Small Teachingby J.M. Lang presents methods for making small changes in your teaching practices (hence the name) that can significantly improve your students’ learning. Each chapter provides the research-based evidence behind the practices Lang proposes so you can have confidence that Lang’s ideas work. The Coulter Faculty Commons will be boiling the Small Teaching chapters down into blog posts to provide instructors with concepts they can apply to a lesson, a class, or a course.
“Once more unto the breach…” (from Henry V, spoken by King Henry)
Lang references “the connected nature of knowledge” (p. 48) to clarify how prediction aids learning. The example he offers is that of a comparison between a history student and a history professor. Given the date 1865, a history student would recall that it was the year that the American Civil War ended. A professor of history would also recall the events leading up to the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox, Chamberlain’s rendering honors to the defeated troops, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the ultimate failure of Reconstruction, and countless other bits of information that are connected to that date. The fact that the Civil War ended in 1865 is relatively useless in itself, but knowledge is derived through the “web of connections” surrounding that date. Lang posits (and the research supports this) that when confronted with the need to answer a question (predict a result) with insufficient information compels the brain to seek out any possible related information on the subject. This process creates and reinforces the connections in the brain and begins building knowledge.
Lang suggests the following methods to give your students the opportunity to refine their powers of prediction:
At the beginning of the class, unit, or course, give students a brief pretest on the material. For example, give an opening-week pretest that is similar in format to the ﬁnal exam.
Prior to ﬁrst content exposure, ask students to write down what they already know about that subject matter or to speculate about what they will be learning.
When presenting cases, problems, examples, or histories, stop before the conclusion and ask students to predict the outcome.
When you are teaching a new cognitive skill (e.g., writing in a new genre), let students try their hand at it (and receive feedback) before they feel ready.
Close class by asking students to make predictions about material that will be covered in the next class session (p. 60)
Of course, predicting doesn’t always result in a correct answer. Our theoretical history student might have thought that 1865 was the year the Civil War began. Lang cautions that immediate feedback (or as immediate as practical) is important to keep inaccurate facts from getting entrenched. It also has the benefit of helping students identify gaps in their knowledge or as Lang put it, vaccinate them against the illusion of fluency. In the case of a pretest, it also lets your students know what kind of information they will be assessed on in the future, so they can adjust their study practices appropriately.
Small Teaching is available in the library as an ebook and is one of this summer’s Beach Reads! Email John Hawes (email@example.com) if you are interested in joining a casual reading group this summer!
The Summer Institute of Teaching & Learning is back after a two year COVID hiatus. We will gather together in person on May 10 & 11th in HHS 204 for sharing and conversation.
We are keeping it low key this year. Come to relax, learn something new, and enjoy good food and conversation with your peers.
The keynote speaker will be Dr. Sudhir Kaul, Professor, School of Engineering and Technology, and the 2022 UNC Board of Governor’s Teaching Award winner from WCU.
Lunch is provided on both days – registration is required.
Tuesday May 10:
9:00-9:15 am – Welcome
9:15-10:00 – Student Engagement in the Times of a Pandemic Keynote: Dr. Sudhir Kaul, Professor, School of Engineering and Technology, BOG Teaching Award Winner, 2022
10:15 am-Noon – Workshop 1 – How to Engage with Students in any Modality
Noon-1:00pm – Lunch
1:00-3:00pm – Workshop 2 – The First Steps: Instructional Design or Redesign
Do you want to design or redesign an assignment, assessment, content, part of a course, or an entire course? This interactive session will get you started with brainstorming and an action plan to get you through the summer
3 – 3:15 – Summer Beach Read
3:15 – 3:30 – Sharing and Next Steps
Wednesday May 11:
9:00-11:30am – Workshop 3 – Student Engagement through Assessment and Grading in Canvas
11:30am-12:30pm – Lunch
12:30-3:00 pm – Workshop 4 – Undergraduate Students as Research Partners
Small Teaching by J.M. Lang presents methods for making small changes in your teaching practices (hence the name) that can significantly improve your students’ learning. Each chapter provides the research-based evidence behind the practices Lang proposes so you can have confidence that Lang’s ideas work. The Coulter Faculty Commons will be boiling the Small Teaching chapters down into blog posts to provide instructors with concepts they can apply to a lesson, a class, or a course.
