9 Proven Ways for Instructors to Address Online Student Retention

With accessibility to online education increasing, the retention of online students has become a concern of academic leaders in higher education (Allen & Seaman, 2015). As a result, many universities have launched initiatives to improve course completion, program completion, and student support services (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, & Freeman, 2015). Although many causes for students withdrawing from an online course are beyond the realm of instructor control, retention and attrition can be reduced through various means. Continue reading

The CATs in a Hat: Fostering Higher Order Thinking

This is the third article in our series on Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) which can be used to gauge lesson effectiveness and student comprehension. To review, CATs were developed by Angelo and Cross (1983) to efficiently check whether students understand a certain concept. For more examples of these formative assessments, please see our previous posts:

In this article, we will present three CATs focusing on developing Higher Order Thinking Skills (see Collins, 2014) and that can also be used face-to-face, hybrid, or online teaching. Continue reading

Are my students really getting it? CATs will show you the way.

In a previous post (see Gauging Student Understanding: CATs are puuuuur-fect), we introduced instructors to the idea of using Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) by Angelo and Cross (1983) to check whether students understand a certain concept. To recap, CATs are generally short, non-graded, and student-centered activities that provide instructors with feedback about lesson effectiveness and student comprehension. Best of all, they require little preparation, class time, or grading. In the following section, we present three additional CATs and suggest ways to adapt them to online courses. Continue reading

5 Things Successful Instructors Do When the Semester is Over

Checkered flagWith finals week coming to an end and grading about to be completed, it is only natural to make a mad dash for the door and enjoy a well-deserved break.  There is no question that we all need a break to relax and find inspiration, but before heading out, keep in mind that there is a good chance that you will have to return and teach the same or a similar course again. To save time in the future and perhaps “tweak” some elements of the course, consider the following five things successful instructors do when the semester is over.

1. Reflect on the Course

Reflection is not only an important aspect of student learning but also offers an opportunity for faculty to seek insights from past teaching experiences. At the end-of-the semester, when the memories are still fresh, take a few moments to reflect on the course (e.g., what went well, what did not?). It is helpful to write down a few notes to avoid forgetting important details over the break. As an alternative, one can also discuss the course with a colleague, a friend, or instructional support at the university.

2. Make a Plan

As an essential part of reflection, certain topics or issues emerge that one would like to address in future courses. Since there might be multiple options or solutions, it is good to brainstorm on potential actions one might undertake. Occasionally, this might require talking to others or finding additional information and resources. Then, it is time to select an option and make a plan! One recommended method is to identify required steps and develop a timeline (e.g., What are some steps that need to be done? By what time?). Depending on the number of topics, it might be necessary to prioritize.

3. Archive the Course

Many Learning Management Systems (LMS) provide the option to archive a course which could come in handy when teaching again. Instead of starting from scratch, one has a version that is already developed and potentially reusable. The archived course is also a good place to make any changes without impacting enrolled students. Additionally, many universities are now making teaching portfolios a critical component of degree programs or tenure requirements. Certain LMS allow to share the archived versions without revealing confidential student information.

4. Ask Students for Permission

Student artifacts are a powerful and helpful resource that can be used as a model for future students or as proof of student learning. To avoid any privacy or copyright concerns, the end-of-the-semester is a good time to ask students for their written permission for sharing those artifacts with outsiders.

5. Take Time Off

Although it might be tempting to continuously “tweak” a course, it is also important to relax and focus on other aspects of life. Taking time off generally helps to finds new inspiration and motivation for the next semester. It is completely fine to avoid thinking about teaching for some time to find time to read a book or explore places… as long as one remembers that the next semester is right around the corner.

Do you do anything at the end-of-the-semester that helps with your future teaching? Please share your tips with our community.

Gauging Student Understanding: CATs are puuuuur-fect

Do you find yourself wondering whether your online students are really learning? Whether they are really getting it? During face-to-face classes, an instructor often can use visual cues, such as a puzzled look or a nodding head from a student, to gauge whether students are understanding a certain concept. If they don’t, an instructor has the flexibility to easily explain the concept again or even change the lesson’s activities to ensure that students get it. But what if you are teaching online and can’t always see these visual clues?

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It’s the Middle of the Semester… So, What Do My Students Really Think?

“Wait, are we already that far into the semester? There is so much left to do in so little time!

If this is a constant thought on your mind, or an all-familiar expression in recent conversations with other faculty and instructors, we might be nearing an crucial waypoint in the semester (e.g., midterm, holidays). Although it is tempting to be overwhelmed by the approaching deadlines and all the content that needs to be covered, this time also offers an opportunity to address other important elements of teaching and to check in with your students (Chickering & Gamson, 1987).

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Setting the Stage for Meaningful Peer-to-Peer Feedback

Although many instructors integrate group-based or team-based learning activities into their teaching (see TeachOnline post on The Value of Group Work), getting students to actually provide meaningful peer-to-peer feedback can be challenging. Too often, cultural norms or fears of potential social backlash make students veer away from critiquing each other in a group setting or an online discussion forum. As a result, peers often do not know how to provide meaningful feedback and tend to fall back on statements, such as “I agree with what s/he said!” or the infamous Facebook-popularized, “I like it!”

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Assessments with Rubrics

Assessing students’ work is a common activity in the life of any instructor, and depending on the number of students and type of assignment, can be a long and tedious process. Even after sharing grades and posting feedback, students are often interested in how the instructor arrived at a certain point value or score. Consequently, instructors often spend additional time answering students’ questions to “justify” their assessments.

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