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.

How Are My Students These Days?

Thoughts at the End of 2022-23

The well-being of college students rightfully has been a widely discussed topic in higher education and among my colleagues for the last few years. For a few examples, see the Chronicle of Higher Education’s story, “A Stunning Level of Student Disconnection,” the National Education Association’s summary of the Healthy Minds survey, and American Psychological Association’s story “Student Mental Health is in Crisis.”

I found myself thinking a lot about this topic this past year. I worried about how students’ difficult educational experiences during the pandemic and increasing mental health struggles would manifest themselves in my courses. Now that the academic year is over, I’m reflecting.

Continue reading How Are My Students These Days?

My New Favorite Assignment

Because I worried that students might lose track of the order and relationship of different events, I needed to design a new kind of assignment for my course, Disability and Disease in U.S. History, one that focused on periodization.

In this course, there were days when we studied trends in all disabilities in chronological order, following the work of our synthetic text, Kim Nielsen’s A Disability History of the United States. We started reading about indigenous beliefs before the arrival of European explorers and then attitudes and practices during the early and later colonial eras. However, there were also days when it made more sense to focus on one topic or disability and follow that topic over the course of multiple centuries.

Continue reading My New Favorite Assignment

Focusing on Ideas

While planning a new course this summer, I remembered something from when I was director of Elon’s Honors Program some years ago. Our advisory committee had been pondering the requirements of the program, including how it would be determined whether students could continue in it and retain their scholarships.

We knew it shouldn’t just be a matter of taking the right courses and maintaining a minimum GPA. Instead, we wanted to know that the students were learning and growing.

Continue reading Focusing on Ideas

Messy and Fun Course Design

Designing a new course over the summer is fun.

I’m working on a course on the History of Disability and Disease in the U.S., and a great deal of the content is new to me. I enjoy searching for possible sources. I like reading them and I’m excited about what I’m learning.

I don’t think of myself as a creative person, but I like the creative aspects of designing a course – using my imagination about what happened in the past and what the experience could be like for students.

To be honest, I enjoy the preparing more than the actual teaching. I love teaching, but it’s very intense. There are many people to be aware of and interact with, things to manage (like technology), and so much to think about (content, time, instructions, clear communication, comprehension). I get ramped up, I feel a lot of anxiety, and the experience can be exhilarating, disappointing, and/or exhausting.

Continue reading Messy and Fun Course Design

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.

Continue reading Equity-Minded Assessment – The Challenges

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.

Continue reading Baseball and Teaching

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.

Continue reading Tips from My Students (on learning in Zoom)

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.

Continue reading I Survived Winter Term in Zoom

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.

Continue reading Stereotype Threat – What Instructors Can Do

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.).

Continue reading What is good teaching?