Occasional Posts

I’ll be blogging here periodically. The posts might be related to great instructional practices, specific dilemmas faced by me or my colleagues, useful resources, or interesting discussions in history, teaching, or higher education. I see this as an opportunity to think through some ideas and to do so while writing in a less formal way than I usually do.

Equity-Minded Assessment – The Challenges

Do you hate grading essays as much as I do?

I suspect I’m not alone. In her “Why I Hate Grading” post, Katherine Pickering Antonova describes all sorts of work she’d rather do besides grading, and she concludes, “I would rather lick the bottom of a New York subway car than grade papers.” Yuck. 

Of course, many of our students hate their work being assessed as much as we hate assessing it. 

Many students feel a great deal of performance anxiety – which can get in the way of doing their best work. Some put too much weight on the importance of their grade on a specific task, confusing the grade with their potential or even their self-worth. In addition, some of them don’t know whether they can trust their instructor’s grading process.

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Baseball and Teaching

As I was watching one of my favorite baseball players hang his head and make the long walk back to the dugout after striking out in front of 30,000 fans, I recalled how I feel after a disappointing class meeting.

I strike out when I assign tedious readings, give confusing directions for a class exercise, keep lecturing even though students’ eyes are glazing over, ask uninspiring discussion questions, or botch the answer to an unexpected student question. I do these things fairly frequently. It’s not a good feeling.

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Tips from My Students (on learning in Zoom)

Students were the main reason for my positive teaching experiences in Zoom in Winter Term. They were open, hard-working, and willing to be engaged. These first-year students prepared for each class meeting, wrote thoughtful reflections on our topics, and took steps to help create a supportive learning community.

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I Survived Winter Term in Zoom

I was teaching a short-term intensive course during our January Winter Term. It was scheduled to meet synchronously in Zoom five days a week for three hours a day for 3 ½ weeks. Yikes. Winter Term at Elon is a challenging format.

Beforehand, I was quite nervous about how to engage the 34 students in Zoom. In a pre-course survey, students sounded a bit wary or worried too, even after having had some previous experience with online synchronous classes in the fall.

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Stereotype Threat – What Instructors Can Do

What’s Stereotype Threat?

When students find themselves in an environment where they worry that they will be judged or treated negatively because of stereotypes about one or more facets of their identity, they become anxious and vigilant, combing their environment for how they are being viewed and trying to regulate their thoughts and emotional responses (like worry, self-doubt) to the threats.

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What is good teaching?

While preparing a workshop about ways to do observations of teaching, my co-facilitator and I were thinking about how to adapt the traditional ways at our institution (i.e., sit in on a face-to-face class) for the many varied online and hybrid ways faculty are teaching during these pandemic days.

That got us thinking about the various benefits and limitations of any one way of evaluating a faculty member’s teaching (e.g., student ratings forms, observations, materials like syllabi and assignments, actual student work, communication and interactions in a learning management system, etc.).

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Building a learning community during tough times

I was over-the-top excited when I received my first responses from students to my pre-course survey. After spending the summer reading, adapting, pondering contingencies, and attending course design institutes and digital learning days, I’m tired of being anxious about the semester and just want it to start.

I’m also ready to interact with real students rather than the imaginary ones I’ve been thinking and worrying about all summer.

Some of the students are eager for the semester to get started too. I sent out the survey much earlier than I usually would (11 days before the first day of class), and a couple of students filled it out right away! Responses have been trickling in since then; over 90% had completed it a couple days before class begins.

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Who We Teach

Musing 3 on Teaching about Race

Framework of the book

As I’ve been reflecting on teaching about race in the U.S., I returned to the framework I first encountered in a webinar taught by some great pioneers in multicultural education, Christine A. Stanley and Mathew Ouellett. (I adapted their framework in the image to the right.) For inclusive teaching, they advised we think carefully about who it is we are teaching.

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What we Teach about Race

Assuming we accept the idea that we need to teach more and/or better about race, before we start, we need to consider the fundamental question, WHAT do we want to teach?

I think sometimes busy faculty don’t take enough time considering this question. But as I wrote in chapter one of my book, choosing significant and meaningful goals is a crucial step in the process of designing an effective, well-integrated course in which students learn deeply and retain what they learn.

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Let’s Teach More, and/or Better, about Race

White police killed an unarmed Black man. Again. The murder of George Floyd – captured on video by 17-year-old Darnella Frazer for all the world to witness in its senseless and brazen cruelty – resulted in persistent protests around the nation. Again. By now everyone knows Floyd’s name, just as we learned the names Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. (Yet too rarely do we know the names of or facts about police brutality towards Black women, as pointed out in the powerful exposé Say Her Name by the African American Policy Forum.) In 1991, everyone knew the name of Rodney King, and in the mid and late 1960s we watched frequent clashes with police as they resulted in burning cities. 

Continue reading Let’s Teach More, and/or Better, about Race