Teaching Tips Spring 2017

Career Readiness and Classroom Practices – 02/09/17

Childrearing practices mold and strengthen future adults. But can classroom practices mold and strengthen future employees?

Since 1956 the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has been forecasting hiring trends in the job market including salaries, recruitment, and other benchmarks for the college educated. But an alarm began to sound a few years ago when major industries complained that recent college graduates were unprepared for the changing workplace. They had grade point averages, but lacked something that was harder to measure: career readiness. Their biggest concerns: graduates couldn’t think critically or work effectively with others. It seems that years of sitting passively in class was not teaching them how to succeed at work.

A research task force identified 8 competencies associated with career readiness, and developed an annual survey of national employers to assess and update the list. Which of these skill areas already play a major role in your classroom practices? And which, with some tweaks to your course activities, could be added. Shaping and strengthening our students to become effective in their professional lives is a challenge, but also a responsibility.

The 8 competencies are:

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: Use sound reasoning to analyze issues, make decisions, and overcome problems. Obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data.
  • Oral/Written Communications: Articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in written and oral forms. Public speaking skills; able to express ideas to others.
  • Teamwork/Collaboration: Build collaborative relationships with others representing diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, religions, lifestyles, and viewpoints. Work within a team structure; negotiate and manage conflict.
  • Digital Technology: Leverage digital technologies to solve problems, complete tasks, and accomplish goals. Adaptability to new and emerging technologies.
  • Leadership: Leverage the strengths of others to achieve common goals, and use interpersonal skills to coach and develop others. Use empathetic skills to guide and motivate.
  • Professionalism: Personal accountability and effective work habits. Understand the impact of non-verbal communication on professional work image. Acts responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind.
  • Career Management: Identify and articulate one’s skills, strengths, knowledge, and experiences relevant to the position, and identify areas necessary for professional growth.
  • Global/Intercultural Fluency: Demonstrates, openness, inclusiveness, sensitivity, and the ability to interact respectfully with all people.

Dorothy Law Nolte. “Children Learn What They Live,” http://www.cdatribe-nsn.gov/eclctribal/eclc/poem3.pdf

National Association of College Employers (NACE) Career Readiness and Competencies. https://www.naceweb.org/knowledge/career-readiness-competencies.aspx

Building New Learning Habits in the Classroom – 01/23/2017

What’s the best way to create change in your classroom? Add a new routine and stick to it. Research on habit formation tells us that even small changes like taking a daily walk at 2pm, or texting a friend every Tuesday can quickly become positive regular habits. The same is true for training students to expect and complete new learning routines in the classroom. Here are a few ideas:

Jose Vasquez (Econ) calls it triggering curiosity. The Made To Stick brothers call it gaining attention. Use the first 5 min of class to have students work alone or in pairs to make a prediction, write a test question, or take a quiz based on something they did before class. Training students to expect some kind of prime-the-pump activity at the start of each class period reinforces the importance of out-of-class work and creates a bridge to new topics of the day.

Build time into every class period for collaborative activities. Done regularly, authentic collaboration will build self-reliance, and train students to expect and appreciate teamwork as part of their working life. Have them research something, solve a problem, or compete with other groups in the room. Ask them to create something, debate a controversial topic, play different roles, or study a case in-depth. Meaningful group activities will energize the class and improve retention.

Students remember more when they are asked to reflect on their learning. Even a few minutes at the end of each class can affect long-term memory. Have them write down 2-3 ideas that they want to remember, and something they still want to know. Ask them to write a short paragraph about how today’s lesson affects them personally, or how it connects to their career goals. Building the habit of reflection will benefit students inside and outside of the classroom.

Adding new routines to your teaching takes some planning, but your students will quickly come to expect and look forward to them in class. For suggestions on this and other teaching strategies in the iFLEX classroom, send a note to: citl-learningspaces@illinois.edu.

Additional Resources:
SUCCESs Model from “Made to Stick.” http://heathbrothers.com/download/mts-made-to-stick-model.pdf

“Ten Habits Worth Starting in the Classroom.” http://ajjuliani.com/10-habits-worth-starting-classroom/.

What Faculty Think About iFLEX Classrooms – 11/21/2016

In the last post we looked at some of the experiences students are having in iFLEX classrooms. Today we look at faculty responses from the Spring 2016 end-of-semester survey about teaching in iFLEX classrooms. Well over half of faculty teaching one or more courses in an iFLEX classroom responded to the survey. Results were tallied in total and for each of the four iFLEX classrooms.

A few standout figures: overall, 88% of faculty respondents feel that iFLEX classrooms are better than traditional classrooms for teaching, and that there should be more of them on campus. That percentage falls somewhat on questions of whether iFLEX classrooms are believed to be better for learning, and whether one’s own course is more suited to iFLEX than to traditional classrooms.

