Category Archives: Faculty Consulting

Meet with the SITE Consultants in 109 Whitmore Lab

Since last fall, the SITE consultants have been offering office hours at a centralized location on the UP campus. Our intention in doing this was to encourage more “drop-in” consultations and we hoped that being centrally located would be an advantage. Most of the time during these office hours, we don’t have many drop by for a visit. Through the years I have heard faculty say that students seldom take full advantage of office hours. I have wondered why that is when we know that faculty and student interactions have long been deemed essential to learning in higher education and have been noted not only “as a means by which the transmission of knowledge and student intellectual growth is best facilitated, but as an educational goal in and of itself” (Wilson & Woods, 1974).

 

While the SITE consultations are not the same as traditional faculty office hours, we do know that interpersonal interactions are beneficial. Thinking through and discussing instructional issues collaboratively with a consultant can help you to implement and evaluate changes in your classrooms.

 

Our doors are always open and we are looking for ways to make ourselves readily available to you. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions and thoughts about teaching and learning. And please check the SITE website for more information about our office hours.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

Now and again I ruffle a few feathers. OK, more than a few. I don’t mean to, but I sometimes have a unique perspective on teaching. Lately, if you want to get a good, heated discussion going, mention the phrase “attendance policy” (I originally mistyped that as “attendance police”- I nearly left it for entertainment purposes).  Why, one may wonder, is a mere attendance policy such a hot button issue? Well, it’s really pretty simple. Many of these policies have nothing at all to do with learning. Seriously. Nothing. Here’s a short list of some of the attendance policies that I’ve encountered lately:

 

* Three strikes and a student’s grade gets lowered. (An aside: I don’t know why the baseball analogy, and not football – 4 downs, or basketball – 7 fouls before the double bonus. )No matter what level of work the student is doing in class. No matter what the student is earning on tests or assignments. The absentee student loses points and often an entire grade. Harsh.

 

* A second type is even more confusing, conflating behavior with attendance. These policies usually have very elaborate points schema for how to score “attendance”.

 

* A third is mixing attendance with in-class participation. I know the theory “if a student isn’t there, he/she CAN’T participate”. Yes, true, however, the demonstration of the participation is what’s important here.

 

When a faculty member develops a policy, it is usually with the most noble of intentions. However, the policy sometimes has unintended consequences. Let’s review those that I mentioned.

 

The “three strikes” policy has a few permutations. Sometimes the policy will state three “unexcused” absences, with no description of what an excused absence actually is. This is sometimes intentional and leaves students with the impression that as long as they tell you ahead of time, it’s “excused”. Some faculty ask for some kind of documentation for the absence. After all, medical/dental/psychological/legal professionals generally work a 9:00 – 5:00 day. In the case of a family death, I’ve seen faculty ask for death certificate copies or newspaper obits. In a few horrifying instances faculty have asked for the phone number of the medical professional or institution so they can “check”. Here’s my advice, stay away, far, far, away, from asking for this type of documentation. This is HIPPA territory. I even checked with one of our university legal eagles. The bottom line – health and wellness issues are the third rail of “excused absences”. Do not touch. Yes, students may be…ummmm…obfuscating, but, it simply isn’t worth the possible angst it will cause you. And frankly, I don’t think I’m smart enough to decide if a sick child or an extra shift at work is a good excuse or not.

 

Attaching in-class behavior with attendance is truly confusing. Some policies take off attendance points if a cell phone rings, if a student is texting, or if a student comes in late, as well as a standard deduction for absences. What message is being sent by mixing up in-class behavior with attending class? That these activities are the same? And are they? And worse, how much valuable teaching/learning time is wasted with taking role and ticking points off a roster as transgressions occur. You are a discipline expert. Do you really want to document behavior instead of discussing viral replication?

 

The third policy substitutes a “fanny in a seat” for actual in class work, and the students know it. If there is actual work required, no matter what it is, and the student is a no-show, he/she will lose those points for the day. They are thus automatically penalized for not attending. They are also not practicing what you have decided that they needed to learn for the day and will probably suffer the consequences on a future test or assignment.

 

An attendance policy is certainly discipline and course dependent. A studio course, or a limited meeting course, will certainly have different requirements. But, no matter what path one chooses it is in everyone’s best interests to describe your policy as clearly as possible. This is no place for grey areas or fuzzy math. Also think about how the actual mechanics of the policy will affect your teaching. The following is an example of a clear participation policy, with the bonus of rewarding attendance.

 

* Students will earn participation points by taking part in daily classroom activities. There will be, at least, one learning activity in each class session, and these activities must be completed during the class period in order to receive credit.

* Activities may include:

- Quizzes

- Short essays

- Problem solutions

- Mid-semester evaluations

- Etc.
 

If you find you are having behavior problems in your classroom, sadly, you are not alone. Give SITE a call and we will be happy to help you better manage these specific problems. However, with the policies above the message seems to be that learning may be secondary. I know you don’t believe that.

 

Finally, food for thought.

