Monthly Archives: January 2012

What? Are we still talking about how to teach Millennials?

Some topics seem to draw people in and one that keeps resurfacing is “who are today’s students?” There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of articles, books, blogs, advice… lots of ways to help us adjust to the students in our classrooms. In some respects, I am reluctant to join the chorus that could be stereotyping students and suggesting that the Millennials* (people born between 1982 and 2004 or thereabouts) are so perplexing that it takes experts’ advice to be effective with the kids these days. I am, however, a firm believer in the importance of knowing your audience and that does take going beyond assessing their prior knowledge. What makes Millennials tick and how can we better reach them in our classes? A wealth of information that describes this generation exists, but there is far less published on how their characteristics impact teaching and learning processes.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to dig deeper into the literature on Millennials because last semester Crystal Ramsay and I provided two departmental seminars on Millennials students. In those seminars we addressed instructional concerns identified by the faculty that included the following: texting/cell phones in class; class attendance issues; feelings of entitlement (deserve a trophy for showing up); not taking responsibilities for their actions and blaming others; not taking charge of their education; and pretending that they get A’s in all of their classes since I’m the only one handing out lower grades.  Do any sound familiar to you?  

On January 19th, we revisited this topic by offering a session for all of Penn State faculty called Teaching Millennials: Engaging Our Students with Instructional Strategies. In this session, we began with a quick reflection on generational markers and characteristics – we all bring ourselves into a teaching and learning situation and our characteristics influence how we respond.  You might like taking the “How Millennial are You?” quiz at the Pew Research Center site. 

While at the Pew site, try and spend some time on their “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next” that provides a deeper look at their behaviors, values, and opinions. Another useful resource on the influences that impact Millennials can be found in “The Information-Age Mindset: Changes in Students and Implications for Higher Education.”

A quick read that suggests initial findings as to what do with Millennials in your classrooms is called, “Why Don’t My Students Think I’m Groovy?: The New R’s for Engaging Millennial Learners”  while another perspective suggests that Millennials need variety in our classrooms.  For some specific instructional issues, you might like to look at a study that addresses “does their low tolerance for boredom make the lecture method less effective?” (Roehling, P.V, et. al. (2011). Engaging the millennial generation in class discussions. College Teaching, 59 (1), 1-6.) as well as another study that looks at how psychological traits influence their learning (Stewart, K.D. & Berhardt, K.D. (2010). Comparing millennials to pre-1987 students and with one another. North American Journal of Psychology, 12 (3), 579-602). There is so much to sort through and decide if it is relevant to you and how you teach and learn with Millennials. Please join in and share with us. I’m finding this is a conversation that gets better as we go along.


Faculty Spotlight: Laura Guertin

Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Laura Guertin has developed a reputation for being innovative in the classroom. Dr. Guertin’s innovations stem from necessity. She teaches at Penn State Brandywine, a commuter campus with approximately 1600 students. Many of her students use public transportation to commute within Pennsylvania and from Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland; it is not unusual for them to have a 2-3 hour trip to campus. In addition to attending college, many students work and care for family members. The result: little or no time for homework. 

Faculty members teaching at residential campuses notice the same lack of student attention to work outside of class. “Students are changing,” said Dr. Guertin. The demands on out-of-class time are numerous: for example, close to one fourth of all full-time students at public four-year institutions work 20 or more hours per week (Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac of Higher Education 2011). 
Laura, preparing for a presentation
Dr. Guertin faces another challenge familiar to faculty who teach courses that satisfy general education requirements: the sense that your course is one students simply want to get out of the way. “I’m at the bottom of their list of things to do,” she said. Dr. Guertin noticed a lack of engagement by students in her lecture courses. Readings and homework were simply tasks her students wanted to get done, not ways to think and explore. 
Her response to this situation was to use the Just-In-Time Teaching Technique (JiTT). The term describes strategies used to connect in- and out-of-class work. A common approach is to design a small set of questions students respond to outside of class. Students submit their answers a few hours prior to class. The instructor uses the students’ answers to create in-class activities that address student misconceptions, gaps in knowledge, or incomplete/faulty reasoning. With the help of a small grant from the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, Dr. Guertin adapted this technique in her Dinosaur Extinctions and Other Controversies course by posting three open-ended questions each week for students to answer via ANGEL. A couple of hours before class, she read students’ submissions, looking for misconceptions. She then planned an all-class discussion based on student responses and an interactive follow-up activity. She did this once a week. The new approach seemed to be working, but she wanted to know how well students were actually learning. 
Schreyer Institute consultants worked with her to develop and phrase her question sets for students, as well as devise ways of measuring gains in student learning and engagement. She developed a survey that measured students’ perceptions of their learning and engagement. What she found was a marked increase in students’ learning, engagement, and comprehension of course material. Students also reported a greater sense of responsibility for their own success. She published her findings with former Schreyer consultants Sarah Zappe and Heeyoung Kim in the Journal of Science and Educational Technology. 

