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The Poison in One Line Comments/Feedback

As a student, how many of us have gotten back compositions or assignments with red underlines and just the marks, with minimal comments such as “Needs improvement” or “Could have done better” or “Great job”.

I am sure that many of us would have received such comments. And what do we normally do? Take a look at the marks and comments, purse our lips and file the paper. And the same routine will be repeated for the next assignment.

But wait! What is the purpose of the red underlines? What is the purpose of the grades? Why are we going through this routine?

Students need to ask themselves why they are getting what they are getting and most importantly, teachers would have to ask the same too- but slightly rephrased. What is the purpose of drawing the red underlines? What is the purpose of giving some grades? The answer is that “we want our students to learn.” Fair enough.

But  it is not enough to just say, “Needs improvement” or  “Could have done better” or “Great job”. We need to actually help the student realize what he/she needs to improve and how to improve. If we as teachers are not able to articulate what is needed to be improved in our students’ work, how can we expect our students to know it on their own?

It is imperative that we not only help our students identify what is wrong with their work , but that we also help them understand how they could improve their work. On the other hand, it is also essential to help our students understand what they had done well and why.

Next post, we will see some strategies to provide useful feedback.

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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Effective teaching, Providing Feedback

 

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Feedback and Evaluation: Are they the same?

Feedback is known to be important for learning. It is generally agreed that giving effective feedback is an essential teaching skill for all teachers. However, teachers  tend to evaluate than provide feedback. Here is a very informative video from You Tube which details how feedback compares with evaluation.

 
 

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Is Memorizing Bad ?

 I wanted to do this blog as my students often tell me that there is no need to memorize. I felt that I needed to put down my thoughts on this.  The trend in teaching and learning these days seems to advocate no memorization. However, I think we need to reconsider this.

I think that memorization is needed for a start — because it enables and aids the thinking the process. The basic units of learning such as facts relating to concepts need to be remembered. However, there needs to be understanding too. For instance we need to remember that chloroplast is needed to photosynthesize and that it is green in colour. This will lead to questions such as why is it green, which in turn will lead to more facts/information that may need to be remembered to understand how plants produce food from sunlight using chloroplast.

While memorization of facts with understanding will be helpful, memorization of texts will not be helpful. Once the words have vaporized from memory, so will the knowledge –this is superficial memorization. The test of memorization would be to see if we can explain the same fact in our own words. However, we need to ask ourselves several questions regarding the fact  and answer them to ensure understanding. In a way, memorization with understanding is like knowing many facts and knowing the interconnectedness between the facts.

I think the trouble is when we have arguments that what is needed is understanding, there is so much facts available on the internet and in the books that we do not remember– all we need to do is just know how to access.

While this perspective seems logical, here is what we are missing.

Yes, facts and information are available everywhere- we have an overload of information. However accessibility of information does not mean automatic knowledge of the information. There is a need to search for the information, identify the information, verify if the information is true etc.

However, if these steps had been done earlier and the information has been stored in our CPU (our brain) instead of the computer’s CPU, the accessibility is likely to be faster. If we need to search for the information each time, we are not using our system efficiently.

I think it is not just about the speed- but that the network for accessing information is also strengthened when we use our memory-patterns become ingrained into our system this is likely to help us in putting together the relevant information/ideas/concepts together. If the patterns are sound and generally applicable, it will help us become efficient at making sound judgments. However, we must remember that we cannot have 100% generaizability and errors in making judgments should not be blamed on memory alone.

Overall, I think we still need to encourage learners to know the basic facts and information.But we need them to know the interconnectedness between the facts too. I think this is where mindmapping helps.

Another point is interest/liking.  If we like a certain subject, knowing the facts becomes automatic. Say that we like a certain piece of music, there is no problem remembering the music piece. Next we may even find out all about the musician and remember facts about them. And then we may explore why the musician makes a certain type of music- the layer and layer of information gives a certain understanding.

Here is the final thoughts on this

If memorization is considered to be not needed,

If memorization is not bad or detrimental,

If memorization could be good

If memorization with understanding would be even better,

Why not try to find out more on how to do this?

Here is another article on a related theme.

http://www.teachingprofessor.com/articles/learning/memorization-it-isn%E2%80%99t-all-bad

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Just about anything else

 

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Questioning Skills to Engage Students

Here is something on Questioning Skills.