 

Over 120 years ago, Harvard University issued a statement to faculty that grades were to be assigned on the basis of academic achievement ONLY, and no deductions were to be made because of absence, tardiness, and other forms of student misconduct (Making sense of college grades: why the grading system does not work and what can be done about it, Milton, Pollio, and Eison, 1986).

Writers in the measurement field (Gronlund, 1990;   Mehrens and Lehmann, 1991) advise against including student behavior factors (e.g., students’ effort, interest, attitudes, improvement, class participation, and attendance) because they contaminate [emphasis mine] the grade as a measure of achievement of the course objectives. (Jacobs, & Chase, 1992)

And you didn’t think I’d write an entry without mentioning course objectives, did you?

 

 

Teaching in Online and Blended Environments

A few of us are working with Larry Regan, Director of Faculty Development at the World Campus, on a few of his Online Learning (or “OL”) series of courses aimed to get faculty prepared to teach online. Larry has conceptualized an entire curriculum for faculty, with courses on nearly every aspect of online teaching and learning.  We’re looking forward to working closely with Larry, to hopefully help the Institute better serve online instructors and continue to collaborate to make a Penn State Education, whether online or face-to-face, a great educational experience for all Penn State students.

During a discussion yesterday, Larry shared a couple resources that are worth posting.

  • Excellence in Teaching – this is a social site, with nearly 400 members, all interested and interacting around faculty development as it pertains to online learning.  Many members are from Penn State, but the site also has members from around the country (and world).
  • YouTube Channel on Faculty Development – This site contains hundreds of videos, many comprised of interviews Larry conducted with both PSU and external faculty, around teaching online.

If you plan on teaching online, take some time to explore both of these websites.  A great deal of quality information that will help you create a positive experience for your students.

Does Online Education Fare Batter than Face-to-Face Learning?

In the July 19, 2020 issue of InsideHigherEd (see http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/07/16/online) the debate between whether online or face-to-face education contributes equally to learning or not continues. The study that gives online educators the upper hand is now claimed to be flawed. For those who wish to compare online education and on-the-ground education, an attempt to understand the differences in the mechanisms of teaching is warranted.

Men find academe more satisfying than women

In a recent InsideHigherEd article (see: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/07/12/coache), entitled ” Job Satisfaction and Gender” published July 12, 2010, male professors have been found to be happier with working conditions than female professors, especially in the social sciences.  Says Cathy Trower, research director of COACHE, which is based at Harvard University: “…any university that thinks it has solved problems related to gender just by recruiting a critical mass of women may find otherwise.”

Statistically Significant Gaps in Job Satisfaction, With Men Happier

Category Disciplines
Clarity of tenure process Social sciences; medical schools and health professions
Clarity of tenure criteria Social sciences
Clarity of tenure standards Social sciences; education
Clarity of tenure body of evidence Social sciences
Clarity of sense of achieving tenure Humanities; social sciences; agriculture, natural resources and environmental sciences; business; education
Consistent messages about tenure from tenured colleagues Social sciences
Tenure decisions based on performance Social sciences
Upper limit on committee assignments Education
Clarify of tenure expectations as a scholar Social sciences
Clarity of tenure expectations as a teacher Social sciences
Clarity of expectations as a colleague in department Engineering, computer science and mathematics
Reasonableness of expectations as a scholar Social sciences; biological sciences; health and human ecology; agriculture, natural resources and environmental sciences; business; education; medical schools and health professions
Reasonableness of expectations as a teacher Social sciences; education
Reasonableness of expectations as an adviser Education; medical schools and health professions
Way you spend your time as a faculty member Social sciences; engineering, computer science and mathematics; health and human ecology; business; education; medical schools and health professions
Number of hours you work as a faculty member Humanities; social sciences; engineering, computer science and mathematics; health and human ecology; business; education; medical schools and health professions
Quality of facilities Social sciences
Access to teaching assistants, research assistants Social sciences; visual and performing arts; medical schools and health professions
Clerical/administrative services Social sciences; physical sciences; education; medical schools and health professions
Number of courses you teach Biological sciences
Degree of influence over which courses you teach Social sciences; education
Discretion over course content Social sciences; education
Number of students you teach Medical schools and health professions
Upper limit on teaching obligations Education
Amount of time conducting research Humanities; social sciences; physical sciences; biological sciences; engineering, computer science and mathematics; health and human ecology; agriculture, natural resources and environmental sciences; business; education; medical schools and health professions
Expectations for finding external funding Social sciences; health and human ecology; education; medical schools and health professions
Influence over the focus of research Social sciences; health and human ecology
Research services Education
Institution makes having children and tenure track compatible Social sciences; physical sciences; visual and performing arts; education; medical schools and health professions
Institution makes raising children and tenure track compatible Social sciences; physical sciences; biological sciences; visual and performing arts; education; medical schools and health professions
Colleagues make having children and tenure track compatible Social sciences; medical schools and health professions
Colleagues make raising children and tenure track compatible Social sciences; biological sciences; business; medical schools and health professions
Colleagues are respectful of efforts to balance work and home Social sciences; agriculture,natural resources and environmental sciences; education
Ability to balance between professional and personal time Humanities; social sciences; biological sciences; visual and performing arts; engineering, computer science and mathematics; health and human ecology; agriculture, natural resources and environmental sciences; business; education; medical schools and health professions
Fairness of immediate supervisors’ evaluations Social sciences
Opportunities to collaborate with tenured faculty Social sciences; physical sciences; health and human ecology; medical schools and health professions
Value faculty in your department place on your work Social sciences
Amount of professional interaction with tenured colleagues Social sciences; physical sciences; medical schools and health professions
Amount of personal interaction with tenured colleagues Physical sciences
Amount of professional interaction with pre-tenure faculty Agriculture, natural resources and environmental sciences
How well you fit Social sciences; business
Institutional collegiality Social sciences
Department as a place to work Social sciences
Would again work at this institution Social sciences
Overall rating of institution Social sciences

