Category Archives: Teaching and learning strategy

Eight Tips for Writing Good Multiple-Choice Questions

multiplechoiceDo a quick Google search on “worst multiple choice questions” and you’ll come up with something like this:

Macbeth was probably written to honor:

(a) Macbeth; (b) Shakespeare; (c) James I; (d) God whose ancestors came from Scotland

With the half-way point of the semester behind us, and final exams around the corner, we thought we’d provide some tips for writing good multiple-choice questions. The eight tips below, drawn from the Teaching Professor’s Faculty Focus Blog, are based on Maryellen Weimer’s years of experience as a faculty member and from Kansas State University’s IDEA Paper No. 16: Improving Multiple-Choice Tests.

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The Tao of Teaching With Technology

Even in the best of times, using technology to teach your students can sometimes be a frustrating process. But with patience and an open mind, that TechYangprocess can also yield tremendous rewards for both the teacher as well as the student. The CTL’s resident Taoist, Bill Drummond, has compiled a few nuggets of wisdom to help you keep calm, find your center and ultimately, to peacefully co-exist with Instructional Technology.


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What Matters: Five Tips for Fostering Learning in the Classroom – Student Voices

treeKaren Spencer, Professor of Speech Communication and Education at Arizona Western College, recently asked her students to write a few summary comments at the end of one of her classes. She found several themes running through their comments, themes she distilled for the Teaching Professor Newsletter into five pieces of advice to foster student learning. None of these “Tips” are new; what makes them interesting is that they are student-generated. Continue reading

What Matters: Teaching the Skills that Make Students Employable


What are the skills that make students employable? Most would agree that a student who wants a career in journalism must be able to write, or a student who wants to pursue a degree in finance should know their way around a spread sheet. But is this all our students need to know in order to be employable? Certainly not. Employers are looking for employees with “hard knowledge skills (and) soft employability skills” (Massoud, 2012, pg. 4). Employers are looking for graduates who can communicate effectively both verbally and in writing and can think critically and analytically. Continue reading

How the Best Teachers Evaluate Their Students and Themselves, Matters

student balancing books
“Assessment and evaluation,” a phrase that too often connotes long hours spent grading exams and quick perusals of student evaluation of teaching reports. Ken Bain and his research colleagues found that outstanding teachers use assessment and evaluation data to understand how to help students develop the knowledge and skills identified in course outcomes. Such an approach requires that we ask important questions about assessment and evaluation. Continue reading

Mid-Course: Check Your Progress

Our Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) can be very helpful in providing feedback.  However, these surveys are only administered at the end of the semester, much too late to assist the current students.  Also specific feedback on assignments, organization or anything else often gets lost in the sands of time if the course is not one that you teach on a regular basis.  So what is a Prof to do?

Self-reflection is a powerful tool used to improve ourselves personally and professionally.

October brings with it pumpkins, a possible frost and Midterms.  While students begin to sweat under pressure of tests, midterms are also a good time to take stock of your own progress.  Creating a midterm evaluation for both you and your students is great way to make sure you are hitting your mark, plus it gives you enough time to tweak things if you need to.  We find that students are much more candid when writing informal evaluations; they also appreciate your willingness to make accommodations.

Here are some ideas for evaluating your own teaching:


Keep a log, checklist, or list of goals for each lesson and at the end of class note whether you have met those stated goals.  Self-monitoring requires self-judgment and the difficult part is to let go of your ego.  Biases and misinterpretations of students’ reaction by the instructors themselves could interfere with objectivity of the evaluation. Even with these hurdles, there is great value in documenting your goals and getting in the routine of reflecting on achieving them.

Audio and Visual Recording

The camera may add ten pounds, but it also captures exactly what you said and how.  It is much easier to monitor others and notice their fumbles and foibles but is much more difficult to monitor yourself, especially when you are devoting most of your attention to explaining content, helping students and keeping the class engaged.   It might be a good idea to schedule recordings at the beginning middle and end of the semester to check your progress.  The CTL can help you with this.  We now have lecture capture availability or we can do a standard video taping.

Questionnaires/ Surveys

You can create your own survey to hand out in class.  A few simple questions go a long way.  If you are web-enhanced, you can use ANGEL surveys and results can be sent anonymously. Another way is to use TurningPoint (our “Clicker” system) to take a quick poll.  Don’t worry, results can be saved on TurningPoint and viewed later after class

Peer Feedback

Invite your colleagues to view your video, or sit in on your lecture.  Or ask to sit in on another colleague’s lecture.  What kind of assignments do they give, how do they explain the same topic? Ask them what kind of course evaluation questions do they give their students?   Why reinvent the wheel?

How do you obtain informal feedback throughout the semester? Do you use any of the techniques above or do you use a different technique that works better for you?