Notable areas of dissatisfaction centered around three main areas: room design, room technology, and teaching pedagogy. Room shape, limited “front of room” presentation format, limited front of room writing surfaces, narrow ledges, and style of chairs, especially in some rooms, were most commonly noted design issues. Equipment malfunction, wireless projection systems, and general unreliability of room technologies were most cited tech issues.

It’s important to point out that three of the iFLEX classrooms are still quite new having come online officially last Spring, so there are bound to be some glitches. Changing classroom support is another factor to consider as everyone grapples with reduced services available. And there is an on-going exploration of classroom design features between the iFLEX rooms themselves due in part to department and campus-wide explorations of standard and non-standard features, and the significant cost differences between iFLEX and other general assignment classrooms.

Of particular interest were the variety of comments suggesting that faculty may be reckoning with how to balance their own teaching preferences with the particulars of the iFLEX classroom. In cases where someone is used to and comfortable with leading group activities in class, iFLEX classrooms seem to enhance their teaching experiences, with or without the use of technology. In other cases where traditional teaching methods are preferred, faculty (and students) seem to perceive a disconnect between the iFLEX classroom which is better suited to team-based activities, and traditional classrooms which may be better suited to lecture-based activities.

In that a majority of survey respondents were teaching in an iFLEX classroom for the first time, it’s important to consider the journey of discovery that any new teaching experience brings. Experienced faculty know that developing and revising a course is a slow process in any setting especially one with new technologies. We all need time and thought to discover what these new classrooms can offer us, and how to match this to our teaching content and delivery methods. And services are available to assist faculty in this process.

As these are “flexible” classrooms, we may be tempted to ask if it’s really necessary to change what and how we teach to fit the room? But the deeper question may be whether the iFLEX classroom really suits you, and whether you are making the most of what these new classrooms offer for collaborative teaching and learning experiences.

What Students Think About iFLEX Classrooms – 10/21/2016

Ever wonder what your students think about having their course in an iFLEX classroom? CITL has been refining end-of-semester surveys for students and faculty over the last two years, and we’re getting some useful feedback.

Close to 400 students responded to the Spring 2016 survey, and most of them had never been in an iFLEX classroom before. Nearly half of all students reported being Very Satisfied overall with their iFLEX classrooms, and that number increases to over 80% if we include students who were Somewhat Satisfied. Close to 70% feel that iFLEX classrooms are Slightly Better or Much Better, and that they would like to have more of their courses in classrooms like this. iFLEX classrooms are considered to be Much Better than traditional classrooms for working in groups and for using technology. When asked if iFLEX classrooms helped them learn better than traditional classrooms, 60% reported learning About the Same or Slightly More in the iFLEX classrooms.

Over 70% say that Lecture occurs Most of the Time or Every Class, and that having their backs to the Instructor while he or she is lecturing makes them uncomfortable. Several comments suggest that instructors are spending a lot of the class period delivering content from a stationary or front-of-the-room position:

It’s difficult for students not facing the front to pay attention and make eye contact with professor.”

“Due to the layout, it is difficult to see what the instructors are pointing to and to present material in front of the class.”

“The seating turned away from the instructor makes it difficult when they are talking to you.”

At the same time, roughly 80% report participating at least Sometimes in small group activities where they discuss ideas, complete worksheets, work on a group project, or present group work to the class. The design of the iFLEX classrooms seems to support this well:

Great for discussion-based class. Helped the class to be much more engaging and less lecture-based.”

“Really cool and different classroom, especially for classes with a lot of group work.”

“This is a great classroom for courses heavy in group work, but not lecturing.”

When technology is considered, students report lower levels of use and satisfaction. They say that instructors use minimal technology, and rarely take advantage of tools and technologies available in the rooms. There is a fairly low incidence of student work or group work being displayed on room monitors, or being shared in the rooms at all. Wireless presentation by faculty and students is very low, and there are several reports of technology failing unexpectedly. Comments suggest that students are frustrated by these things:

“Most students do not have any knowledge on how to use the technology in this room. Put instruction sheets nearby for students and teachers.”

“The technology felt superfluous. That much technology might seem nice in theory, but in the reality of classroom instruction it becomes burdensome. In fact, it tended to lend itself more to unhelpful assignments and what felt like an obligation to make use of the technology.”

“Only give this room to professors that are well-instructed on how to use this room and can use all of its capabilities.”

The student surveys are useful in gaining a better understanding about iFLEX classrooms, and suggest that everyone is gradually adjusting to the experience of teaching and learning in these new rooms. While there is still a high percentage of lecture-based teaching happening in iFLEX classrooms, students report being pleased with increased opportunities to engage in group work, especially group discussion activities. Many students offered thanks and positive expressions about the rooms, and wish that there were more of them on campus. Fortunately, most of the things students seem to complain about can be addressed through course design modifications to increase active and collaborative classroom activities, and increased training on ways to use technologies more effectively in teaching.

