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Posts from the ‘Teaching’ Category

18
Feb

Evaluation Plan for Faculty Can Be Fun. Really.

© Laura Strickland/MyCuteGraphics.com

So I’m a member of the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) committee again this year. As a member of this committee, I have agreed to be a mentor for a probational faculty member that needs to comply with the RFP requirements. When I heard about these new requirements for probationary faculty, my first thought was, thank goodness I’m not probationary. I don’t want to have any part of that. Well, it turns out no one can really escape PAR. Even us old residential faculty, as all the newbies are required to have mentors. And with so many new faculty, pretty much everyone who is not new is a mentor.

The Maricopa Community College District implemented this new peer assistance and review model (PAR) for probationary faculty about 4 years ago. Faculty are considered probationary for 5 years. Under this new model, probationary faculty are assigned a residential faculty mentor to help guide them through the process to becoming residential (tenured). As part of the PAR, probationary faculty have the opportunity to document their professional growth, mentor evaluation, administrative evaluations, and student evaluations in a Google Sites template.

I actually ended up with two pretty awesome mentees. Both are excellent teachers and fun to work with. The best part is they make being a mentor fairly easy. I’m going to share my recent evaluation of one although evaluation isn’t quite the right word. It was more of an observation with feedback. Evaluation indicates the making of a judgment about the value of something; assessment. I’d like to believe all teaching has value, and it’s really not up to me to judge someone’s value or their teaching. I like to observe and then give feedback. Lucky for me what I’ve observed has always been inspiring.

Recently I sat in on an after class review session and the room was full. My first observation was how does that happen. Students stick around for a study session after class? The whole class was engaged. They were divided into groups of 2-4 and it appeared that they each had an assigned topic to cover. As the instructor called on each group, students were prepared with their information. Some reading from notes or slides; others reciting information from memory. My mentee was encouraging and peppered the whole class and group members with questions. Students volunteered answered. Whether they were correct or incorrect, they each received the same kind feedback that the answer was correct or incorrect. It didn’t seem punitive if the answer was not correct. Someone else was just called on to provide a different answer. The whole session was positive and encouraging. I was inspired, and I wasn’t even a student in the class.

It’s really good to see good teaching, but the best part is there is no one way about it. Every instructor brings her own touch to the classroom, and we can all learn by observing how others get the job done. Turns out that this whole PAR thing might not be such a bad thing after all.

6
Sep

Improving Retention in Online Courses Takes Work, But Do Retention Techniques Help?

I’ve been teaching online now for 18 years. Makes me sound old, especially since so many instructors are brand new to teaching online. Well times have changed, students have changed, and the technology we use to teach online has changed too, not all for the better. What I mean by that is students have different expectations of what online learning is and most mistakenly believe online courses will be easier for them to complete. As an online instructor, this is often difficult to deal with especially if you’re set on improving retention in your courses. Over the years I’ve developed some pretty standard processes to help with this, but more so lately I’ve found that those strategies are reaching directly to the student and not necessarily the course design. However, I’ll preview a few of each in this post.

First, students need to be aware of what the expectations are for the online course up front and preferably before the course begins. This way students will have an opportunity to learn what is expected and make a wise decision to continue on or drop and add an on-ground course. As a policy for our English department online courses, we open the courses 3-7 days before the start date. We also send a welcome letter to students outlining the expectations of the course, which generally discusses expected study time each week and advice on what it takes to be successful in the online course. Here is an example letter here. I’ve had a few students opt out of the class after reading the letter and taking a look around the online course.

Another retention technique is to include an orientation in the first week of your course. The orientation will give students early on a taste of many of the kinds of tasks they will be assigned to do throughout the course. Having them experience these things early on with low stakes makes doing these tasks later on much easier. It also ensures the instructor that all students know how to do what is expected when it’s time to do them. I require students to complete the orientation within the first five days of the course in order to remain enrolled in the course. If they don’t complete it, they are dropped as a No Show and get a full refund.