It was published in Faulty Focus

http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/questioning-skills-to-engage-students/

Questioning skills are essential to good teaching. Teachers often use questions to ensure that students are attentive and engaged, and to assess students’ understanding. What is important to note is that in addition to the intent of the question, the question itself matters. For instance, to ensure that students are attentive, a teacher could ask the students “Are you listening?” To assess if the students have understood, the teacher could ask “Do you follow me?”

However, students may say “Yes, I am listening” or “Yes, I have understood” simply to avoid embarrassment. Compare these simple questions with those that ask students to summarize what was discussed or ask the students for their opinions on what was said. The difference is that although the intent of the questions remains the same as before, the indirect, open-ended questions allow for divergent thinking. Such questions enable the teacher to more accurately evaluate if the students truly were attentive and if they have understood the material. In addition, open-ended questions motivate students to share their ideas, thereby allowing active, collaborative learning to take place. This illustrates the need to be able to ask the right sort of questions to engage students.

Questions that tap higher level thinking
One of the commonly used questioning techniques is to employ the 5W and 1H questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. While this questioning technique is useful to some extent, most of the 5W questions tend to be close ended and elicit factual responses. Although factual responses are necessary, as good teachers we need to promote higher level thinking skills as well. One way to address this would be to use Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking skills as a guideline to ask questions. The following table gives some examples. For instance, to test if a student is able to evaluate what has been learned, the teacher could ask the student to critique a hypothetical problematic situation.

Skill Sample Prompts Purpose Level
Creating design, construct, plan, produce combine elements into a new pattern or product Higher
Evaluating check, critique, judge, hypothesize, conclude, explain judge or decide according to a set of criteria Higher
Analyzing compare, organize, cite differences, deconstruct break down or examine information Higher
Applying implement, carry out, use, apply, show, solve apply knowledge to new situations Lower
Understanding describe, explain, estimate, predict understand and interpret meaning Lower
Remembering recognize, list, describe, identify, retrieve, name memorize and recall facts Lower

 

One of the goals of teaching is not only to evaluate learning outcomes but also to guide students on their learning process. Hence it is important that as teachers we question students’ thinking and learning process. To this end, we could ask students to explain how they arrived at their conclusion answer and in doing so, what sort of resources they had used and whether the resources had provided sufficient evidence etc.

Going one step further it would be really engaging and motivating for the students (as well as the teacher) to have the whole class participate in a discussion, which would allow cross fertilization of ideas. This is in contrast to having a one-to-one, teacher to student question-answer session in the class. To initiate a class discussion, a good starting point would be to pose a question or make a statement that would elicit divergent responses, which could then be used to build further lines of discussions. In this case, planning the type of questions ahead of class would help to ensure that discussion is managed well within the allotted time.

To plan the questions, it is not just the type of questions that is important, but also the timing, sequence and clarity of questions. Answering takes time to think and it is therefore necessary to give students sufficient waiting time before going on to modify the question or asking other students to respond. If a student is not able to answer, then it is necessary to understand if the issue is with the clarity of the question. In that case, one could rephrase the question or try to understand which aspect of the question is difficult for the student and why. If the question is too difficult for the student due to lack of prior knowledge, it may be useful to ask a more factual question to bridge the gap and help lead the student toward the solution.

Overall, as teachers, we  need to not only have a clear intent for questioning, but we need to also learn to ask the right questions. To guide students on the learning process, it is essential to question on learning outcome (content) as well as students’ thinking and learning processes.

References
Table adapted from the Ohio Department of Education, Instructional Management System.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in Effective teaching

 

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Seven Principles of Good Practices in Teaching and Learning

As part of the teaching and learning community, you might have pondered about what may be considered as good practices of teaching and learning in higher education. Here is what Chickering and Gamson (1991) have distilled from the past 50 year of literature on teaching and learning. The seven principles of good practice in teaching and learning are

“1. Encourages Contact Between Students and Faculty (constructive and collaborative)Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students’ intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans.2. Develops Reciprocity and Cooperation Among Students (constructive and collaborative)Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort that a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one’s own ideas and responding to others’ reactions sharpens thinking and deepens understanding.

3. Encourages Active Learning (engaged/active learning)

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

4. Gives Prompt Feedback (reflective)

Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. When getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.

5. Emphasizes Time on Task (self-directed)

Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Learning to use one’s time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Students need help in learning effective time management. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty. How an institution defines time expectations for students, faculty, administrators, and other professional staff can establish the basis of high performance for all.