Next time we’ll look at results of the faculty survey.

Stuck in PUSH?  – 9/29/2016

The 2016 Reimagining the Classroom Symposium was last week. Futurist speaker, Rex Miller from mindSHIFT Consulting was the featured guest. Other speakers included Vice Provost, Abbas Benmamoun, Professor Mary Kalantzis, CITL Director, Michel Bellini, Associate Director Project Planning, Ted Christy and representatives from four architect firms currently involved in campus classroom renovations. The overarching takeaway was that today’s students need classrooms and teaching pedagogies that give them more control over their learning experiences, more collaboration and interaction with peers, and more authentic engagement with content.

Among the many useful ideas shared by Rex Miller was the distinction between PUSH and PULL thinking. PUSH is one-size-fits-most, we do my way, and “we’ve always done it this way” type of thinking. PULL draws upon people and resources for co-creation, and what-we-need-when-we-need-it (even if we don’t know what “it” is) type of thinking.

PUSH assumes that:

  • Only experts have answers
  • All results can be planned
  • We achieve results based on a proven path
  • The proven path is a guarded body of knowledge

PULL assumes that:

  • Solutions come from anywhere
  • Uncertainty requires coordination rather than planning
  • The shelf-life of information is short
  • Those who share and learn faster, win

What does this mean for teaching and classrooms? Consider the Marshmallow Activity. Two student teams were given marshmallows, spaghetti, tape, string, and a paper bag to build the tallest standing structure possible in 18 minutes.

The “experimenters” spent little time designing or debating. They started playing and building simultaneously. Their team lacked structure but had lots of cooperation and conversation. The “planners” applied detailed measures of physics, logic, and expertise. They argued about the right way to build. They argued about who was more right. In the end, the planner team tower was 10 inches tall while the experimenter team tower was 30 inches tall. Lesson learned: students need time in class to tinker, play, experiment, and even fail in order to understand new things.

Is your class stuck in PUSH? Classroom spaces are powerful tools that bring people, technology, and ideas together. Classrooms communicate ways of thinking, and define a culture of learning, whether we realize it or not. What is your classroom telling your students about learning?

Change Your Space, Change Your Culture by R. Miller, M. Casey, M. Konchar (2014). Booklet: http://media.haworth.com/asset/53957/ChangeYourSpaceBooklet.pdf

Strategies for Encouraging Student Attention in Class – 9/6/2016

Getting and keeping student attention in class requires teaching strategies that take into consideration both the brain and the body. Here are some proven strategies based on recent research for encouraging students to pay attention in your class.

Active learning methods increase and sustain attention: Student attention declines as soon as 30 seconds into a lecture, then continues waxing and waning as the lecture progresses. By contrast, student attention increases when they are directly involved in demonstrating, discussing, or solving authentic problems.

More choice fosters more engagement: Giving students a choice between activities, or some control over how they complete a task, encourages them to feel more ownership and become more attentive.

Movement is empowering: Fixed and unmovable seating contributes to decreased attention, whereas inviting students to get up and move purposefully around the room engages and empowers them. Faculty who move about the room are perceived as being more interesting teachers, and more concerned about students.

Connect students directly to content: Classrooms with enhanced mobility, increased writing surfaces, and multiple technologies allow students to continually shift their attention to connect with content in a variety of ways.

Here, there, and everywhere: Flexible use of the classroom is just part of the total experience. Consider offering online and outside of class learning opportunities that encourage informal collaboration and social learning.

Based on findings reported by Steelcase WorkSpace Futures (2016)

Second Week Questions – 8/26/16

The most convincing method I ever heard for getting students to buy-in to classroom collaboration was made by Gary Smith from the University of New Mexico. Every term Smith starts out his classes by asking students this question: “Thinking about what you want to get out of your college education, and this course, which of the following is most important to you:

  • Acquiring information and knowledge
  • Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations
  • Developing life-long learning skills”

When they think about it, all three goals are important to students, although they may debate over which one is most important. Then he asks them this: “Learning is not a spectator sport. It takes work both inside the classroom and outside of it, so of these three goals, which do you think you can make headway on outside of class by your own reading and studying, and which would be best achieved in class working with your classmates and me?”

Students quickly agree that acquiring information on their own is pretty easy, but the other two goals really need peer and instructor influence. Having led them to their own realization about the benefits of in-class participation and why you’re asking them do collaborative activities, this is a great time to also remind them of the advantages that the iFLEX classroom offers for group problem-solving and practical applications.

Students may not have much experience with active learning or expectations for classroom participation. However, once they acknowledge the linkage between their own goals and the learning activities you do in class, they have a new appreciation for why learner-centered instructors do what they do, and how these methods work to benefit students.

From First Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom by Gary Smith (University of New Mexico)

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