Author Archives: klj11

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.

Mentoring for Online Instructors

Online learning at Penn State continues to grow. A whopping 42% of our resident students have taken an online course. Predictions are that the number of online students will continue to increase and as a result, we are thinking of how to best help faculty in their transition to online instruction. One tactic is to encourage mentoring of new faculty and last fall the Faculty Engagement subcommittee of the Penn State Online Coordinating Council and the Schreyer Institute piloted an online mentoring program for those new to online teaching ( The intent of this effort is to provide instructional support for those teaching online and to create opportunities for networking with others teaching online.

The online mentoring experience is intended to last a semester and is, first and foremost, a collegial relationship. Through the mentor’s personal guidance, the prot�g� can question and explore online teaching strategies and expectations. Dialogue drives this relationship, but the mentor can also review online course activities and interactions. What is needed and how to go about getting those needs are met is something that is left to the devices of the mentor and prot�g�.

What do you think — would a mentor be helpful to you as you begin teaching online? Or would you like a mentor even though you have taught online? By engaging in a mentoring relationship, you can ask questions, share comments, voice concerns, dissect instructional strategies, and feel connected to someone else who has walked in your shoes.

All Students Can Recognize Good Teaching: Just Ask Them

This fall semester is about over and soon students will be responding to the SRTEs. For many students, the opportunity to give feedback to their instructors, is a phenomenon that begins in college. That trend, however, is changing. According to the article “Why Kids Should Grade Teachers” a growing number of American schools across the country are asking their students, some as young as kindergarten, to evaluate their teachers.

Some interesting findings are emerging. Student ratings tend to be fairly stable from class to class and from fall to spring. Race and income done have much impact on results. What is clear is that students are looking for a classroom where the teacher has control and makes learning challenging. And one city, Memphis, has become the first school system in the country to link survey results to teachers’ annual reviews by having the surveys count for 5% of a teacher’s evaulation. 

A variety of questions are being asked on these surveys, but the five most correlated with student learning are listed below:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

What can those of us in higher education learn from this article? Are we, for example, asking the right questions? Are we using the information we gather from students to define quality teaching and to inform better practice?

Listening to Our Students: Comments from a Student Panel on August 23, 2012

We started this school year off by co-hosting, along with the Alumni Center, a student panel for Penn State new faculty. Hearing student voices and their sometimes opposing viewpoints certainly helped each of us in the room to think a bit differently about our students and their perspectives. Dr. Mark Maughmer, an aerospace engineering professor who is one of this year’s Alumni Teaching Award winners, moderated the panel of seven undergraduates and one graduate student. The event, slated for an hour, ran a bit longer because, once the students started, it turned out they had plenty to say!



Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Group of students.jpgTo set the stage, Dr. Maughmer asked about the students’ use of technology. Hearing they send and receive some 200 daily text messages brings home a point – technology is a constant in their lives. When asked if we (faculty) should be worried about all of this technology usage, one student’s reply aptly sums up their feelings, “Are you open to communicating with us? Will you use today’s media?” They expect not only to communicate via technology, but they expect current technologies in their learning. As pointed out by one student, “The worst way a professor can use technology is to NOT use technology.” They want their syllabus and other materials electronically available. While ANGEL got mixed reviews from these students, most still expect it to be an integral part of their classes. A real benefit to ANGEL is that they feel it “helps us to operate efficiently.” And being efficient is an underlying operating premise for these students. Although when they brought up that ANGEL is down every day from 4:00 to 6:00 am, you wonder how efficient they can be if they are up at these hours! They also anticipate mediated materials will not just be given to them by a professor, but instead suggest integrating technology into instruction. Developing rich resources is only one part of the equation as explained by one student, “if you are going to use technology, make sure you come with it rather than on it.”   


When asked to explain how they know a class will be good, their answers didn’t contain any surprises. Yet these answers brought home, once again, important things to remember. Be passionate, for it is contagious. Show your students why you are interested in the course material and why it is important for them to know it. Be organized and make sure your syllabus reflects this and provides specifics. Use language that is appropriate for undergraduate students – they made it clear that they recognize you are smart. You don’t need to tell them that. What they need from you is empathy and the ability to help them learn. Provide ways for students to make connections and see the relevancy of this content, otherwise they think it is just “mumble jumble.” Make learning active. As one student noted, “I loved going to his class. The topic wasn’t really my thing, but I had to take the class. The professor taught what he needed to teach in ways that helped me remember. It wasn’t just how he went over the material, for we did activities that helped to illustrate principles.”


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ThreeStudents.jpgPowerPoint was almost a sore subject. Comments like “a bunch of slides will make a student pass out” and “sometimes I can’t help it, but I fall asleep with PowerPoint” made us think. Dr. Maughmer asked, “Is it PowerPoint or is it PowerPoint used badly that causes you such angst?” The trouble is that far too often the students find it misused. One student added, “A lot of students don’t fall asleep on purpose. There has to be some kind of effort made to keep us engaged.” They all pretty much confirmed that if the professor is just there reading the slides, the students have checked out.