Laura Presenting at a recent brown bag Lunch.

Dr. Guertin said the approach is not without its challenges. Instructors using JiTT have found students are more likely to buy into the technique if they get credit for it. Typically instructors make JiTT activities worth about 10 percent of the overall course grade, but this can vary by instructor. With her students, 30 percent is the “sweet spot” that induces them to participate regularly. She says instructors also need to devote time to making sure that follow-up activities are aligned with the teaching goals for their course. With meaningful pre-class questions, and the ability to submit responses to questions online, the daily commute has become homework time for many of her students. 
Dr. Guertin’s main suggestion for faculty members considering trying JiTT in their courses is to take the time to construct good questions. Whether they are multiple-choice or open-ended, questions need to be clearly phrased and include a variety of levels of thought. For example, all questions need not be recall-oriented; some might ask for an application or example. Dr. Guertin scales her questions using a model of cognitive levels (Bloom’s Taxonomy). See here for examples of questions at different levels of thinking that can be applied in any course. Dr. Guertin said that JiTT questions are a way for non-science majors to connect course material with life outside of class, such as current events and local connections. 
In addition to JiTT, Dr. Guertin continues to develop other teaching tools to help students meet course goals such as scientific literacy. This is a particularly important goal for non-majors, who will need to understand geologic/geographic information in order to be effective teachers and decision-makers. She has developed a capstone Google Earth ePortfolio assignment in which students use technology to apply their geological knowledge to real life situations. For example, students use the Google Earth program to locate and plot geographic features. The program has a tool that students can use to insert annotations, photos, and video, which provides them with a means of making connections between what they are learning in class and how that information applies to real-world phenomena. 
While Dr. Guertin, a 2010 Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology Faculty Fellow, continues to incorporate technology in her courses in new and creative ways, she stresses that incorporating technology into one’s classes need not be complicated. “Don’t hesitate to use technology. Don’t go overboard. Just think about your goals and how technology can get you there.” That’s sound advice for any teaching technique, technological or not.

How valuable are teaching centers? Stepping Up for Outcomes Assessment.

I just returned from the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) in Washington DC.  I was honored to be a panelist in a session focused on the role of teaching centers in institutional transformation.  The panelists provided examples of how teaching centers are collaborating with other units to advance institutional change. My fellow panelists include Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, Provost and Sr. Vice Pres. of Dillard Univ., Peter Felton, Asst. Provost at Elon University, and Virginia Lee a consultant with her own company. All of us are very involved in the professional society for faculty developers in higher ed (

My contribution was to briefly talk about the role of the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence in Penn State’s program and student learning outcomes assessment initiatives.  This led me to ponder why I think it is so important for us to take on both leadership and collaborative roles at Penn State.  My short answers:

  1. Teaching centers and faculty developers have valuable knowledge and skills to offer the teaching community;
  2. If we don’t collaborate and lead, the university is at risk of losing a valuable resource because no one will know how valuable we are!

If no one knows how valuable you are, how valuable are you really?

One way for the institution to recognize the value of teaching centers is for us to step-up-to-the-plate and take on areas, tasks, and projects that either no other units want or that are likely to be difficult (another panelist talked about Gen Ed Revision!). 

