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September 28, 2001

Teachers offer tips on teaching

by Debra Gibson
Teach your brethren well.

Such was the directive Sept. 19 for the first faculty forum of the school year, Teaching Tips from Exemplary ISU Faculty. Sponsored by the Center for Teaching Excellence, the forum, attended by about 95 university teachers, featured 13 faculty who offered, in three minutes or less, their most effective instructional advice.

Suggestions included:
  • Implement daily outcomes. Steve Jungst, forestry, advised that such a content checklist, handed out for each class period, keeps both himself and his students more focused on what I want them to know. Jungst admitted that it was very humbling when he first introduced the checklists to his classes, as it resulted in eliminating about three days worth of lecture material he no longer deemed pertinent for students.
  • Modify coursework as necessary. Scott Chadwick, Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, shared how the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., resulted in wiping out the last half of the syllabus for a graduate course he is teaching. Students now are conducting empirical research pertinent to the events, with an eye on publishing the results and making a formal presentation to the Greenlee faculty. Were headed down a new path, Chadwick explained, and the kids have a real ownership in the class.
  • Use group work to increase student participation and collaboration. Some instructors, like Sue Crull, human development and family studies, assign group quizzes on Mondays (the deadest day of the week). Questions focus on critical thinking and problem solving, Crull said, and rely on assigned readings.
Amy Slagell, English, assigns group work on exams. I was looking for ways to turn that energy for exams into a deeper learning experience, Slagell said. The group work never involves more than 10 to 20 percent of an exam, and students can choose to work independently. Questions are more complicated, Slagell explained, resulting in deep learning essays.

Ensuring all students contribute to the group is the challenge for Chalandra Bryant, human development and family studies. Her groups must come up with a name for themselves, and need to collaborate during classroom discussions to answer questions as a group. I want them to come away from my classes learning life lessons, not just spewing facts, Bryant said.
  • Make good use of progress checks. Jan Thompson, forestry, uses a variety of assessment techniques to keep students and herself abreast of their learning. I want to help them organize their knowledge, Thompson said, and I can use this information to adjust my instruction. As teachers, we try to pull them toward where we are, rather than go where they are.
  • Offer evaluation opportunities at midterm. Michael Martin, landscape architecture, requests course evaluations from his students during the semester. According to Martin, this process allows students an active role in shaping the presentation or structure of the class. Students are asked to provide three examples of positive feedback and three of constructive criticism.
  • Role-play real-life situations. Loren Zachary, aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, transforms his students into working groups with specific design-related assignments. Each group is allotted a 15-minute session with Zachary, their boss, to convince him of their solution.
  • Stress both responsibility and vulnerability. Connie Hargrave, curriculum and instruction, begins each course with a win one for the Gipper speech, then provides students with worksheets focusing on personal responsibility and goal-setting for the course.
Neil Nakadate, English, encourages his students each semester to take a chance. If students are not ready to take risks as learners, then we wont be very successful teaching them, Nakadate said.

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