Pedagogy Now! Creating Effective Evaluation Techniques

Thanks to everyone who attended our CAA workshop, Creating Effective Evaluation Techniques. We had a great time presenting and got a lot of feedback through all the fabulous questions and comments.
As promised, here is our powerpoint presentation PDF. Please feel free to give us any feedback, to ask us questions via the blog or email, or to ask us to address particular issues in the blog. We are also happy to come to your school to do a workshop tailored to your program’s needs. Contact us here:



Technology in the Classroom- Use of Laptops, Notebooks & Smartphones

The issue of whether students should be allowed to use their laptops, smartphones, notebook computers, etc. while class is going on has been a hot topic for many professors for a long time now. This is a topic for which there is no one perfect solution, as use of these devices can make total sense for some courses but not for others. While more and more professors seem to be finding ways to integrate the use of these devices into their classes in a way that is acceptable to both them and to the students themselves, it still remains a challenge.

David Gooblar recently published an article in his Pedagogy Unbound blog in which he cites a method used by two professors at the University of British Columbia. At the start of the semester, they have the students themselves collaborate on a usage policy that everyone in the class will be expected to follow throughout the term. This approach has the advantage of making the students be part of the solution to the problem, thus increasing the probability of their buying into whatever policies are decided upon. (The solution that seems to be least-successful is the one in which the professor dictates the terms of usage to the students. That seems to light the fire of student ingenuity as they then try to find ways around whatever you’ve dictated.)

In a lecture class of roughly 70 students, I prefer a more hybrid solution. I would address this issue on the first day of class. A colleague of mine who is a psychology professor had polled her students about what they found to be the top five most annoying classroom behaviors exhibited by fellow students during class. Number one on their list was “side conversations”, closely followed by “laptop and cell phone use”. For each point on the list, I asked my students to articulate why they thought that item was on the list. What made that behavior particularly annoying?

They determined that, in the case of laptops and cell phones, it was the distraction factor, I then gave them a few minutes to discuss amongst themselves possible solutions. They spoke up and in the end agreed to try to minimize disruptive use of technology.

I went on to tell them that they would have plenty of opportunities to use both laptops and smartphones during class time, as there were times that I would expect them to conduct in-class research or to participate in online polls, take notes, etc. But I also told them that there would be times when it would not only be inappropriate but unnecessary to be on their devices and that, at those times, I would require that they be put to sleep or turned off.

I am convinced that this kind of open conversation on the first day was the reason why  the use of technological devices never became a problem in that class, despite its size. It also helped that I asked them to use their devices at minimum in every second class, even if only for a few minutes. This seemed to diffuse some of the pent up need to power up a screen and allowed them to focus better for the remainder of the class.

You’ve Made a Mistake- Now What??!!

Every person who has ever taught a class has made an error of some sort. Sometimes you know you’ve made one immediately, while sometimes the mistake becomes evident only after a period of time.

I was recently contacted by an adjunct professor who had been provided by her university with a syllabus, lesson plans, assignment instructions, grading rubrics, etc. for a very technical class. One of the assignments had a set of relatively complex instructions. Five weeks into the project, she discovered to her horror that she had interpreted the instructions for the assignment in a certain way, and while half of the class had followed her lead, the other half of the class had interpreted them completely differently. Because of this, this second group was generating work that was different than that of their classmates. How should a professor handle something like this and still be fair to all?

While there were a number of solutions to this specific problem, the key to resolving any problem that arises from a teacher error is to admit to the class that you made a mistake. Give them a brief outline of what happened- they don’t need to know all the details, just enough to give them a picture of what led to the confusion/misunderstanding/error. This shows them that you are on top of it now, and that you understand the necessity of working towards a fair solution. Then present them with that solution, which is just what this professor did.

In this case, the best solution had to strike a balance between what was done by both groups prior to discovery of the error, what the assignment originally intended (learning outcomes), how well the work already done by both groups would achieve the learning outcomes of the assignment, and importantly how the professor wanted to grade the assignment from this point forward.

New links

I’ve been working on putting up some new links, especially on teaching and learning. Note especially The University Center for the Advancement of Teaching (Ohio State) which has some excellent resources:

A fabulous new link is from the Innovation League is called Getting Results:
This is a crash course in course creation targeted towards community college instructors, but the information is valuable for anyone, especially if you are interested in learning more about those buzz topics: learning outcomes, active learning and assessment.

I’ve created a new Rubrics category for links, and will add more in the future.

Pedagogy Now! Teaching Teachers to Teach

Attached is a PDF of the 2012 SPE presentation by Janie, Suz and Angela. This is intended to be helpful in jumpstarting ideas surrounding the topics. It is, of course, missing our fabulous presenter skills! Please note that movies are inactive and not all the links translated as live in this PDF, however there should be enough info to point you in the right direction for further research.

Art Professor as God

Critique process has changed a lot since the makers of Six Feet Under went to school…. the art professor/art star strutting around dropping pearls of wisdom to his protege’ is amusing, but not terribly useful. There’s a lot to love here, however, and heck, why not do something that might surprise students, like, “everyone get on the floor…. now!”

Six Feet Under art school clip 1

Six Feet Under art school clip 2

What’s wrong with “Like”

I’ll admit it, I’m an anti-like evangelista.

My students all learn that it is a pet peeve of mine to begin a critique with, “I like…” Not only is it unproductive, but it makes the critique personal, and that’s often not helpful. Overuse of like makes for lazy critiques.

Helping students to learn that although we may enter the conversation based on our personal attraction (or repulsion to) an art work, for the conversation to be useful to the maker (and to the rest of us) we need to delve beyond that personal attraction and explore what makes the work successful (or unsuccessful).

My classes may laugh about my seemingly futile attempts to get students to drop this use of like, but I do make a concerted attempt to get the students to find different ways of approaching the subject such as: “I respond to that work because….” It’s the because that is important. If we don’t strive to explain why we respond the way we do, then critique becomes merely an exercise in personal preference.

Ask your students to exercise their minds and go a little deeper when undertaking the critique process.