The orientation includes things like Read moreRead more

10
Jan

Converting Files from PDF to Word for Power of Process

There’s a great feature in McGraw-Hill’s Connect Composition called Power of Process. “Power of Process guides students through performance-based assessment activities that require them to apply active reading and writing strategies while demonstrating critical thinking and analysis of a reading selection with their own writing.” It’s truly a great tool for teaching students to critically read and annotate research articles for research papers. The only problem is the program only accepts doc and docx files. The way my assignment works is students do research and then upload the articles they find into the Connect Composition Power of Process assignment. The first assignment is a web search assignment, so most students find web articles, but the second assignment is a periodical database search and many of those articles are PDF files. In both cases students must turn the content they find into a Word document.

toepubThe first is easy, as student simply cut and paste the web content in a word processing program of their choice and export as a doc or docx file. Done. I don’t even have to tell them how to do that, but with the PDF files, many students are stumped. One tool that I’ve found to help with this is To ePub. To ePub allows you to convert PDF and other types of documents to a variety of ebook formats, but it also works the other way. It converts PDF to doc, docx, text, image, and png. It also allows you to combine multiple PDF files into one.  It does the job.

If you find yourself in need of a Word document instead of the PDF file, check out To ePub.

28
Feb

The Pressure is on for English Teachers

freshmancompI teach English at GCC. Technically I teach Freshman Composition, but we say English when asked what we teach. Composition is writing. This is a very interesting considering I majored in English Literature. You know: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Austen, Joyce and Lawrence. I was never taught to write beyond ENG101 and ENG102 in undergrad, but I was expected to do it in every literature class I took. I eventually graduated with a degree in English Literature. So what kind of job does one get with a degree in English Literature? Education or teaching is the number one option. So here I am, teaching English at GCC.

What you can garner from that short story is that most college students get very few opportunities to learn how to write, even when you are studying to be an English teacher. I eventually earned a masters degree in education where I learned to teach writing, but composition classes prior to that were minimal. That is why ENG101 and ENG102 for our students is so crucial. For most it will be their only opportunity to learn to write for their college careers and life in general. Those important skills they learn in Freshman Composition include:

  • Written and other communication skills
  • Understanding complex ideas and theories
  • Research

So the pressure is on for English teachers – ENG101 and ENG102 teachers. These are important skills that go beyond just writing an essay. We’re trying to teach students to think critically, read critically, research critically, and then write. That’s what makes Freshman Composition challenging for students. For the most part, students know how to write or they should considering they just spend four years in high school learning how to do it. But college writing is different. There’s more at stake considering this may be students only chance to learn these skills. Yet many students don’t see the importance of these two courses. They take it for granted.

As I sit here reflecting and writing, I’m all that more thankful for the English teachers I had at Phoenix College and Yavapai College. Because with out that foundation those instructors instilled in me, I really don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing today. And I don’t just mean teaching English. I mean blogging and writing all over the internet in social media sites, writing emails to my colleagues, and writing in my profession. I’m thankful I have the skills, written and other communication skills, critical thinking skills, and research skills, to do my job and do it well.

12
Nov

Annotating Online Sources Using Diigo

diigoIf you have any need for annotating webpages or PDFs for a research project, then Diigo is the tool for you. Diigo is a social bookmarking website which allows signed-up users to bookmark and tag web-pages. Additionally, it allows users to highlight any part of a webpage and attach sticky notes to specific highlights or to a whole page. This is especially helpful for students working on research projects, as Diigo is web based and free.

I’ve shared information about Diigo previously, Using Social Bookmarking in Research Assignments, so check that post out as well. But in this post I want to share with you how to set up an assignment for students to create a modified annotated bibliography. The gist of the assignment is: Students will search for and find web articles relevant to their research projects and create an annotated bibliography with those sources.

