Monthly Archives: March 2012

Classroom Management: What Would You Do?

Yesterday in the Course in College Teaching we introduced some classroom managment situations. It sounded like a lot of people could relate to them. In the spirit of continuing the conversation and sharing ideas, here are a few of the scenarios. Do any of these sound familiar to you? What would you do? Or what have you done in situations like these?

1) One of your students came late to the first few classes, interrupts your lecture loudly, doesn’t let others get a chance to answer questions and habitually forgets to turn off his cell phone. Most annoyingly, during class, he walks out of the classroom [across the front], and saunters back.

2) You are teaching in a computer classroom. Even though you are not using the technology at the moment, students are busily typing away. The clacking is making it difficult for some students to actually hear the material.

3) You are teaching a small lecture-type class and students regularly arrive 10 minutes late. In addition, others leave 10-15 minutes early. In a 55-minute class it feels like the comings and goings never end.

What about Learning Styles?

Mary Ellen Weimer had an interesting blog post in Faculty Focus last week. In her post, Challenging the Notion of Learning Styles, she shared some of the recent research that suggests that regardless of the match between mode of instruction and a student’s learning style, performance is the same. Those of us in Educational Psychology have long discounted the notion of learning styles (e.g., including elaborated models of intelligence such as Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory) as having insufficient data to support its assertions.

So what does this mean for instructors? Should we test our students on the first day of class to learn what is their preferred learning style then proceed to twist and contort our every lesson so as to accommodate the visual, the kinesthetic, the auditory, and the every-other-style learner? Certainly not. Should instructors simply teach as they wish, since attending to students’ reported learning styles apparently doesn’t make a difference? Not recommended either. The fact is, it’s not so simple.

Perhaps the answer is in moderation and mix. In Mary Ellen’s summary of the research, she reminds us that, while students may not differ in their learning styles, the students are, nonetheless, different. It seems to me that it’s on the basis of differences that do exist and that do matter that we should consider modifying our instruction. We should alter our instructional approaches when doing so would make a difference for students with different levels of prior knowledge, interest, or  ability (the research, Reiner and Willingham_2010.pdf, says these matter).

Unless we base our pedagogical decisions on characteristics such as these, we risk making our lectures more visual but failing to attend to gaps in prior knowledge. We risk creating elaborate hands-on projects while failing to recognize important disparities in aptitude across the class. We risk altering our instruction in ways that are not comfortable to us and still not successfully motivating the learners in our classes.

The Fun of Learning

Crystal Ramsay and I are collaborating with Assistant Professor Michael Tews in the School of Hospitality Management.  Michael, an energetic and enthusiastic professor, is questioning the impact of fun on students’ learning. While at first glance, this may seem like a trivial topic or perhaps one that is best left to the gaming enthusiasts, I’m finding it a perplexing issue. We have begun by looking deeper at how fun is defined in higher education and we are exploring how to measure it.

As a preliminary step, the three of us each asked a group of students to think about a professor they’ve had in college and to describe three things that he/she did to make the class fun. The class of aerospace students I queried provided a range of responses with hands-on learning, humor, and relating topics to everyday life topping their lists. They also shared some that got me thinking. For example, several mentioned that they found it fun when a professor starts class with a fact trivia or an airplane of the day. Doing something like that gains their attention as suggested by Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. One student noted, “The professor was a likeable person who wants to teach” and that made me wonder why we have professors in our classrooms who don’t want to teach. Several of the students listed they found it fun to be able to set their own learning goals with one student stating it this way, “Classes where the teacher lets you learn the way you want to learn.”  One professor has one a day a week for “gripe day” so that students can voice their agitations with the class or life in general.  Doing so leads to a release of anxiety and with the professor’s coaxing; students get to figure out possible solutions as well as sometimes see the silliness of their dilemmas. 

I find it very telling to listen to students and I’m looking forward to hearing more as we make progress with this study. In the meantime, I am going to get back to the fun of thinking about teaching and learning.

Faculty Tips: Getting Students to Do the SRTEs

As is the case at most universities, end-of-semester student evaluations are important at Penn State: In addition to providing valuable information about what’s working (or not) in a course, the SRTEs factor into decisions about promotion and tenure, or rehiring of non-tenure-track faculty.