Talkin’ Bout My Generation

Teaching in a Generational Diverse Classroom

Diversity.  It is considered a positive thing.  Diversity brings multiple views, cultural awareness, rich experiences  Often when describing diversity we tend to stick with the obvious racial,  ethnic and social taxonomies.  But what about age?  Having multiple generations in one classroom is another type of diversity, one that is not as thoroughly promoted or studied.  This “age” diversity is most prominent in the community college setting.   Personally,  it is one of my favorite aspects of teaching in this environment,  an experience which is hard to come by in traditional undergraduate programs at most colleges and universities.  This being said,  from an instructional perspective, generational differences translate into learning style differences as well.  While differences between generations brings a richness to class discussion and interaction, they can also be a challenge for the instructor.  We are just beginning to understand how the culture and process of learning has changed with the advent of the internet, social media, cell phones,  etc.  These technologies have not only changed our behavior, but revolutionized the way we learn, communicate and even how we perceive the world.

Here are some links to articles on various topics related to generational differences in the classroom

Seven Principles for Building Your First Day Handout

When building your First Day Handout, it’s appropriate to recall the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.  A good First Day Handout encourages contact between students and faculty, helps develop reciprocity and cooperation among students, encourages active learning, promises prompt feedback, emphasizes time on task, communicates high expectations, and respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

  • Contact between students and faculty.  Notice the word “between.”  This does not only mean the transmission of information from faculty to students, but communication back and forth across the great generational, technological, and often cultural divide.  In your First Day Handout, try to build in activities where you will listen to students.  Communication is a two-way street.  Make it clear and explicit from the beginning that you will be listening to your students, and that you will be expecting them (see High expectations below) to communicate with you.
  • Reciprocity and cooperation among students.  Just as you and your students need to communicate, your students need to communicate with each other.  Adult students have a lot to share with each other; they have had very different life experiences and can truly benefit from sharing these with their peers.  We all know one of the best ways to learn is to teach.  Purposefully architecting activities where students must cooperate and communicate with each other will not only help them learn the subject, it will also help them in their future professional lives.
  • Active learning.  Real learning is almost never passive.  Even reading a textbook can be an active learning task if done right.  Designing your learning activities with this in mind and communicating the goal that learning should be active to your students in the First Day Handout can pay handsome dividends over the course of a semester.  It’s important to note that “active learning” does not require physical activity.  The idea is that students engage with the material, that they perform higher order tasks involving analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  The instructor can set up the situations, communicate expectations, and help guide, but the onus is on the student to be actively involved.  Active learning is especially important if the students are to retain any new knowledge, skills, or attitudes they acquire, so it’s very much in the student’s own interest to be an active learner.
  • Prompt feedback.  Students today are often impatient.  Instant messaging, texting, and the omnipresent cell phone all conspire to convince them that instant gratification takes too long.  In this context, “prompt” does not mean instantaneous.  You can never be quick enough to satisfy all your students, so the tactic we suggest is to set and meet expectations with regard to the timeliness of your feedback.  Let them know from the onset, in your First Day Handout, how prompt you will be in giving them feedback on their assignments, papers, classroom participation, etc.  Set high expectations, as high as practicable, and meet or exceed those expectations.
  • Time on task.  As you set high expectations for yourself with regard to promptness in giving your students feedback, ask them to reciprocate by devoting sufficient time to study.  Time management skills are notoriously lacking among students today.  Help them to develop these skills by giving them clear and explicit guidance as to how much time they should expect to spend studying or participating in out of class activities per week, and if appropriate, per assignment.  Put this in your First Day Handout, and ask them to demonstrate their understanding by developing (and turning in for grading) a weekly schedule that indicates when they will devote time to your class outside of class time.
  • High expectations.  How high should you set your expectations?  What you’re your subject matter demand, and what knowledge, skills, and attitudes do your students already posses?  Will you limit some and overreach others?  These are difficult questions indeed, and each group of students will be different.  Acknowledge these differences (see Diverse talents and ways of thinking below) and move on from there.  In your First Day Handout, let your students know your expectations will be high; it will be their responsibility to do their best to meet these expectations.  Be as clear and explicit as possible when defining your expectations in your First Day Handout, but remember that each student is different.  Flexibility allows the sapling to survive a wind storm, but the tree that grows straight gets the most sunlight.
  • Diverse talents and ways of thinking.  As we said above, every group of students (and in fact every student) is different.  Using this strength in your First Day Handout can greatly improve your students’ learning.  Encourage your students to work with each other, using the diverse talents and ways of thinking that exist in the class.  Design and assign tasks and activities that promote the use of this diversity.  And finally, encourage students to move out of their comfort zones.  That’s one of the reasons their in college.  For instance, visual learners should experiment and practice with text, while textual learners should work to improve their visual learning skills.  This is an opportunity for students to shine in ways to which they are unaccustomed.  E Pluribus Unum!

The First Day Handout is an important tool for you to use in your teaching with Macomb.  It can help set the tone for the semester.  It can make your expectations clear and explicit so students will understand their responsibilities and the consequences of not fulfilling them and the rewards for doing so.  It can also help you get a lot of your administrative tasks out of the way so you can concentrate on what you really want to do – teach!