Let’s get started.
Chapter 1: Retrieving Every subject requires students to know some foundational knowledge to successfully engage in higher levels of learning. For example, they need to know what a line is before they can understand more complex geometric shapes or the history of the earliest immigrants to the North American continent before they can discuss the nuances of current immigration policy. For your students to be successful, they need to be able to retrieve knowledge so that they can apply what they know.
Students need to retrieve knowledge from memory, but as Lang points out, “if you want to retrieve knowledge from your memory, you have to practice retrieving knowledge from your memory” (Lang, 2016, p. 20). How do you get students to practice retrieving knowledge? To illustrate a simple practice Lang cites studies where students were divided into three groups: one was given additional study time before a test, one given a practice quiz before the test, and one group where no intervention was taken. In one of the studies students that were quizzed prior to the test scored two letter grades higher than those that weren’t. Perhaps equally significant, students that were given additional study time scored no better than those that received no intervention. Re-reading did not improve knowledge retrieval.
Rather than just think of quizzes as assessment activities, consider them a means for your students to practice knowledge retrieval. But quizzing can take many forms. Here are the Quick Tips Lang suggests in Chapter 1:
Give frequent, low-stakes quizzes (at least weekly) to help your students seal up foundational course content; favor short answers or problem-solving whenever possible so that students must process or use what they are retrieving.
Open class periods or online sessions by asking students to remind you of content covered in previous class sessions; allow students time to reﬂect for a few moments if you do so orally.
Close class by asking students to write down the most important concept from that day and one question or confusion that still remains in their minds (i.e., the minute paper).
Close class by having students take a short quiz or answer written questions about the day’s material or solve a problem connected to the day’s material.
Use your syllabus to redirect students to previous course content through quizzes or oral questions and discussion (Lang, 2016, p. 39).
Summer Beach Read
Small Teaching is one of SITL’s Beach Reads. Are you registered yet?
I started teaching online in 2003 for a for-profit institution. It was two years after receiving my M.Ed. in Research and Collaboration at TCU where my focus was on online asynchronous learning. I was anxious to apply my research to my own classroom!
The realities of teaching online soon became very apparent. At that time the institution did not have an LMS. I taught the course through discussion forums. My students were lines of text on the screen, as I was to them. We didn’t have Zoom or any other video meeting software so we were confined to interacting through the discussions and email.
I realized quickly that I needed to somehow become a real person to my students; a person who cared about their experience and success. So I set about recording video introductions, using video and recorded screencasts to help them learn HTML, web design and multimedia. Soon I was asking them to post an audio or video introduction instead of text, encouraging them to share photos of pets and places they loved to travel. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was humanizing my online course.
What is humanizing?
If you google this topic, you will see quite a few results. We’ve been working on this for a couple of decades, so that doesn’t surprise me. I particularly appreciate the work of Michelle Pacansky-Brock, a community college faculty member turned faculty developer who started teaching online in 2004. She created a wonderful infographic on this topic.
“Humanizing leverages learning science and culturally responsive teaching to create an inclusive, equitable online class climate for today’s diverse students.” Brock, 2020.
Humanizing your course is how you bring equity into your course design and teaching.
It also brings decades of research on instructor presence and student persistence to bear on course design and instruction. Being an excellent instructor in both the physical and online classroom in higher ed is a skill that anyone can learn. So these steps can apply to in-person courses as well.
Steps to Take to Humanize Your Course
Brock offers eight elements to use in humanizing your course:
The Liquid Syllabus: A public, mobile-friendly website that has your brief welcome video and includes “warm, non-verbal cues and hopeful language” to ease anxieties about your course and how to be successful in week one (Brock, 2020, pp107-108).
