Last school year I was tasked with teaching Statistical Methods (a.k.a. introductory statistics). In our department this class is somewhat special in that it's standardized. There are about 5 to 6 sections each semester. Each instructor uses the same lecture slides, delivers a similar lecture, and gives the same quizzes and exams. The original mastermind behind this course wanted the curriculum to be largely student-directed. As part of this new curriculum, we tell students to study exclusively from the book to prepare for assessments as they are designed to very closely follow homework questions in the book. In this case “closely follow” means the exact same questions can appear on the assessment that were part of the assigned homework questions. Depending on the schedule, there are times during the semester where course material is only lectured on for a day before the students are quizzed on it. For these two reasons it seems advantageous to do the homework; however it is not calculated into the student's grade, so not everyone does it despite the potential benefits and me telling them to.
Here at The Novice Professor, you may have noticed that we regularly review research on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). This enables us to stay connected to relevant research findings, and learn new, effective methods for teaching. If you are following TNP, you most likely share our passion for teaching. Many of us are constantly adapting our courses to improve learning outcomes, encourage student engagement, and, occasionally, make our lives as instructors a little easier. But how do we know if our course changes are having an impact?
When designing a course, deciding how to spend class time is an important decision. Hopefully instructors plan to incorporate as many evidenced based practices as possible. Two common practices are quizzes and reflections. Clinton (2018) wanted to know which strategy was more effective as both have been shown to improve learning outcomes.
Traditional textbooks now come with some really cool online supplements. The goal for many who use these supplements in their courses is to increase student learning. While supplements vary in their offerings, most include some kind of quizzing component based on learning and memory principles like spacing and testing effects. Principles that we know can be effective for learning and retaining information. The purpose of these textbook supplements is great, but they often come with a pretty hefty price tag; especially when students need to buy the accompanying textbook new in order to get the access code. I am a passionate supporter of the trend in higher-ed toward cheaper (or free) textbook options, so I have wondered about the utility of these supplements in the face of the high price tag that often accompanies them.
For some of us instructors summer courses are in full swing. The spring semester feels like ages ago, but at some point during the summer, the end-of-semester evaluation feedback becomes available. As we’ve already moved on to other classes, looking it over and making any suggested changes to the course may not be at the top of our priority list. It was reported that only 77% of instructors made changes to the course based on feedback received in evaluations (Spencer & Flyr, as cited in McDonnell & Dodd, 2017). This statistic to me seems outrageous! How will our courses/teaching improve if we don’t listen to our captive audience? One idea that’s already been used to alleviate this issue is to implement mid-semester feedback. Using this technique does increase instructor ratings (Cohen, as cited in McDonnell & Dodd, 2017). But isn’t there something more that we can do?
Researchers in psychology know that learning isn’t simple. Learning and memory have been researched extensively throughout psychology’s evolution. They are complex topics that have spawned more than 100 years of research. Despite this, when it comes to teaching psychology, we seem to fall short in extending what we understand about the mind by applying it to those minds that are trying to learn in our classroom. To this end, Chew and colleagues (2018) discuss how we need to “Practice What We Teach” in an article published this month in Teaching of Psychology. In the article, the authors highlight numerous points (9 total) that need to be addressed in our field in order to promote teaching and learning in psychology. The article itself is fairly short (about 5 pages of text, excluding references), so I strongly encourage folks to read their concise review of how we can improve teaching in our field.
I won’t review each point they raised, but there were a couple key themes that really struck home for me. [read more below]
Guest Contributor: Dr. Brian Day, Butler University
Well the title of this article sure did its job – it grabbed my attention while I was browsing through past volumes of the journal Teaching of Psychology. As an instructor tasked with teaching Introductory Psychology for the foreseeable future I was intrigued by the prospects of improving student success through valuable instructor-student relationships. In the article titled “Student Success in Introductory Psychology: The Value of Teachers Knowing More About Their Students”, Wu and Kraemer (2017) discuss a project with the goal of identifying indicators of student success in introductory psychology courses. Their hope was that if these indicators could be identified early, then teaching, classroom methods, and classroom engagement opportunities could be tailored to help particular students succeed. The results of the investigation showed that a student’s ability to engage academically, prepare appropriately, their self-views concerning growth, and some in-class behaviors all correlated with performance outcomes (namely scores on exams). The authors discuss all of these findings in regards to strategies that college instructors can use to promote student achievement in introductory psychology, and this is where I wish to reflect.
The replication crisis has been an important topic of discussion in recent years for psychology researchers. However, are these discussions reaching students? It makes sense that they would because these students will one day be the up-and-coming researchers in the field.