Monday, November 30, 2015

Inside the Teaching Professor - Learning Logs

by guest blogger Tim Deines

Regardless of discipline, faculty are increasingly interested in getting students to write. In a recent issue of The Teaching Professor, “Learning Logs” reminds us that teachers understand the intellectual value in ‘writing across the curriculum’. 

But even when educators support writing in their discipline, they might not know what to assign. What does writing look like, for example, in an intermediate calculus class? That’s where the practice of learning logs comes in. 

A learning log is one of any number of flexible writing assignments that enables students to approach their academic discipline from a ‘writerly’ point-of-view. Learning logs can change depending on what the learning objective of the assignment is. For example, perhaps a physics teacher thinks that if students explore their emotional responses to the latest chapter in quantum theory they will digest the ideas better. An appropriate learning log could then ask students to free-write about how they feel as they work through this particular part of the course content. This could be a low-stakes writing assignment with little or no grade attached to it. 

October's The Teaching Professor has many more examples of learning log activities that teachers can use in their classrooms.  Visit the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to check out a copy! 

Reference: “Learning Logs” (2015) The Teaching Professor, 29.8 (October), 6.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lilly Series - Pulling the Rug Out

By CTE staff member and biology instructor, Meg Elias.  The Lilly Series is a set of posts based on sessions held at the Lilly Conference for Evidence-Based Teaching, October 2015.
To teach independent thinking in the college classroom, it is important to give students opportunities to take risks without the penalty of “being wrong.” In my experience teaching science to non-majors, students often hesitate to voice their opinion on any subject, perhaps because they aren’t sure how they would defend themselves if challenged. Jeff Murray’s Pulling the Rug Out session at the Lilly Conference gave me an idea for a learning activity based on an ethical question which would allow students to reflect on and challenge their own beliefs in a safe environment.

In one of the varied activities during Murray’s workshop, we were given a list of 16 living things ranging from broccoli to dolphins. We were instructed to assign each item to a category.  Here are my answers:

Acceptable to kill for want
Acceptable to kill for need
Never acceptable to kill
Chicken        Cow
Turtle          Salmon
Butterfly      Rat
Mussel          Mosquito

I found it to be a very simple exercise, until Jeff asked us to define the rules we used to separate the organisms. Even though I am a biologist, it was hard for me to verbalize why I had listed a chicken as acceptable to kill for need, but not a dolphin (brain size, maybe). In comparing notes with my neighbors, I was surprised to find out that one of them disagreed with my decision that it was okay to kill a rose bush “for want.”  That conversation forced me to put into words the difference I see between harming a plant versus harming an animal (the presence of a nervous system).  How then, do I justify swatting a mosquito that might bite me?  Is that really a need?

The discomfort at having to defend an ambiguous opinion is part of the “pulling the rug out” that Murray wanted us to experience. I can foresee using a similar activity within a genetics unit, asking students the acceptability of various ethical scenarios involving genetic manipulation in plants and animals. Is it acceptable, for example, to give prospective parents the right to select embryos that are healthy and free from genetic diseases? Is that different from artificially selecting the gender of their offspring? 

We need to teach our students that there is value in digging deep and revisiting our perceptions of the world, even allowing them to change their minds in the process.  Activities that challenge us to remove subjectivity can expand scientific literacy and build a sense of ethical responsibility, objectives that should be considered as important as retention of content.

Read more of Jeff Murray’s work here:

If you'd like to learn more about the Lilly Conference, visit the CTE or contact Meg Elias at

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Inside the Teaching Professor - Collaborative Testing

by guest blogger Tim Deines

A recent article in The Teaching Professor suggests that collaborative learning can be an effective pedagogical strategy. Drawing on the work of Giuliodori, et al, the article, “Getting to the Right Answer in Collaborative Testing,” affirms that collaborative learning has always been at the heart of scientific advancement. “Why then,” ask researchers, “do we discourage collaboration by telling our students to ‘keep your eyes on your own paper’” (qtd. in “Getting to the Right Answer” 2)?

Still, faculty worry about how collaborative testing and learning affect student testing performance. What is the relative impact of well-performing and poorly-performing students on the collaborating group, for example? Faculty may ask, “Are the smart students making the decision for the rest of the group” (“Getting to the Right Answer” 2)?

Giuliodori’s research, which sampled the individual and group testing behavior of 65 vet students, found that having the right answer was more important than being a “high-performing” student. Students of all performance levels were usually able to convince fellow students through discussion that their answers were the correct ones.

This data challenges the assumption that we learn best on our own. Giuliodori’s findings suggest that there may be a need for a pedagogical paradigm shift in how we teach and test.

Stop by the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to read the entire article!

Reference: “Getting to the Right Answer in Collaborative Testing” (2015) The Teaching Professor, 29.8 (October), 2-5.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lilly Series - Empathetic Teaching to Meet Student Needs

By guest blogger and Early LCC Laboratory Instructor, Heidi Jordan.  The Lilly Series is a set of posts based on sessions held at the Lilly Conference for Evidence-Based Teaching, October 2015. 

Rowell used this picture as a visual representation of empathy.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of frustration with the learner when students are not understanding course content or keeping up with the course load. At the Lilly conference, I attended a keynote presentation by Katherine Rowell on The Importance of Teacher Empathy in Student Success. It was an appreciated reminder of how I can use empathy to better meet the needs of our traditional and non-traditional students, helping them to succeed at Lansing Community College. 

We often think of having to water down the curriculum in order to show empathy for our students, however there are ways to do so without expecting your students to do or learn less. Getting to know your students is the first step. What are their personal and academic goals? What are their fears? You can better prepare yourself to meet their needs when you know what those needs are. Building rapport with students can be an important part of helping them feel comfortable in a college classroom setting. You might inject appropriate humor into your lectures to do this, or you might consider adapting a more authentic approach and teaching style. 

Building positive relationships with students can take time but there are practical and simple things that can be done immediately to show empathy and understanding of your student’s needs. Your syllabus could be “warmed,” reviewing the language and adapting it with terms that are easily understood by your students. Emailing or calling students when they miss class can be a personal way to connect with them to let them know it was noticed. Some instructors might even consider encouraging activities outside of the classroom, i.e., peer lunches or study groups in the park. 

Reviewing your tardy and attendance policies, or offering a limited amount of test retakes might be another idea. Many colleges and universities are moving to policies that scaffold their expectations based on the course level and student population. Our work as educators is becoming increasingly complex as our students have increasingly varied needs. Using empathy with our students may be the key to their success. 

If you'd like to learn more about the Lilly Conference, visit the CTE or contact Heidi Jordan at

Monday, November 2, 2015

T5 - Tabbed Browsers

Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox all support “tabbed browsing.” Tabs allow users to open new websites without starting separate browser windows and jumping from site to site is accomplished by clicking the tabs. 

Tabbed browsing has one disadvantage; it is easy to inadvertently click the “x” icon on the right of each tab. Closing the tab unintentionally could result in lost work. 

Fortunately, a recently closed tab can be resurrected by pressing the Ctrl+Shift+T combination (hold down the control and shift keys and tap the “T” key). This tip works for all three browsers.

For more information, visit us in the CTE or email John Thommen at