6. Communicates High Expectations (self-directed)

Expect more and you will get more. High expectations are important for everyone — for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations for themselves and make extra efforts.

7. Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning (reflective)

There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learn in new ways that do not come so easily.”

From http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/intranet/committees/FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/7princip.htm

Reference: Chickering, A.W., and Gamson, Z.F. (1991). Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Number 47, Fall 1991. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

The basis of these 7 principles is that learning is constructive, collaborative, self-directed, active/engaged and reflective.

Ok, so we know that these are the good practices. As faculty, how do we incorporate these good practices in our teaching? Joseph R. Codde, Ph.D., Professor and Director – Educational Technology Certificate Program of Michigan State University provides exemplars of strategies he uses in his teaching. Read through for some ideas that you can incorporate as well.

1.    GOOD PRACTICE ENCOURAGES STUDENT — FACULTY CONTACT

  • I know my students by name.
  • I make a point to talk with my students on a personal level and learn about their educational and career goals.
  • I seek out my students who seem to be having problems with the course or miss class frequently.
  • I advise my students about career opportunities in their major field.
  • I share my past experiences, attitudes, and values with students.
  • I serve as a mentor and informal advisor to students. 

2.     GOOD PRACTICE ENCOURAGES COOPERATION AMONG STUDENTS

  • Beginning with the first class, I have students participate in activities that encourage them to get to know each other.
  • I use collaborative teaching and learning techniques.
  • I encourage students to participate in groups when preparing for exams and working on assignments.
  • I create “learning communities,” study groups, and project teams within my courses.
  • I serve as a mentor and informal advisor to students. 

 3.     GOOD PRACTICE COMMUNICATES HIGH EXPECTATIONS

  • I encourage students to excel at the work they do.
  • I give students positive reinforcement for doing exemplary work.
  • I encourage students to work hard in class.
  • I tell students that everyone works at different levels and they should strive to put forth their best effort, regardless of what level that is.
  • I help students set challenging goals for their own learning.
  • I publicly call attention to excellent performance by students.
  • I revise my courses to challenge students and encourage high performance.
  • I work individually with students who are poor performers to encourage higher levels of performance.
  • I encourage students not to focus on grades, but rather on putting for their best effort. 

4.   GOOD PRACTICE EMPHASIZES TIME ON TASK

  • I expect my students to complete their assignments promptly.
  • I clearly communicate to my students the minimum amount of time they should spend preparing for class and working on assignments.
  • I help students set challenging goals for their own learning.
  • I encourage students to prepare in advance for oral presentations.
  • I meet with students who fall behind to discuss their study habits, schedules, and other commitments.
  • If students miss my class, I require them to make up lost work. 

 5.     GOOD PRACTICE ENCOURAGES ACTIVE LEARNING

  • I ask students to present their work to the class.
  • I ask my students to relate outside events or activities to the subjects covered in my courses.
  • I encourage students to challenge my ideas, the ideas of other students, or those presented in readings or other course materials.
  • I give my students concrete, real-life situations to analyze.
  • I encourage students to suggest new readings, projects, or course activities. 

 6.     GOOD PRACTICE ENCOURAGES ACTIVE LEARNING

  • I give students immediate feedback on class activities.
  • I return exams and papers within one week/given time period for marking.
  • I give students evaluations of their work throughout the semester.
  • I give my students written comments on their strengths and weaknesses on class assignments.
  • I discuss the results of class assignments and exams with students and the class. 

 7.     GOOD PRACTICE RESPECTS DIVERSE TALENTS AND WAYS OF LEARNING

  • I encourage students to speak up when they do not understand.
  • I use diverse teaching activities and techniques to address a broad range of students.
  • I select readings and design activities related to the background of my students.
  • I provide extra material or activities for students who lack essential background knowledge or skills.
  • I integrate new knowledge about women, minorities, and other under-represented populations into my courses.
  • I have developed and use learning contracts and other activities to provide students with learning alternatives for my courses.
  • I encourage students from different races and cultures to share their viewpoints on topics discussed in class.
  • I use collaborative teaching and learning techniques and pair students with lesser abilities with students with greater abilities. 

 Reference: Joseph R. Codde, Michigan State University. https://www.msu.edu/user/coddejos/seven.htm

I had first published  this article as on an e-Post at SIM univeristy.