Another issue that distracts students is lack of communication from their professors. Not all that is taught comes easily to the students and they need help when the material is tough. Several suggested that it helps when an instructor acknowledges that the material is tedious and one succinctly remarked “don’t pretend it is the best and instead be candid when it is dry.”  Another student added faculty should try to be honest by saying “we are going to go through this with as little pain as possible. You need to learn this.” Dr. Maughner remarked that “brain biology results in our minds needing a little rest every 10 or 15 minutes.” He peppers his students with distractors when he feels he is beginning to lose their attention. If you wonder what happens when a grasshopper goes into the bar, stop by one of his classes. His intention, to help the students reflect and think about what they have just learned before they move on, seems to work since it gives students a bit of a mental break before they have to continue with the complex processing. And a little laughter seems to help keep students engaged.


One dilemma discussed was the role of the professor and the textbook. One of the panelists vehemently wants professors to structure the class just like the textbook. This student only goes to class if it is mandatory because he finds “I am one of those who doesn’t go to class. I read the textbook and that works for me.” He claims that as a self-motivator, he doesn’t need a professor to help convey the textbook and that his approach is efficient. Ironically the student sitting next to him had taken a class with him where both of them had made A’s, yet this student always went to class and never reads the textbook. For him, it is the professor who will make or break a course. Their pronounced preferences helped us to think about the differences in our students and recognize that one size doesn’t fit all.


The graduate student who has been teaching gave us a closing call to action. She stressed “the more demanding you are, the better your students will perform. If you expect excellence of your students, they will perform with excellence. You have to do this from the beginning by making this clear on your syllabus and continuing the whole way through. These undergraduates are capable of so much.” And Dr. Maughmer concluded “they are capable of so little if you don’t.”




Participate in a community of faculty peers by coming to our new faculty seminars

If you are a new professor here at Penn State, please consider joining us for our new faculty seminar series. Four times this academic year we are offering seminars that should not only get you more in the know about various aspects of your new role, but they will also serve as an excellent forum for meeting other new professors who are going through the same kind of adjustments as you. Who knows when you may need a colleague across campus to partner with on a proposal or to go hiking with on Mt Nittany?

Please join us at any or all of these events by going to:


Top 10 Things Every New Faculty Member Should Know

Tuesday, September 11, 2012, Noon – 1 pm, Rider 315

Two pre-tenure faculty, Dr. Erika Poole and Dr. Kamesh Madduri, will share what they have learned about teaching and learning, workload issues, and faculty expectations during their first few years at Penn State. Their insights are worth hearing and joining in will be a good way for you to begin developing a community of new faculty peers.


Using Your Voice in the Classroom

Wednesday, November 7, 2012, 12:15 – 1:15 pm, Rider 315

University professors are professional public speakers and the skill to speak healthily is just as important as keeping current in research and being able to create a stimulating environment in the classroom. Make sure you are getting your message across in a confident, sustainable manner by joining Professor Jennifer Trost, School of Music, who will discuss the proper care of the voice and offer suggestions to increase your stamina and ability to project.


Analyzing Your Student Evaluations

Thursday, January 24, 2013, Noon – 1 pm, Rider 315

You just got your first set of student evaluations back. Would you like to discuss them in an environment where others, just like you, are figuring out for the first time how to interpret and utilize the results? Come to this session to take a closer look at the SRTEs and to figure out how to use these ratings to guide teaching improvement.


Getting the Most from Your Mentor

Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:15 – 1:15 pm, Rider 315

Going it alone is not a recommended path for new professors. With all of the new opportunities and expectations, you may feel you don’t have any time for relationships. Yet you need support and guidance. During this session, we hear from a faculty with mentoring expertise and we will listen to your perspectives on the mentoring you have received so far. At the end, you should leave with some new ideas on how to enhance your mentoring experiences.


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.

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.


Do Students Know Best?

So many of us in higher education enthusiastically endorse current instructional strategies intended to engage active, meaningful learning in the classroom. While there are many instructional approaches used to actively involve students, one that is easily recognized is the Socratic Method. You can picture it – an interactive discussion-style teaching approach where the instructor asks questions and engages students to talk, think, and learn from each other. It certainly seems students would want to be involved and working with others in the classroom, yet a recent Inside Higher Ed story, Socratic Backfire? , sheds light on another perspective.

I’m not sure what I make of this story – lots of questions are swirling in my head. What was it really like inside his classroom? Why were the students either not willing or not able to engage in this type of teaching? Were they reacting to their own learning discomfort or were they not able to learn with this process? What does this kind of reaction tell us about today’s students? Why didn’t the professor’s colleagues see glaring instructional inadequacies? Sometimes it feels like there is too much emphasis on blame and finger pointing in our classrooms and not enough emphasis on learning.

What are they thinking?

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my eye –  It begins with a story about a group of students who designed a survey that included this question: “On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), do you feel that dyeing your hair purple helps your self of steam?”  I laughed and I wondered how they came to such a conclusion.  How have they not heard the correct term? Do we communicate so that they can hear us? Wouldn’t the “hover generation” know the term self- esteem?  Do we take an opportunity like this one to correct students’ thinking and to hear their logic behind “self of steam” o r is it easiest just to chalk this up to naivety?  Actually this cleverly written article has raised many issues to think about as this semester begins.