Category Archives: Teach on Purpose

Active Learning: What to do With Yourself

Active learning is amazing in many ways. One of the ways that it is amazing is that it allows the professor to fine tune the brick-and-mortar classroom experiences to really focus on the muddiest, trickiest part of the learning process in a way that you could not before. Student centered teaching shifts the focus of the classroom from the instructor. Students can grapple with the most challenging part of the assignment together, with your help, so that you can really find that spot where student keep getting tripped up and adjust their conceptions, which leads to better outcomes on course deliverables.

The reason it’s so tricky is because sometimes that also means you spend less time lecturing, which being a university instructor, is probably something you are pretty good at. When I stopped lecturing as much in classes, I had even more time to engage with students and make those direct contacts that are so satisfying to you as a teacher. But I also noticed you need to be careful to make sure to design activities for yourself.

I get very bored easily. When your teaching is reactive to learning, sometimes there’s a period where one is pedagogically “waiting for the water to boil”. Waiting for students to learn so I can teach is very challenging. I imagine it might also be challenging for other people. So here are some of things that I do instead in a flipped environment when I might have to spend 5-10 minutes not being the object of attention to get the most of the active learning environment.

  • Do informal assessment. Get out a pen, look around, and observe your students. What are they discussing? What is tripping them up the most? I find this helpful because I often forget as an expert all the things I do easily that my students might not be as good at. I try to use the extra time to assess student learning so I can see overall how the class is doing. I find recording this information makes it more functional to you in the future.
  • Observe inter-group dynamics. My students work with the same group all semester, and I really pay attention to how each of the group is working. Are all students working together, or in two pairs? Is there one student who seemed to be doing all the work and not letting the other students get involved? Is there a student who is on their phone and not helping? Alternately is there a student who might be struggling with the material and therefore left out of the group as they move forward on the assignment? Any of these dynamics might affect the performance of the group and are important to keep track of. Extra bonus is that this was something that you could never observe first hand before active learning; you just had to sort of guess what was happening in the groups or rely on accounts of different students. In class activities gives you a real chance to observe up close what is happening inside the group.
  • Learn student names. Our Blackboard has a feature called “Photo Roster” which allows you print out a picture of all your students. I use this as I quiz myself on their names. It’s a wonderful feeling when you can surprise a student by calling them by name in class. You can do that more often if you take the time learn the students’ names. If you don’t have photo roster, you can also use name tags. This also makes it easier to start associating names with faces, so that when students email you, you know which student is which. I have between 80 and 116 students each semester, so this can be a real help.
  • Prepare the next activity. The more you prep your activities, the faster you can get to them. Enough said.
  • Join in. It’s always good to join a group and actually do the activities that you devise, though I will say that you tend to be faster at them then your students. This does seem to be logical first step, but you also might freak them out a little depending on the activity. But sometimes you can learn new things about your activity and do more in-depth assessment. Or sometimes you can focus your participation in a group where a student might be struggling and help that student keep on task. Also you plan really fun activities, right?

The objective of this post isn’t to say you can’t lecture. Sometimes the best way to tell people is to tell them something all at the same time. Also, sometimes to create a good learning environment, there is some need for storytelling and theatrics. But I think I’ve learn a lot of things by shutting up and watching my student work, and I think this greatly improves the classroom for everyone involved.

Press: Fulton Indiana Project with Purdue Women Lifting Communities in Krannert Magazine

From time to time I get the opportunity to be interviewed on various projects. When one is on the tenure track, one cannot be shy about one’s achievements. Self-promotion is part of the duties.

I was lucky to be interviewed for Krannert Magazine’s Fall Issue about a project I worked on with a couple of other folks inside of the School of Management. The project started with Joy Dietz and the Women in Management Program, but it sort of blossomed out into my Greater Lafayette Greater class and also into two groups of independent studies under a marketing professor.

Krannert Magazine front cover

Article with quote and pictures from Fulton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those that do not know Fulton, Indiana, it is a very small (around 200 people) town outside of Rochester, Indiana. I went out there for an event last spring to better understand the issues of Fulton. Some of the issues involved the lack employment opportunities and net migration from the town. What we found was that while Fulton had approached the Krannert School of Management for help, the town has  a lot resources and a really nice new little community center. I like to try and help people help themselves. I don’t think that just because you ask for help it means that I need to find a problem to solve in your community. I am always happy to work with other communities.

