saver and then uses the Control+Eject key combination.  This invokes sleep mode and effectively locks the computer similar to Windows.

For more information, visit us in the CTE or email John Thommen at thommej@lcc.edu.