Attendance Counts

Attendance Counts

Taking attendance may seem a daunting task.

In high school it is mandatory for the instructor to take attendance for various reasons.  Students need to be accountable; funding is tied to student enrollment and is a major determiner of student success.  It is the same in college, according to Ty Abernathy a social scientist at Mississippi State University.  “Class attendance is a major predictor of college success”.  So why are college professors hesitant to keep track of their students?  1. It’s tedious.  2.  Students should take responsibility for their own success; we are theoretically dealing with adults.  “I don’t want to be a policeman,” said one professor, “or an accountant.”

The point is that we need to make our students accountable to help them grow.     We’re not policemen or accountants …we’re coaches.  Most are not going to understand the intrinsic value of learning and engagement so we need to give them a little nudge.  You don’t have to take a formal attendance by calling roll  or sending around a sign-in sheet.  Attendance may be as simple as acknowledging as student’s presence.  A simple, “Ms. Smith, we missed you yesterday,” sends the message that the instructor is attentive and cares if the individual is there or not.

Here are some other alternatives to the dreaded bane of “taking attendance” by Megan McIntosh

1.  Try making a seating chart at the beginning of the semester, explaining that it will help to learn your students’ names.  (People tend to sit in the same spot week after week anyway). After a few weeks instead of going down the roster, a quick empty seat check should do the trick.

2. End class with a closure activity that involves some level of response, which is submitted as students leave the class. You can ask students to respond to one of the learning experiences, reflect on their learning that day, ask a question for next class period, or any of a number of other possibilities.   Since they don’t know what the closure activity will be, there is no possibility of leaving before the end of class thinking that someone else can somehow register them as being there.  If you use Clickers or Turning Point you can use the data from their responses as a way to take attendance.

3.   Start class with a quiz or other in-class assignment.  Begin class with a quiz or other quick point-based assignment.  You didn’t have to take roll because you had their assignments (or don’t).   If a student was late, then it was the student’s responsibility to let you know somehow that he/she had been in attendance.

4. Have a quiz or other in-class assignment somewhere mid-class. In a 50-minute class, you need to be having some kind of “change-up” activity, so having students complete and turn in some assignment or quick quiz,  also serves a dual purpose as it is also a way of taking roll.

The Rite to Defend Myself: Responding to student emails

Bring up the topic of rude or inappropriate student emails to any professor and they will be engulfed by righteous indignation and manic glee as they begin to spout colorful examples.

Recently,  I received an interesting correspondence in which the student closed with- “I don’t want to sound disrespectful but I feel I have the rite to defend myself-“.

No signature- bad grammar- with an even worse argument.  My  first instinct was to shoot off some snarky response about how their very lack of proof-reading oozed disrespect.   I realized that I too,  wanted the right to defend myself.  Sigh.  On second thought, I chose not to respond,  taking the moral high ground.

Let’s face it, the classroom has become more informal and so has the tone of communication between professors and their students.  For the most part,  I would argue that it is a good thing.   I want my students to feel comfortable  in their abilities and opinions.  Similarly, I  like being able to communicate and help my students.  Especially to an adjunct instructor without an office much less office hours, email is a wonderful tool.  This being said, many of our students have grown up with email, text messaging, and are fluent in the elusive e-driven dialect of acronyms which make it difficult for us “old schoolers”  to translate. I’m not one for enforcing a portentous hierarchy BUT there should be a level of professionalism and respect.

Communication and formal writing is a skill that they will need in the “real world”.  I wouldn’t be so upset with some editing errors, but the mistakes students make in their electronic correspondences  are exactly the sort they make in their papers.  The one reinforces the other.

Don’t wear your linguistic bikini to class.

Explaining to your students how to tread that fine line between congenial and inappropriate can be tricky, so try this metaphor:  A bathing suit is perfectly acceptable at the beach, however it would be in appropriate to wear to class, even if it’s summer.  Similarly, the language or tone that you use “at the beach” is probably not appropriate for class…or an email.

So, as educators what are going to do instead  of complain?  Well you could just keep collecting those bad emails and put them into a humorous coffee table style book and use the profits to retire, so you never have to read them again.  OR you could TEACH them proper etiquette or  netiquette.

But wait!, you say, I have something about netiquette in my syllabus!  That’s nice….but you know they aren’t going to remember to look at that at 2:00 am and they are desperate because their printer “doesn’t work”.

 Here are some solutions from Emory University’s writing center.

  • Don’t go on a tirade about your pet peeves instead discuss with your  students some basic ground rules.  The collaborative effort will feel more like a consensus rather than arbitrary conventions.
  • Show them some anonymous examples  of good and bad emails.
  • Have them read a few out-loud and try to interpret the tone.
  • Show some common mistakes or even have them take a netiquette survey.  Ideally, this can be done during the first week of class, but it never hurts to gently remind them.

For some interesting and insightful tips and articles on the subject check-out the New York Times article, To Subject: It’s all about me.

and the blog post on  In  Socrates’ Wake:  Reading student emails.