Statistically Significant Gaps in Job Satisfaction, With Women Happier

Category Disciplines
Travel funds Engineering, computer science and mathematics
Paid/unpaid research leave Engineering, computer science and mathematics
“Stop the clock” tenure policies Humanities; social sciences; engineering, computer science and mathematics; agriculture, natural resources and environmental sciences
Paid/unpaid personal leave Engineering, computer science and mathematics
Tuition waivers Visual and performing arts

Kiernan Mathews, director of COACHE, says that a “critical mass isn’t going to be the silver bullet in female job satisfaction.” “The job of our institutions doesn’t stop with recruitment”, says Matthews. Trower said she hoped that research universities would use the data as a starting point for discussions, discipline by discipline, to see where there are gender differences in job satisfaction (or lower satisfaction overall than is desirable). “This study is set up to start conversations with the faculty,” she said.

For women who are starting their careers, and want mentors, that means it can be more difficult to chart a path.

Do you have to love teaching to be a good teacher?

In a May 13, 2010 Chronicle article, Confessions of a Teacher, Gabriela Montell responds to a blog posting by a college instructor who admits to NOT loving teaching and who claims that one need not love teaching to be good or successful at it. I think many faculty members I have consulted with would probably agree. They care about teaching and strive to do it well, but they did not go into academia and take a job at a doctoral granting institution because their very favorite thing to do is teach. What’s interesting to me is the fact that so many people feel ashamed to admit this, even at a place like University Park. I think people who consult with faculty need to reassure them that teaching is a profession, that they don’t have to have a “calling” or to feel they were born to teach in order to be successful, and that they can become good teachers over time with practice and regular assessments. Isn’t that consistent with the best motivation theories of learning?

Teaching and the Bottom Line

teachvsgrants.doc Someone sent me this Chronicle article from March 3, 2009 arguing that teaching is more important to the bottom line than is research, even at doctoral institutions, because research dollars can’t compare to tuition dollars in terms of covering overall costs of operation. This gives all of us who work to enhance student learning–whether we work directly with students or with faculty who are teaching them–a new way of looking at our contribution to the fiscal health of the institution.

Classroom management and generational differences

I was recently asked to give a short presentation on class management.  One thing our client mentioned:

“There also seems to be the situation in which students expect to be entertained and are more demanding of faculty.”

This got me thinking about another topic that we discuss a lot here in the Institute: generational differences.  We talk both about generational differences among senior and junior faculty, as well as generational differences between students and faculty.  Relating to the quote above, I wonder how much of this might come from generational differences?

I hear people refer to the current generation of undergraduates as the Net generation, millennials, or digital natives.  Many claims have been made of this generation, including their high proficiency with technology (Leung 2004), craving of interactivity (Prensky 2000) and ability to multi-task (Junco and Mastrodicasa 2007).  As someone who has taught large general education courses aimed at freshman with a focus on technology, I can safely say that proficiency with technology is a very questionable assumption.  Comfort with technology might be a better way to put it, as students certainly aren’t afraid of technology.  But that doesn’t mean they necessarily know more about how to use technology than folks in other generations (outside of IM’ing and social sites like Facebook).

That leaves the concepts of interactivity and multi-tasking.  Some researchers suggest multi-tasking is a human impossibility, that our mind truly can’t focus on two distinct tasks at once.  Rather, we simply toggle between tasks very quickly.  The interactivity piece might be part of the answer for our client that thinks faculty need to entertain the students.  I’m not so sure ‘entertain‘ is the right word…I would suggest engage.  With the proliferation of connectedness we all experience, in part to technology, we rarely find ourselves in monotonous, boring situations that we can’t find something to help occupy the time.  Long car ride or commute?  All you need is a cell phone to start texting or emailing friends and co-workers.  Stuck in a dry, dull presentation by a faculty member?  Connecting to your peers to discuss other topics is only a thumb-press away. 

I’m curious to see how some of our ideas will be received by the faculty asking about class management.  I don’t believe we have to entertain our students, but we certainly can try to do better engaging them.