5 Star Consortium Colleges

Monday, April 23, 2018

Exams – are they really learning opportunities?

submitted by Peg Balachowski, Associate Dean of Teaching & Learning at EvCC

“Some faculty members lament that exams can be missed opportunities to cultivate learning because worries about grades consume students' attention. What if there were a better way?”

In a recent post in the Teaching and Learning newsletter (courtesy of The Chronicle for Higher Education) the authors described a two-stage exam:

“Here’s how it works: Students take an exam individually... After they submit their answers, they split into groups of three to five students and go over the test together to hash out the answers.” Hmmm… you might be wondering if students who know this is the exam protocol would neglect to prepare for the exam. I wondered that too. The faculty who used this technique decided to test whether students had really learned anything from the group session and gave a surprise quiz just a few days later on the same material. Note that this was an INDIVIDUAL quiz. To their delight, “students who tested collaboratively learned the correct answers to more than one-third of the questions they had initially answered incorrectly on the tests they had taken individually. And, when students were tested three days later, the knowledge largely stuck.”

Is that enough of a boost in learning to convince you to try this technique? Let us know if you do and how your students did!

By the way, you can sign up to receive the Teaching and Learning Newsletter from the Chronicle by going to this site.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Avoiding Burnout

submitted by Peg Balachowski, Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning at Everett Community College

I know it’s only week 2 of the quarter at our college, but somehow Spring Quarter is when most faculty seem to get that “burned out” feeling. In the Pacific Northwest, the spring can be wet, dark, and kind of gloomy, perhaps contributing to that feeling. There are other contributing factors as well, including the increased workload that comes with campus initiatives, new projects that we’re adding to a class, the increased number of young students in our classes who may feel a certain entitlement and who, as I recently heard from an administrator, demand our immediate attention both in the classroom AND online. Nothing like being on-call 24 hours a day!woman head down on crumpled papers next to notebooks and pens

One of my favorite educational bloggers, David Gooblar (writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education), writes: “ a 2014 study of depression, stress, and anxiety among non-tenure-track faculty in the United States discovered something strange: Among the faculty surveyed — in both part-time and full-time positions — the more committed they were to their institutions, the more likely they were to experience high levels of workplace stress, and to experience depression, anxiety, and stress more generally.”

Not great news, especially as faculty at most colleges are always being asked to do more.  Are there ways to avoid burnout (or to deal with it if you are feeling it already)? Gooblar offers 4 tips:

  1. Take time off, if only for an evening.
  2. Remember that your job is a job — even if you love it. 
  3. Find ways to say no.
  4. Choose sleep over extra class-prep time. 

You may read these tips and think, “I’ve got grading! I have committee meetings! I have to prep for tomorrow’s class!” Yes, all that’s true, and we are not recommending that you abandon all those responsibilities in favor of extra sleep or taking EVERY evening off. Remember that your college has resources, and Gooblar reminds us, “don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ve got friends, family, and colleagues who can help. If you’re feeling stressed and emotionally exhausted, it’s for good reason — most likely you care about your job and believe in the importance of doing it well. But there’s no benefit to running yourself into the ground. Let people around you know when you’re feeling low, and offer words of understanding and support when you see colleagues struggling to balance it all. If you worry that you’re burning out, you can safely assume that others around you are, too. Share your burden and it will start to feel lighter.”

I encourage you to take several minutes to read the entire article in the Chronicle. Choose one of the 4 tips recommended by Gooblar and see how it works.  Be sure to close your eyes and breathe; move away from your desk (and that pile of papers to grade) for a few minutes; as the weather improves start taking a 10-minute walk across your campus at least once a day. And encourage your students to do the same. It’s likely they are feeling some burnout as well.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Saturday Series Spring Workshop

Sally Heilstedt, Dean of Instruction at Lake Washington Institute of Technology will be presenting a workshop on Saturday, April 28, 2018:

Ensuring Equitable Learning with the Transparency Framework

The Transparency Framework is a simple tweak you can make to your existing assignments that will increase clarity, as well as students’ sense of belonging, confidence, and persistence. All of that with one teaching tool!

Saturday, April 28, 2018
9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Lake Washington Institute of Technology -- West Bldg, W401

Coffee, tea and light snacks provided

Interested? RSVP online.

Monday, April 2, 2018

3rd Annual Mentoring Conference at EvCC

The 3rd Annual Mentoring Conference is scheduled for Friday, April 6, 2018. The theme is "Relationship Building."

It's not too late to register

The EvCC Mentoring Conference is a full day of speakers and workshops focused on sharing best practices, bright ideas and both individual and institutional experiences with mentoring. This is a rare opportunity to build networks and share ideas with colleagues involved in mentoring across our region.

For more information, email mentoring@everettcc.edu

Monday, March 12, 2018

I'm First! Supporting First-Generation Students

submitted by Elisabeth Fredrickson, Associate Dean for Instruction at EdCC

Recently, I listened to a Teach Better Podcast episode on Inclusive Teaching with A. T. Miller, director of Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives. The episode focused, in part, on the valuable perspectives that first-generation students bring to the classroom and on practical strategies we can use to help level the playing field for them.