  1. Go to http://diigo.com and click Sign Up. getdiigo You can apply for a teacher account option here, after you have signed up.
  2. The next step is to set up in a group for your class. Watch a video to learn how to set up a group in Diigo. Groups are nice for organization by class, but not necessary.
  3. Next get students signed up for Diigo. Send them to http://diigo.com and click Sign Up. You can set up accounts for students, but that’s more appropriate for K-12 students who need more guidance and greater privacy.
  4. Then give them this assignment: Annotated Bibliography Using Diigo

PDF annotation can be done by first uploading the PDF file and then opening it within your Diigo library, or alternatively and often more conveniently, by opening it directly in the browser and using the Diigo browser extension for Chrome and Firefox. (extensions for IE, Safari, and Opera currently do not support this capability)

Diigo is free with an option to Go Pro for a few extra features. They also have educator accounts. There is a heavy focus on education with this tool, so if you sign up with an educator account, you’ll end up with a Teacher Console area where you can manage all of your classes (groups).

Here’s How it Works

28
Oct

Defending Modules in Online and Hybrid Courses

I just recently returned from a conference and was intrigued to find that a presenter didn’t particularly like the idea of using modules in his hybrid course. In fact, he said that “all that extra junk” was confusing to students. I was assuming all the “extra junk” was referring to some of the standards Quality Matters suggests we add to our course in order to have quality. I often find that many online courses don’t bother to list course objectives or link them to the learning, something many students couldn’t care less about. But even if there is just one student who wants to know why they are doing a particular assignment, we should make the effort to tie it all together for him/her.

Basically this instructor had a problem with the modules option in Canvas and avoided setting up a modules page in lieu of a front page with links to weekly pages. In the weekly pages, which could be considered mini modules, he posted everything the students would do for that week. I failed to see how that was better than using the modules. In fact, you can create the same effect in modules.

Module 1

The whole concept behind using modules is it benefits students; first by providing consistency. “By incorporating the same types of components in each course module, students quickly pick up on the course’s rhythms and patterns and have a better idea of what to expect than if the course were designed using a varying structure,” says  in his article in Faculty Focus titled “A Modular Course Design Benefits Online Instructor and Students.” He goes on to quote Andrea Henne, dean of online and distributed learning in the San Diego Community College District, who said,  “Often online students get a little bit lost, and they don’t understand what they’re expected to do. But if the course follows a format that’s recognizable and comfortable, then the second week and subsequent weeks are consistent.”

For me, I use the end of a module to trigger major assessments like an essay and/or a module quiz. I want to evaluate students to see if they are ready to move on to the next sequence or module. I have smaller assessment in each week (assignments) to keep student actively learning and building skills for the larger assessments. But when my students move to the next module, they can expect the same pattern, smaller assessments, lessons, discussion, major assessments (quiz and essay) at the end. Take a deep breath and move on to the next.

Consistency should follow through within the week pages as well. For my class, Read moreRead more

17
Oct

How I Teach with SoftChalk Cloud

Recently I’ve been doing some more work in SoftChalk, developing online lessons for my online and hybrid courses. I’m still a little nervous about relying so much on SoftChalk Cloud since the district is in the middle of an RFP for a tool that does the same thing. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that SoftChalk wins the bid, mostly because this is what I’m familiar with and have already invested so much time working with. I’m unsure if GCC will continue to buy it for us if the district goes in a different direction. The only way to guarantee that is to get more users on campus. We have 50 licenses and plenty are still available for use.

In an effort to generate more users here on our campus, I made two videos to tell people more about SoftChalk. A while back I create a video: What is SoftChalk? and now I want to share with you Softchalk Cloud and how and why I use it in my class. See the video below.

SoftChalk Cloud is the fastest, easiest, most flexible way to create and manage e-learning content for delivery inside or outside of a LMS. Educators can create engaging, interactive, media-rich learning content that directly integrates with any LMS or website.

I’ve been mostly pleased with how SoftChalk integrates with our LMS, Canvas, especially with how quizzes or activities built into a SoftChalk lesson are scored and added to the Canvas gradebook if you add the lesson to an assignment in Canvas. That is a super nice feature.

Here is a slide that I cover in the video that talks about how I teach and what my needs are in regards to technology. Watch the video below to listen to my thoughts on this.

slide

What is SoftChalk Cloud?

14
Oct

ENG102 Research Assignment – Odyssey V: Locating Reference Sources

Back in January I blogged about the research assignments I use in my ENG102 course. I call these assignments Odyssey assignments to put emphasis on their importance. You can read more about that in the first assignment: Odyssey I. I thought it would be a nice addition to share the assignments too. So if you haven’t done so, revisit the first post and then come back and view the assignments.