Since Penn State’s move to online SRTEs, many faculty members have expressed concern about fewer students filling out the forms. Yet some faculty still achieve impressive response rates, and staff at the Schreyer Institute realized that those faculty have insights that could help everyone. So we asked faculty what their secrets are (the respondents had at least a 70% SRTE response rate and at least 30 students in their classes). 

Some of the faculty said they tell students about ways SRTE feedback has allowed them to improve their classes; some mentioned the importance of gathering feedback throughout the semester; and some had still other strategies. You can find tips from faculty in their own words here. We’ll be adding to the list over time, so make sure to stop back. And if you have a tip of your own, please add a comment to this blog!


Classroom Flipping: Technologies and Teaching Strategies to Facilitate Active Learning

Tomorrow, 3/2/12, I’ll be heading to Lehigh Valley with a couple colleagues from Education Technology Services, Chris Millet and Matt Meyer. We will be talking with a group of faculty primarily about “Flipping the Classroom”, an interesting model to bring more active learning elements into a class. Below are a few resources we’re distributing to participants that can be leveraged to learn more about the tools and technologies that can assist in flipping your classroom.

Leveraging Video to Support Teaching and Learning

  • Lecture Capture – Penn State’s Lecture Capture home on the web. Contains resources, case studies, help documentation and contact information for assistance. If you’re interested in participating in the lecture capture pilot, this is the place to start!
  • Media Commons – Media Commons is a university-wide initiative to enrich the teaching and learning experience through multimedia technology, classroom training and direct support for students, faculty and staff. If you have an idea for including video in your class, both faculty-created or student-created video, contact Media Commons to talk to a consultant about your idea.
  • VoiceThread – VoiceThread is a totally web-based application that allows you to place collections of media like images, videos, documents, and presentations at the center of an asynchronous conversation. This website contains all the documentation to help you get started, as well as contact information for support.
  • Training Services – Penn State’s Training Services offers a wide variety of training opportunities around various technologies, including VoiceThread and iClickers. Find the topic, date and time that is right for you.

Getting Started with Active Learning

  • Clickers – Student Response Systems, such as clickers, represent a great way to quickly engage your students in a meaningful way. Check out Penn State’s “Getting Started” guide for instructors.
  • Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence – The Schreyer Institute offers a wide variety of workshops on active learning strategies, as well as a library of online resources to help instructors identify and implement active learning strategies. Institute consultants are available year round to sit down with you and help think through implementing different active learning strategies within the framework of your course.

TLT Website

  • TLT Classroom Flipping – The Teaching and Learning with Technology website has added a page introducing the idea of flipping the classroom that will include more resources shortly.

Helpful Tools for Teaching Philosophies

Several graduate students and postdocs have asked me to review their teaching philosophies in the past week, and I think some of my colleagues have been providing similar help. Writing a teaching philosophy — whether we’re a grad student, postdoc, or faculty member — can be a difficult thing, since it’s such a personal document and since there’s no one set format. In this blog post, I’ll provide a quick overview of some resources that can make the job easier:

–If you’re like me and learn best by having examples to analyze, check out our compendium of philosophies submitted by Penn State faculty and graduate students. The philosophies are grouped by discipline. I find browsing through the examples to be helpful — I get to see the many different ways people organize their philosophies. You can find additional examples on the teaching-philosophy sites of the University of Michigan  and Ohio State.

–We’ve also provided a rubric you can use to evaluate the draft of your teaching philosophy. For a different rubric, see the University of Michigan’s site.

–The teaching centers at Vanderbilt University and Ohio State both offer a good overview of the process of writing a teaching philosophy.

–If you’d benefit from some small-group discussion about the process of writing a teaching philosophy, attend the Schreyer Institute’s workshop on “Preparing Your Teaching Philosophy for the Job Market,” which will be held on March 14 from 11:15 to 12:30. Lauren Kooistra and Andrew Porter, the graduate instructional consultants at SITE, will be leading the workshop.

–And finally, if you’d like some one-on-one feedback, we’d love to schedule a free consultation with you. Just drop us a line at to set up a time.