Humanized Homepage: the homepage provides a clear and friendly welcome to the course and tells the student how the course works and has a clear Start Here link to the syllabus and/or the course information module in Canvas (this is also a Quality Matters and Online Learning Consortium quality standard). Here is an example
Getting to Know You Survey: In week one, ask the students to complete a confidential survey that provides additional information about each student and helps you identify which students are going to be ‘high touch’ requiring more of your time that other students. In Canvas, you can create a survey for this purpose. If you are logged into Canvas, go to https://westerncarolina.instructure.com/accounts/1/external_tools/43?launch_type=global_navigation to see an example of questions to include.
Warm, Wise Feedback: I love this and always attempt to convey support and encouragement in my feedback to students. Brock states, “Your feedback is critical to your students’ continuous growth. But how you deliver your feedback really makes a difference, especially in an online course. To support your students’ continued development and mitigate the effects of social and psychological threats, follow the Wise feedback model (Cohen & Steele, 2002) that also supports growth mindset (Dweck, 2007). Support effort + ability + action. And deliver your message in voice or video to include verbal or nonverbal cues and minimize misinterpretation.
Self-affirming Ice Breaker: Week one of a course is full of anxiety for students and can impede their ability to start the course. Try an ice breaker that invites them to share a part of their identity. One example from the infographic is to ask them to reflect on a value that is important to them and then choose an object from their life that represents that value.
Wisdom Wall: sharing the ‘wisdom’ or advice from students who have previously taken your class. You can use a collaborative tool such as a Word file in OneDrive that students can access, or Flipgrid, which can be enabled in Canvas. You can also have studente email their success advice to you that you would add to the file, or empower students to create their own by having a link to a shared Word document by changing the edit settings to ‘Anyone with the link’. Post this link in your course to share it with your current students and then they can also add their own advice. Here is Michelle’s example of a Wisdom Wall.
Bumper Video: Short videos used throughout the course to introduce a new module or clarify a sticky concept.
Microlectures: laser-focused short videos (5 – 10 minute) that walk the students through the comprehension of complex concepts. Before you record, identify the one or two ideas you want your students to take from the video. Write a script to make sure that you are saying exactly what you want to say in the short video. Also, remember to produce closed captions for all videos. If you need help with closed captioning in Panopto, please contact the help desk firstname.lastname@example.org
All of these suggested steps are part of the best practices in online course design and teaching. They are also steps that you can take at any time during the semester.
These elements will be included in the CFC’s Online Course Design Institute offered totally online this summer. If you’d like more information about the OCDI, please contact us.
Pacansky-Brock, M. 2017. Best practices for teaching with emerging technologies. Routledge, New York, NY.
Whether you call it inverted instruction, classroom flipping, or some other term, the concept behind this kind of instruction is basic. Students get the foundational knowledge they need outside the classroom and class time is spent on higher-level learning. Properly executed, this instructional methodology changes the instructor’s role from one of a “sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side.” (Bergmann & Sams, 2007)
How do the students get that foundational knowledge?
If you record your own videos:
Keep them short (7 minutes max)
Provide captions and transcript
If you don’t want to make your own, there are plenty of sources:
Khan Academy, YouTube, Ted Talks
Assign specific time ranges as appropriate
A history, account, narrative, or case study
From the course texts, assign specific pages if the students don’t need the whole chapter – they are more likely to do the reading
Consider developing a reading guide to target their attention on particular concepts or ideas
Again, assign specific pages or parts of the website as appropriate
Give your students a list of questions and let them find answers
How can I know they have attained the foundational knowledge?
Barkley and Major, in their text Learning Assessment Techniques, offer concrete ways to assess students’ foundational knowledge, and they fit the “blending” teaching paradigm:
If asking them to recognize – consider an online quiz that focuses on verification, matching, or forced choice, to be taken prior to coming to class.
If asking them to recall – consider online quiz questions that focus on low cues or high cues.
If asking them to interpret or exemplify – consider an online quiz that focuses on constructed responses or selected responses.
If asking them to infer – consider questions that focus on verification, matching, or forced choice.
If asking them to explain – consider questions where students must reason, troubleshoot, redesign, or predict.
