Sunday, October 23, 2011

We've Moved!

The Tenn TLC blog is now on our home page:

Please join us there.

Thank you!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Recent Ideas for Engaging Students with Audio, Visuals


Several posts have recently caught my attention;  I would like to share two with you--one on mind mapping and one on using your iPad as a document camera. 

Mind Maps

The blog "Faculty Focus" published a review of mind-mapping and software that you can use to mind-map.  Mind maps, also referred to as concept maps, can help students organize ideas and think critically.  Plus, since mind maps involve visualizing problems, it appeals to learners who remember visuals more easily than printed text.  You will need to decide whether to use paper and pen or to go with online tools.  With smaller classes, I would recommend large sheets of paper, which you can buy in packs (you can even purchase rolls of paper, the kind used by newspapers, and cut off sections).  Poster-sized post-it notes are also an option, although this is the most expensive method. 

"According to Buzan and Buzan, a mind map should be drawn on blank paper that is larger than standard 8 ½ by 11 inch paper. The rationale behind using a large sheet of paper is that it allows the student the opportunity to break away from the boundaries established by standard sized paper." 

Mind-mapping can be an excellent group activity when you want students to think theoretically or want them to create relationships between information and ideas.  For more on mind-mapping and other visual learning activities, you can visit the TENN TLC page on visual learning.

Using Visuals / Your iPad as a projector

According to OIT, most of the classroom projection systems can work with the iPad VGA adapter cable, and a recent post by Classroom in the Cloud gives us another reason to consider springing for this cable.   There are several OIT consultants specializing in iPad uses: just give them a call and check on which adapter will be most appropriate for your classroom (4-9900).

Have you ever made use of a doc camera?  When students are doing in-class writing, it is an excellent tool.  This is obvious to composition teachers but the doc camera can also be helpful in other types of classes, in projecting the results of student group work.  For instance, suppose you ask students to solve a problem in small groups.  You could randomly call on a group to bring their results to the front and, using the camera feature, project their answer.  You can do this by creating a "stand" (as explained in this blog) or you can simply take and project a photo.

Why go to this effort?  We know from decades of research that involving students in the learning process is most effective.  Holding students accountable for their learning is also highly recommended (we do this all the time with quizzes and tests).  So, if you are wondering how to make sure groups are producing the thoughtful work that you have requested of them, have them produce a document.  To make even more impact, let them know that their group might be chosen to show their work to the class--now they are accountable not just to you but to an entire audience of their peers.  This is a powerful incentive for any student but especially for our peer-focused millenials.

The article also discusses other ways to use the iPad in the class. You could talk to UT's professor Joanne Logan  about her experiences.  She is currently in a TEAL classroom (technology-enhanced) and her student groups are using iPads.   For more ideas on using iPads, see "my bloomin' ipad."

Whether or not you make use of technology, involve your students in class.  Years ago, Bloom (of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning) asked us to consider, who is doing the most work in the room?  That is the person who is learning the most. His question is still valid.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Teaching and Learning--Recent Articles

Now that the semester is well underway, news articles about teaching and learning have been hitting my desk.  Let me share some significant reading material with you. 

When faculty ask for help engaging today's student, I frequently mention Eric Mazur's process of Peer Instruction.  When we want increase engagement and learning in class--particularly larger classes of 50, 100, or more--Mazur's approach can be very useful.  His process begins with giving students questions about the assigned reading that they answer before class.  Students also submit questions about concepts that they found difficult or confusing.  In class, the instructor addresses these questions and provides time for students who are now "getting it" to talk to each other.  

A recent article and video,"Don't Lecture Me," posted by American Radio Works (public media) gives one of the clearest explanations of this process and sets it in the context of teaching trends today.  Mazur's story of how he started to develop peer instruction is very interesting.  He describes a phenomena of student interaction that still amazes us.  When we ask students to turn to their neighbor and explain or discuss a problem or concept, the energy level in the room just explodes.  Just yesterday, a faculty member remarked on the noise level as students discussed a quiz.  It is quite a shock as we realize that they have been carefully restraining themselves in order to listen to the lecture, yet they have a lot to say.  As classroom managers of large groups of students, we might worry about what they are doing.  However, this discussion is extremely important in terms of understanding and long term retention.

If you are looking for the most comprehensive survey of recent teaching news, consult the recent Carnival by ProfHacker.  Post September 1, this blog lists a multitude of interesting teaching and learning articles, including but not limited to Chronicle articles.  I particularly recommend Cathy Davidson's essay on collaborative learning, as she expounds on students' collective imaginations, crowd-sourcing, and public grading.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

How We Make an Impact as Teachers

Ken Bain wrote about great college teachers at length, and in our workshops for new faculty, we start with a discussion of those teachers that we admired.  What characteristics did we appreciate?  In a recent discussion, we came up with qualities such as honest, personal, generous, competent, fair, responsible, resourceful, and understanding.  We also discussed how instructors can encourage and reinforce students in their learning, someone who can encourage creativity, someone who strives to move forward in their teaching and in their content knowledge, and someone who can create connections for students. 