We do this assignment in Week 10, and prior to doing the assignments students are instructed to view the following lessons: Reference Sources (but I haven’t created it yet), so they read these handouts:

Assignment #9 – Odyssey V: Locating Reference Sources

Instructional Objectives

In this assignment students will:

  1. refine strategies for understanding and evaluating sources,
  2. refine strategies for searching library catalog systems for reference sources, and
  3. practice note taking skills by writing paraphrases, summaries and quoting sources.

How do I find reference sources using the Library Catalog?

The Library Catalog contains records for both print and online reference sources. Below are some suggestions which will help you locate reference materials when you search the Library Catalog. Since we have already searched online sources. This assignment will focus only on reference sources housed in a physical library.

Tips for Finding Specific Types of Reference Sources

Click on the handout to access this material. Inside are some suggestions for locating specific types of reference sources based on Library of Congress Subject Headings.

  • Almanacs and Factbooks
  • Atlases and Gazetteers
  • Biographical Sources
  • Book Reviews
  • Catalogs
  • Citation Manuals
  • Dictionaries (English)
  • Dictionaries (Non-English)
  • Dictionaries (Subject Specific)
  • Directories
  • Encyclopedias
  • Grammar and Usage
  • Quotations
  • Thesauri

Assignment #9 Instructions

After you have read the handout on Finding Reference Sources Using the Library Catalog, grab the  Library of Congress Classification Outline handout to use as a guide. You can also get the handout in the GCC library. You MUST visit a local library to do this assignment. NO ONLINE sources can be used for Part I of this assignment. Using the four basic types of reference works: almanacs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and quotation books, complete the following instructions:

Read moreRead more

14
Oct

ENG102 Research Assignment – Odyssey IV: Scholarly Journal Search

Back in January I blogged about the research assignments I use in my ENG102 course. I call these assignments Odyssey assignments to put emphasis on their importance. You can read more about that in the first assignment: Odyssey I. I thought it would be a nice addition to share the assignments too. So if you haven’t done so, revisit the first post and then come back and view the assignments.

We do this assignment in Week 9, and prior to doing the assignments students are instructed to view the following lessons:

Assignment #8 – Odyssey IV: Scholarly Journal Search

Instructional Objectives

In this assignment students will:

  1. refine strategies for understanding and evaluating sources.
  2. refine strategies for searching online database systems for scholarly articles, and
  3. practice note taking skills by writing paraphrases, summaries and quoting sources

Searching Scholarly Journals

I. Go to the GCC library website: http://lib.gccaz.edu/lmc/ or click the Library Resources tab on the left. From the GCC Library Homepage, click on the Articles & Databases link in the left column or at the top in blue. Choose the Academic Search Premier database from the General list. This scholarly collection offers journal, magazine, and newspaper articles in nearly every area of academic study including: computer sciences, engineering, physics, chemistry, language and linguistics, arts & literature, medical sciences, ethnic studies, etc. as well as 180,000 searchable images.

If you are accessing the GCC library from off campus, you will need to log in with your MEID and password. There is help on the login page if you need it, and you can always click the link to

Once you’re in, Click on Advanced Search.

Read moreRead more

14
Oct

ENG102 Research Assignment – Odyssey III: Locating Periodicals in Databases

Back in January I blogged about the research assignments I use in my ENG102 course. I call these assignments Odyssey assignments to put emphasis on their importance. You can read more about that in the first assignment: Odyssey I. I thought it would be a nice addition to share the assignments too. So if you haven’t done so, revisit the first post and then come back and view the assignments.

We do this assignment in Week 6, and prior to doing the assignments students are instructed to view the following lesson: Lesson 6.2 Periodicals & Databases

Assignment #6: Odyssey III – Locating Periodicals in Databases   

Instructional Objectives

In this assignment students will:

  1. refine strategies for searching the online database systems.
  2. and practice note taking skills by writing paraphrases and quoting sources

A Little Humor About Using Databases Instead of Google

Odyssey III Steps:

Read moreRead more