Category Archives: Teaching

The Talking About Teaching Story Lab

The Faculty Center’s Talking About Teaching group got off to a great start this semester! This is an interdisciplinary group of faculty that meets once a month in the Fall and Spring to share successes and concerns that arise during the practice of classroom teaching. This year we are trying something new and shifting the focus towards creating a “story lab” space where we will produce online faculty case studies. Building off of our regular practice of sharing best teaching stories, we are now creating a process (thanks in part to our new Multi-Media Specialist who has joined our staff, Pete Warren) to document these successes for an online resource. At our first meeting last month, we showed a few examples of how other universities have been documenting faculty case studies in this online module form that can both highlight excellent teaching as well as serve as a resource for newer faculty. These online case studies will be comprised of some combination of recorded interviews, classroom footage, text providing context about the pedagogical technique or philosophy, and relevant instructional materials.

We have found that focusing our attention on the innovation and expertise of our faculty can improve morale and facilitate learning opportunities across the disciplines. We believe this to be an excellent opportunity to highlight the exceptional work happening on this campus. At our next meeting on Friday, October 19 from 3:00-4:00 pm (W205), we are aiming to show a template for Penn State Harrisburg’s faculty case studies, using footage we have recorded with Dr. Oranee Tawatnuntachai. We will also have some fun ‘workshopping’ the interview process so faculty can better understand how we are creating the online case studies and think through what they want to share. Consider which teaching and learning strategy you would
want to share and join us!

Preventing Plagiarism – A Different Kind of Assignment

Today I read a new Faculty Focus article by Maryellen Weimer, a Penn State emeritus professor, that reviewed an assignment two accounting instructors used to teach their students about plagiarism within their discipline. They acknowledged that proper citation was taught in a previous English composition course, and they described the challenge in this way: “Most of the time, students are taught about using the material of others and crediting those sources in some sort of composition course. Then students are expected to apply what they’ve learned when they prepare written materials in subsequent courses. McGown and Lightbody felt that
students needed instruction beyond the guidelines and that they needed repeated instruction in subsequent courses, especially those courses in the major. Not all fields handle the use of sources in the same way. Once students are in a major, they need to learn the particulars of
referencing for that field.”

The instructors did not want to use class time to teach plagiarism prevention, so they had their students complete an online workshop. Then, they had them apply the plagiarism workshop  content and develop their “knowledge of a particular accounting issue” through their new assignment. I encourage you to access the Faculty Focus issue and the McGown & Lightbody article it references, available online in the Penn State University Libraries, to learn more about the assignment and the creative way they had their students actively learning about proper citation in the accounting field.

I want to remind you of the plagiarism prevention resources available at Penn State. First, be sure to visit the Plagiarism Prevention Resources web site that includes a Plagiarism Tutorial for Students, an Instructor Guide on Plagiarism and Prevention, and links for faculty and students to plagiarism policy pages, guides, quizzes, citation guidelines, and basic copyright information. There are some nice plagiarism quizzes and exercises available too, including an iStudy module on Academic Integrity that can be integrated into ANGEL. The Plagiarism Quiz Bank is available here and could be used in ANGEL or as a printed quiz. Students can work with a writing tutor in the Learning Center. Penn State Harrisburg’s Academic Integrity Policy (C-7) is available online.

I wrote a previous post on “Why students cheat and what we can do about it” where I include a few strategies you might use to prevent plagiarism in your classes. Please contact me if you would like some assistance in including some of these resources in your course(s), or want to redesign an assignment to reduce its plagiarism potential.

Learner-Centered Teaching with Dr. Maryellen Weimer

MaryellenWeimer.JPGDr. Maryellen Weimer, a Penn State emeritus Professor of Teaching and Learning, has a dossier on the scholarship of teaching and learning. She opened our session by sharing her experiences with a nightmare of a class, showing that even master teachers can have those experiences. She remembers having a sense of wanting to teach differently – not quite as driven by content, but not sure what she wanted to do.
Starting with the use of different techniques, it just grew from there. It was a process of reflection and analysis.

The nineteen faculty in attendance had participated in a book discussion on Weimer’s book, Learner-Centered Teaching, prior to her visit, and easily made connections to the five areas discussed:

1. The Role of the Teacher: The term “paradigm shift” seems overused, and Maryellen prefers to use it as a significant reorientation. To illustrate, she shared a metaphor of her “beater” farm truck that has a shift on the column and requires a full range of motion to change gears. When she shifts that truck into gear, something significant happens, unlike the smooth, almost unnoticeable change in an automatic. Changing her role as a teacher was like shifting gears in that farm truck, thinking about what students are doing was tough for her to do. Do you care how much and how well your students learn? Try some new techniques and see how it improves student learning.

It’s hard for us to let students play ball with the content in the classroom. Why is that? She agrees that they don’t play ball very well at first – it’s messy. We need to provide scaffolding. Provide them with one example and allow students to provide the additional examples. She suggested something similar to speed dating to familiarize students with the syllabus. Each
student could ask one personal question and one syllabus question.