Financial obstacles and lack of family support are common among first-generation college students. But these students share other characteristics as well.
First-generation students . . .
We can help by . . .
often have more life experiences than the prototypical college student. They have had to figure things out for themselves--and have gained some wisdom in the process.
treating their experiences as an asset. Give them an opportunity to write, speak, and build projects around their lived experiences. We can also help by framing their past experiences as an advantage. They have done hard things and learned new skills before, and they can do it again.
may not speak the insider language of the institution: program, dean, prerequisite, syllabus, objective, transfer.
interpreting the language for them and creating motivational syllabi that are welcoming and inclusive.
might feel alone, or suffer from “imposter syndrome.”
identifying first-generation faculty on campus and providing opportunities for students to network with those faculty. Cornell’s “I’m First!” campaign identifies faculty who were first-generation college students themselves, so that they can be positive examples and mentors to first-generation students.
might struggle in self-selected, unmonitored group work. When students pick their own groups or teams, academically-advanced students may partner up and rush ahead with the project, while less confident students, including those with limited English proficiency, may find themselves grouped together, with less collective knowledge between them than other groups have.
ensuring every group has a confident person who can provide leadership and direction, and by creating clear rotating roles to ensure that less-confident students don’t always get stuck in lower-level “task” roles, like being the notetaker or timekeeper.
may not feel comfortable asking their instructors for extensions, even in the case of family emergencies. In fact, they may not be comfortable asking for favors from authority figures at all.
“practicing paradox,” (clear deadlines, plus reasonable flexibility) and by reaching out to first-generation/non-traditional students who are falling behind and explicitly offering an alternative deadline schedule.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Helping Students Develop Mastery

submitted by Peg Balachowski, Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning at EvCC

Do you believe in coincidences? In the space of 1 week, the same idea appeared in three different places. The first place was on a whiteboard in a classroom that I was visiting. The second place was in a chapter of “How Learning Works” that we were reading for a faculty group meeting, and the third place was in an article from Faculty Focus, one of my favorite blogs.

How do we move students from not knowing what they don’t know to mastery? We know that an activity based classroom where students are practicing skills leads to mastery, but does that alone work? There is lots of disagreement on how much activity is necessary – in general most (certainly not all) people agree that an 80% - 20% activity/lecture model is best for moving students towards mastery. But we don’t just make mastery happen with classroom activities.

Let’s look at the visual in How Learning Works. What are some of the ideas in between the stages listed below?

One important suggestion from the authors of How Learning Works is to help students begin seeing patterns. The authors tell us “…because experts immediately recognize meaningful patterns and configurations based on their previous experiences, they are able to employ shortcuts and skip steps that novices cannot.” Something that I suggest that my math students use is to ask, “Where have I seen that before?” This will help students build their knowledge base AND potentially transfer their skills across disciplines.

An important warning that these authors have for us is to beware the “expert blind spot.” I myself have fallen prey to this, both inside the classroom and out! A great example the authors provide is how a chef might teach a novice to cook; yep, that was me trying to teach my son how to roll out pie dough! Test the consistency (what is that, mom?) Use a little ice water (how much, mom?) In a math class I often assumed knowledge that students didn’t have. “Add these 2 equations” (what’s an equation?) or “If a train leaves the station going…” (Why is this important/relevant to me??)

It’s tough to get to the middle of a term and find that students are struggling with the material in your class because they didn’t have the background knowledge or the necessary skills to build the current knowledge. One tip you might find useful is to use a short first day assessment to determine where students are in terms of the skills necessary for your class. This may help you determine where students are on the mastery scale.

Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Friday, February 23, 2018

Dealing with the Dip

submitted by Elisabeth Fredrickson, Associate Dean for Instruction at Edmonds Community College

When I was teaching, a colleague and I had a longstanding tradition of checking in with each other during the seventh week. This was our time to commiserate over what we called The Seventh Week Blues--that feeling of frustration that students just weren't getting it, coupled with the sudden impulse to redo everything for next quarter.

It helped to talk about it. The feeling would pass, and reason would prevail. I learned to make small adjustments quarter to quarter and save the major overhauls for summer.

I didn't realize what a common feeling this was among teachers until I read Bonni Stachowiak's blog post, The Dip. She compares the rhythm of the school term to Tuckman and Jensen's stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.

Then, she notes that teaching seems to involve a little extra storming (stress and frustration) just before the adjournment phase--both for students and for teachers. For some students, this is the point where the choices they have made throughout the quarter, or the setbacks they have experienced, have finally caught up with them, leaving them (and perhaps you) feeling discouraged.

If you don't experience The Dip (aka, The Seventh Week Blues) then lucky you! But if you do, it may help to know that it's normal.

If you want more than just reassurance, Stachowiak offers some concrete strategies for keeping your spirits up during The Dip. She provides tips on keeping an "encouragement folder," communicating proactively with students who are trying to renegotiate their grades, and injecting a little humor (used appropriately) to lighten the mood.