Assessment is a case in point.  Course, Program, and Institutional Assessment offer a great opportunity to further establish our value. 

So, what did Stepping Up for Outcomes Assessment entail?  First, it did not involve us in the role of assessment enforcer, nor did it involve us gathering and interpreting evidence.  Instead, we have helped faculty and administrators responsible for student learning outcomes assessment to meet their obligations.

A colleague at the University of Washington (J. Turns) coined the phrase “Assessment?  I hate it.  What is it?” which captures what we’ve done quite well! 

We decided to step up and provide:

Information.  When first entering the assessment arena, faculty and administrators have lots of questions (Why do we have to do this?  Why is it important?  Why don’t course grades count?  What exactly am I supposed to do?!?  Is our disciplinary accreditation evidence sufficient?)

Opportunities for intra- and interdisciplinary discussions via workshops, conferences, and meetings

Guidance about the process of assessment

Examples (goals, outcomes, plans)

Templates (curricular mapping, identifying and developing goals and outcomes, reports)

Feedback on assessment plans

Success stories

As we became more involved, we took on maintenance and further development of the University’s assessment website (, which has become the “go-to” place for information and updates on the Penn State approach to assessment.  (We also regularly hear from colleagues at other institutions about how they have used these resources.)

Stay tuned!  The Schreyer Institute and Penn State’s assessment story continues to evolve and mature.  And never forget, we are always looking for new opportunities to become even more valuable to our community of teachers and learners. Visit or contact us.

Offerings Galore

At the Schreyer Institute, we try to offer a varied schedule of workshops, and I think we succeed. Just in the next week, our workshops include the following:

–Assessing Student Learning at the Program Level: Three Faculty Members Share Their Plans

–Discussions and Strategies: Working with TAs in Large Classes

–Getting through the Stack: Grading for Learning

–Best Practices for Designing Effective Multiple Choice Tests

–Evaluation in Three Acts (for faculty at Penn State Fayette)

One thing I’d like to point out: If you or your department would like us to customize a workshop for your particular participants, we’d be happy to do so. Just email us at For more details about the events listed above, or other upcoming events, go to our events page.

Back to the Blog: 2012 Edition

We took a hiatus over the holiday to recharge and refocus, but now we’re back to provide interesting insights and thought-provoking ideas in this space throughout 2012. We recently looked at our anlalytics for the blog, and were happily surprised at the numbers. During the fall 2011 semester, we had:

  • 3,441 visits
  • 1,776 unique visitors
  • 5,430 page  views

We’d like to give a big ‘thank you’ for those that find the conversations and resources here useful, and we encourage you to keep checking back (and don’t be afraid to leave some comments, we’re happy to answer any questions or engage in discussion here)! 

One initiative I wanted to quickly mention is the University’s exploration of lecture capture technologies. We piloted Echo 360 in the fall, and this semester we are continuing with the Echo 360 Pilot, as well as piloting a new system, Panopto. We spent a lot of time examining lecture capture research last semester, and will soon be posting a Lecture Capture Research Starter Kit on our research page, alongside the gaming and mobile learning kits. After working through nearly 50 articles on lecture capture, some common themes emerge:

  • Students typically watch portions of the recorded lecture as opposed to the entire thing.
  • Students report that the availability of recorded lectures allows them to put more focus on the content of a lecture (as opposed to rapidly taking detailed notes, for example).
  • The majority of studies indicate that the availability of recorded lectures have little impact on student attendance. In fact, most students report that attending a lecture in person is still a much better learning experience.
  • Specific audiences, such as English as a Second Language (ESL) students and student-athletes, find recorded lectures especially valuable.
  • When looking across studies, it appears that you can expect over 60% of your class to access and view recorded lectures if you make them available (some studies report up to 90% class utilization).
  • The most common reason for watching a recorded lecture is to review for exams.

The research starter kit dives much deeper into the variables and survey instruments related to lecture capture. If you’re interested in trying this technology, check out PSU’s lecture capture website where you can request an account.