What are some effective classroom strategies to engage students in higher-level learning?
Have your students bring a list of points they’d like to have clarified to class
Alternatively, have them post them to a discussion board
Address these points first before moving on to other learning activity
Students discuss/clarify muddiest points in groups
Have students teach what they learned
Let the students demonstrate what they have learned
Is flipping right for me? The real question is whether or not flipping is right for your students. One of the big advantages of flipping is that it gives students more control over their learning as they guide the classroom activity with their questions. Another is the opportunity it provides instructors to review their teaching methods. After considering your options, you may decide that flipped instruction does not provide any advantages. However, keep in mind that this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You may determine that some material in your course is suitable for flipping, while some still require more of a hands-on approach. In either case, you’ll have reflected on how you are teaching and that is always a good thing. (Trach, 2020)
Barkley, Elizabeth F., and Claire H. Major. Learning Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/hunter-ebooks/detail.action?docID=4205832.
Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2007). Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. International Society for Tech in Ed. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/hunter-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3317690
Hertz, M. B. (2012, July 10). The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/flipped-classroom-pro-and-con-mary-beth-hertz
Trach, E. (2020, January 1). A Beginner’s Guide to Flipped Classroom. https://www.schoology.com/blog/flipped-classroom
Looking for some new ideas for classroom discussion?
Seeking an idea for an online discussion?
What about a guide for setting norms/expectations related to discussion practices?
We have identified some resources to help you think through these questions.
Tips for the new teacher
Are you unsure of the role that discussion should play in your class? This guide by the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, Guidelines for Classroom Interactions, frames the discussion, first and foremost, as an exercise in knowing how your course goals align to the discussion as a lens for knowing and learning.
Classroom teachers looking for a quick, digital resource, the IDEA paperEffective Classroom Discussionscovers expectation-setting, teacher roles, and student roles, in an attractive and chunked layout. Useful when planning for a future course.
Tips for the online teacher
If you teach online and are looking for ideas on how to maximize engagement in online discussions, Kreiger, Lee, and Zolkover, instructional designers at Penn State, recently presented on this topic at the 2021 CanvasCon conference. In their presentation Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions, they share information for new online teachers. They suggest that faculty write out their responses to these 5 steps, prior to posting them to the LMS:
What is the context? Why are you asking them to respond?
How does it fit? Write an explanation for how the assignment fits into the course.
How should they proceed? Write out, 1-2-3, what they are to do. Since online students typically have to wait longer for a response, they advise that you “build in” the help. See the course from their eyes.
Clarify grading. Provide some clarity on how they are graded, and remember that in Canvas, discussions can be high-stakes (with a point value or rubric) or low-stakes (with a complete/incomplete checkmark).
Scaffold the responses. Let them know how the response “flow” should work. Are you wanting them to respond to others? (remember that this can require students to log in frequently, just to see if a response has been posted). Or do you want a rotating moderator to collect all responses, and summarize and present those to the class?
All of this information, now typed and on-screen, is tidy and structured for copy-paste into the Canvas LMS discussion rich content editor – so students will then know the big picture, and all the details, associated with the discussion.
Another helpful resource is the book Engaging the Online Learner by Rita-Marie Conrad and J. Ana Donaldson. The book frames the discussion as a small component of online engagement. Faculty will enjoy the foundational frame and theory the authors provide (constructivist and problem-based). You will not only see online classes in a new light but you will also be provided dozens of discussion-based activities and icebreakers that stem from the theory. Grab and use! One of our favorite texts!. The library has a copy; you can search for the call numbershere.
Tips for facilitating challenging classroom conversations
Many university teaching and learning centers provide guidance for handling challenging or controversial subjects. One of our favorites is the tips provided by Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, Difficult Dialogues, as they don’t just discuss procedures for handling the challenging topic (helpful as that is). Rather, following a discussion they integrate activities for gauging student understanding that is writing- and reflection-based.
In summary, there are a lot of resources to help inspire new and innovative ideas and thinking for both the new and experienced instructor, whether teaching face-to-face or online.