 

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Designing problems for problem based learning- this was published in Faculty Focus

Check  this out

Designing Problems for Problem-based Learning

By: Nachamma Sockalingam PhD in Instructional Design

As the name implies, problems are absolutely essential for problem-based learning (PBL). Problems initiate students’ learning in PBL. In other words, if there are no problems, there will be no problem-based learning.

Although there are plenty of real-life problems around us, identifying the suitable problem to guide and direct students in their learning can be challenging. Often, course developers who are new to PBL find it challenging to go about designing problems.

How do you design a problem for PBL? Do you try and find an interesting article/case study that is relevant to your learning objectives and pose relevant questions? Or do you identify the learning objectives and pose questions on it? Is there a systematic way of designing problems?

This article aims to provide some guidelines on how to go about designing problems for PBL based on our current understanding of problem characteristics.

Recent studies suggest that problems effectiveness could be defined by 11 characteristics. These 11 characteristics are classified into two categories: feature characteristics and function characteristics. Feature characteristics are design elements of the problem. Function characteristics are the desired outcomes of the problem.

In designing problems, the characteristics to be manipulated are the feature characteristics; namely,

  • problem clarity,
  • problem format,
  • problem difficulty level,
  • problem familiarity and
  • problem relevance.

Other than the feature characteristics, it is important to consider the function characteristics in designing problems. The function characteristics are the extent to which the problem:

  • leads to the intended learning issues,
  • promotes self-directed learning,
  • stimulates critical reasoning,
  • stimulates elaboration,
  • promotes teamwork, and
  • triggers interest.

Ok, so we know what constitutes an effective problem. But how do we incorporate these characteristics into our problem design?

Making it relevant and realistic
In designing problems for problem-based learning, one could start off with analyzing student characteristics and students’ learning needs which will shed light on students’ prior knowledge, which content/context would be familiar to students (this is likely to provide information on problem familiarity, difficulty and relevance), their learning styles (which will provide information for problem format) and comprehension capabilities (which will provide information on problem clarity). Such information needs to be incorporated into the presentation of the problem. This layer of the problem design could be likened to the user-interface of the problem.

Underlying the user-interface is the content. In selecting the content, problem designers would need to identify the learning issues that need to be focused on and tailor it to students’ prior knowledge and learning needs. Hence it becomes essential to first analyze student characteristics and learning needs to develop problems. This content then needs to be framed in a relevant and realistic context that students can relate to and apply in other courses or in other areas of their life. Contextualizing the problem is similar to coming up with a story line.

In addition to the user-interface and the story (content/context), one needs to also focus on what is expected from the students as a result of working on the problem. That is, one needs to keep in mind the message intended by the “story.” If the problem is meant to stimulate critical reasoning, there needs to be activities that are weaved into the problem design which require students to reason critically.

Overall, in designing problems for problem-based learning, function characteristics/learning outcomes (not just content but also what behavioral skills, such as self-directed learning, critical thinking) need to be considered and the issues should be framed in the appropriate context and presented using the optimal feature characteristics/user interface. Essentially, the steps in designing problems are similar to writing a story. Thinking of the message (outcome) as well as story line (content and context) and then the presentation (user interface) would be a logical way to designing problems.

Reference

Sockalingam, N., Rotgans, J., & Schmidt, H. G. (2010).Student and Tutor Perceptions on Effective Problems. Higher Education (in press). DOI: 10.1007/s10734-010-9361-3.

Nachamma Sockalingam PhD, Lecturer, Teaching and Learning Centre. SIM University, Singapore.

 

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Teacher-centered teaching versus Student-centered teaching

What is the difference between teacher-centered teaching and student-centered teaching?

To some, they are the same. One argument goes like this. Whether it is teacher-centered teaching or student-centered teaching, the focus is about students’ learning. So therefore the teaching is student-centered regardless of whether it is teacher-centered teaching or student-centered teaching. Sounds right! right?

Well, here is the flaw in the argument. Here we are assuming that the outcome is the only thing that matters – that is, the students’ learning. The main difference between teacher-centered teaching and the student centered teaching is in the process of teaching – how we go about teaching. Student-centered teaching engages students  in the learning process whilst teacher-centered teaching is intended for mostly information transmission. So teacher-centered teaching may not engage the students that much during the learning process; students often passively listen and take notes in teacher-centered teaching.

The tables in the following hyperlink  summarizes the differences clearly.

http://www.assessment.uconn.edu/docs/TeacherCenteredVsLearnerCenteredParadigms.pdf

 

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