2. The Balance of Power: Taking away student control impacts their motivation. There are ethically responsible ways to give students some control, and the intellectual maturity of students has to be a consideration. Let them make choices within constraints: assignments with due dates, must get 50% of points on an assignment or they get zero points. She suggested incremental changes. Try to create conditions conducive to learning. She found that her methods really helped the “B” and “C” students, but she still had students fail. How do we instill the love of learning in our students and have them see learning as an ongoing part of their career?

3. The Function of Content: For this section, she was not talking about teaching content, but rather using content. How much content is enough? There are two variables: how fast information has exploded, and how technology has changed access to information. Students need to be able to evaluate information. Students can learn from and with each other. There is a lot of research on this. As we become experts, it becomes more difficult to remember being a beginning learner. She suggested using instructional strategies that marry covering and using content. For instance, during the last five minutes of class involve students in summarizing. Simply providing students with a summary results in the notes of the professor becoming the notes of the students and don’t pass through the minds of either. Students notes are full of answers but they don’t know what questions they answer. Have them frame questions.

4. The Responsibility for Learning: One example shared here was on group exams. She creates the groups with mixed abilities. All take the quiz individually and hand it in. Then the group takes the quiz together. If a student scores 50% or lower, that student is out of the group grading and bonus point possibility. However, they still participate in the group exam since she doesn’t know at that point who has scored below 50%. When she hands back the group exam, she circles group questions answered correctly by at least one group member but answered incorrectly by the group. They have a debriefing. She calculates the average of individual quiz scores for all five students in the group (exception is any student who scored below 50%), and compares those scores to the group score. The difference is the bonus. She allows students to have a crib sheet for the exam, but they must hand it in with the exam.

Have students reckon with decisions they’ve made about their learning, realizing that some are not very good decisions. For example, students who don’t do the reading wait to see what happens to them. If their professor tells them what was in the reading, they don’t need to
read. So how do we get them to read? A quiz doesn’t teach them the value of reading. It’s about discovery. To get them to bring their book to class, this is what she does: “Turn to page 24 in your book, look at the second paragraph. See, I have this sentence highlighted. Do you
have that sentence highlighted?” She uses the book in class, shows its value.

She had students from last semester visit her class during the third week of the semester. She left class and let students ask questions.

5. The Processes and Purposes of Evaluation:
Let students set the participation policy and grade their own participation. They each set a goal and provide a self-evaluation. Their participation partner watches their participation and provides a review. Provide feedback and have students respond to your feedback to receive their grade. Have students get more involved in self-evaluation and peer review.

A final metaphor she shared was in creating a climate for learning in the classroom, a need to know. You create a climate by building relationships: student-to-student, and faculty-to-student. On the board she makes two columns, one for the best class I ever took, and one for the worst class I ever took. Under each column she provides two more columns, one for what the professor did and one for what students did. A class discussion helps to fill out the columns, and then they can discuss which class they want this class to be and what that means as far as the students’ responsibilities and the professor’s responsibilities.

She provided a list of resources on learner-centered teaching that have been published since her book. This has been provided in the ANGEL group used for the online book discussion, along with all of the articles available digitally.

Talking about Teaching

Although the group of faculty who tend to gather at these monthly discussions is typically small, the conversation is always relevant and interesting. My favorite part is watching faculty from different disciplines meet each other and make meaningful connections. This month, the two main topics of our conversation centered around the recent Faculty Forum on hybrid and online courses, and Facebook. While we don’t solve the problems of the world in our hour together, we certainly ask probing questions and raise important issues. Participants often write themselves a quick reminder for a helpful classroom strategy shared by one of their colleagues.

Looking ahead to next semester, Friday afternoons fit the schedules for those who have been faithfully attending, so we decided to stick with the first Friday of the month from 2:00-3:00pm. If it’s still available, I’ll reserve W205 Olmsted. Since not everyone will be back the first Friday of January, we’ll get our schedule started in February.

I asked for topic suggestions to use as discussion starters next semester, so here are the first three dates and the topics to get us started: February 5th – Grade inflation; March 5th – Diversity; and, April 9th – Bridging the generation gap in our classrooms. The last Talking about Teaching will be May 7th.

Feel free to join us!

Welcome to the Fall Semester!

The Faculty Center has recently changed to a departmental blog as the platform for our web presence. While it is still in a state of transition, we think that the most important pieces of information and resources are available to visitors. The creation of the departmental blog was a great activity to reflect on what we offer online and how we organize it. This blog space will keep reflection as a continued activity.

Right now the Faculty Center is completing the processing of the Summer SRTEs, preparing them for shipment to University Park by September 8th. The results should be available online 4-6 weeks later at

We are also making final preparations for our online courses to go live in a few days. There is much double- and triple-checking going on to make sure that everything works from the first day on. AM ST 105 is available again through the eLearning Cooperative and has had full enrollment every semester it has been offered. The Homeland Security certificate program  begins its first course this semester. This program is being developed with support from World Campus, and could eventually be part of a master’s program.

There are two special faculty events this week: New Faculty Orientation is tomorrow, and the Adjunct Faculty Workshop is Saturday. These events never fail to get me excited about the start of the new academic year – new ideas, new possibilities! More on these events will be added in a future post.