Here’s the website to read about it: http://www.krannert.purdue.edu/konline/2017f/features/fulton-1.php

No-No-November: What Can You Say NO to in Your Teaching?

My excellent colleague Dr. Julia Kalish has been running something she calls No-No-No-November this past month. The concept, per Kalish’s blog post: “reduce, remove, quit, stop, and minimize as many nonessential tasks, belongings, activities, people, habits, and projects”. I love this idea, even though if there’s something about me you should know it’s that I am constantly saying yes to things. I do not consider the two to be mutually exclusive: you can say no in order to say yes to other things.

November is a great time to say NO to things in teaching, as you head into finals season and are probably thinking about what will go into your next syllabus. It’s been my goal since around early October to quit something every two weeks or so, or at least resolve to quit it. So far, I’ve resigned at least unofficially from my post as an editor of a column. I moved meetings with my supervisor from every two weeks to monthly. At first it’s really scary to quit things, because I often wonder that if I quit something if I am ever going to be able to get to that thing again. But then I remember all of things that I get to say yes to because I said no.

I love Julia’s idea, and I’m trying to extend the idea of NO to my own teaching. Here are some things I plan to say no to in the coming year:

  • NO to student emails. This next year when I teach my 120-student course, I’m going to have my Graduate Assistant answer all of my student emails in my large class. This is mainly for mostly practical reasons, since currently half of the students email the GA and the other half email the instructor. Why not simplify? Half of the time, I end up forwarding the email to the GA anyway.
  • NO to students turning things in on paper. It’s 2017, folks. You shouldn’t need to hand anything out. I’m resolving in the future as much as possible to only use paper when I need students to look at multiple things at the same time (the two monitor problem). And a definite NO to returning things to student on paper.
  • NO to database/Google comparison. This is more librarian focused, but I just hate it when people do this comparison. There’s no situation in the real world where you would try multiple different databases and just compare the results. That’s not a thing that real people do. More specifically, the results from one large database doesn’t reflect the total of databases..
  • NO to 5 minute guest lectures. If I’m there for less than 20 minutes, it’s like I wasn’t there at all. I don’t do many of these, but I am resolving in the future to do even less of these, maybe even none.
  • NO to internalizing my student’s performance as my performance as a professor. This is a tricky one, but I’m going to commit to saying NO. Students are adults, they can choose not to learn. I’m very critical of myself, I want to do well, but doing well isn’t putting too much stake on the performance of my students.

What can you say NO to in your teaching?

Why Teaching on Purpose

In my professional life I have a lot of doorway conversations with other academics, in an almost lewd manner, discussing what we do when we teach. I don’t mean like the large stuff. I’m talking about the small, everyday, boring dumb stuff that you don’t think about. Like the type of music they play in class or what they wear to work.

I started teaching by accident.  I found myself teaching mostly because I wanted as a librarian to help people, and in academia that means helping students, and the best way to help students is to teach them. After a certain point of doing things accidentally, it’s important to think about doing things on purpose, moving in a specific direction with specific intent. It’s important not to sneak, but to stride.

This blog is called Teaching On Purpose. It is a double meaning: one meaning is the need for more responsible teaching and learning, meaning ethical, sustainable, and purpose-driving teaching. But it also reflects an intent. Too often librarians end up teaching on accident. At some point in the information instruction game, we knew we wanted a seat at the table, and we wanted students to become more information literate, and the most logical way was for us to get into the classrooms and make it happen. We’re not unique in this. I think many academics didn’t plan to teach, but found that teaching was the best way to impact lives, to do life-giving research, to find their intellectual niche.

If we want to make real impacts through our teaching, we have to do it on purpose. Teaching purpose isn’t all the high things, it can also be the small things, the thing that you don’t do on purpose at first but then you stumble on it after a while and it just makes sense. It’s important that we find ourselves here. It’s the series of practices that makes us whole. To teach on purpose is the easiest method to a means. It’s not just because it seemed like a good idea at the time, but because it’s important, we’re important, and our students are important.

I don’t want to do things on accident so I have conversations in the hallways. I already write quite a bit for librarians, but I feel like most of my writing is often at the end of projects, and includes large, more serious questions. These aren’t conversations that are fully formed enough that you could “discover” them and publish in a scholarly journal. And they don’t really carry meaning that I would feel comfortable traveling to a conference just to share them. When I talk about teaching, I talk a lot about those things, but those conversations, because they are spoken, are often very ethereal. So I decided to start this blog. This blog is about the small little bits of intentional teaching that happen every day.