How do our personal characteristics matter?  We can use our natural tendencies to great effect.  And, we can work on those characteristics that we want to adopt.  Some professional attributes are part of our areas--part of our content expertise.  How do we bring into the classroom our experience with the content and our knowledge and experience how that content is used in the world?

Two aspects of teaching stand out consistently as highly influential for students: engaging them in learning and connecting with them personally.   In the classroom, students are engaged when they are asked for input, which helps them connect new learning with previous learning.  They are also engaged through narrative.

We, as teachers, often speak about how good visuals impact student learning.  We know that technology has increased the impact of visuals in learning (we are already a very visual species).  We talk less these days about the importance of narrative, but narrative makes just as much impact on learning.

By narrative, I mean creating a story about your content.  When you walk into the classroom, what do you want to convey?  What is your objective?  How do you express yourself with passion?  For students who come to a physical classroom, they come to see us.  As UT acting professor Jed Diamond often says, we are the focus in the room--not the powerpoint slide.

When we step up, and we can create a story about our content, we capture student attention.  I do not mean that we have to be story tellers.  Yet, we can introduce a significant case with details woven into our lecture.  We can ask students a significant question and work our lecture around that question. We can inject our professional experience--adding a personal aspect--into our talk with students.  And we can build in activities around these cases and experiences, asking students about their ideas, opinions, and even their own experiences. 

Monday, July 25, 2011


Ensuring a Productive End to Your Summer
There are people out there who believe college professors work just a few hours a day each week and get a 3-month vacation every year.  Clearly, this is not the case, but what are you doing this summer to stay busy? Many faculty currently have book projects and research underway, are attending development workshops, planning their courses, and possibly even teaching. These faculty know that a productive summer can lead to an even more successful fall semester.
But others may view the summer as unstructured time, as a break from a tough previous semester, or even develop a sense of isolation during summer months—and this can impede getting a jump on the summer to-do lists. If you haven’t accomplished what you had hoped to so far, it’s not too late. So what are the secrets to getting the most (professionally speaking) out of the summer? 
  • Start by making a personalized summer plan with realistic goals. Identify what needs to be accomplished and note the steps needed to make each item on your list happen.
  • Next, be a daily writer! Even if it’s just a paragraph, write something every day, and even look for a group of “daily writers” for support. It’s also helpful to keep a log of what you do each day and how long you spent doing it. Finally, commit to accountability. Create the same sense of urgency for yourself that your students and colleagues feel regarding teaching and service, and apply it to your summer research and projects.
  • If you are on track or ahead with research and writing, it might be a good time to review plans and materials for the fall semester by incorporating some new techniques or innovative teaching strategies into your already-prepared course.
  • In case you missed the 2011 UT Summer Teaching Institute, you can get plenty of tips online by visiting some easy-to navigate sites and libraries that will help you revamp what you already have… or create something entirely new. The TENN TLC offers a variety of teaching tools and resources, including how-to guides and suggestions for improving your course.  For more information, Active Learning in Higher Education is a collection of research, focusing on development and innovative teaching. And for access to research studies, reflective essays, literature reviews, case studies and critiques/ comments, visit The Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Service.
If at this point in the summer you are caught up on research and writing, have no workshops or seminars to attend, are not teaching, and have reviewed course content and materials for the fall, you’re probably way ahead of your colleagues. Why not just find a cooler, a chair, and a good book? Here are the best reads for the summer for those of you that deserve an award for your summer productivity!
And, finally, for those who simply can’t bear the thought of opening one more book this summer, why not get out and enjoy the summer here in Knoxville? Here are some great local events & attractions to stimulate the mind. The Knoxville Writer’s Guild  is a community of writers who provide support and promote education and publication.  The East TN Historical Society and Museum  offers a wide selection of programs and events for anyone interested in history. And for a group outing with like-minded people, check out all of the available Knoxville Meet-ups, including interests for oenophiles, nature-lovers, entrepreneurs, and more; there are more than 130 meet-up groups available at; just search for Knoxville, TN.

guest writer Karen Brinkley, Tenn TLC

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


It can sometimes frustrate college teachers when they realize that their students don't read well (who am I kidding--it confounds and frustrates a lot of us!).  Students have most likely been given instruction on active reading either in high school or during a composition course; however, it may not be habit for them and students may not be accomplished at or confident about college-level reading. 

There are strategies to encourage students and offer help. Articles from the Teaching Professor Blog can help you decide on an approach.  "How Students Read Textbooks" discusses a study on the "sink or skim" methods used by most students--who either "sink" the knowledge by careful reading or "skim" their texts, often the day of or the day after a lecture.  Assessments designed to hold students accountable for careful reading vary from assigning journals to given a "just in time" quiz before class (see the article on reading quizzes: "More on Students and Reading").

As for whether it makes a difference if the text is print or e-book, the active reading strategies may vary.  Consider the reading support provided in many e-books (often they come with glossaries, linked indexes, and dictionaries).  However, before you throw away a student's option to read a print text, you might want to consult the following article: "Another study points to advantages of printed textbooks."   The study by the University of California Libraries cites the advantages of e-books (including e-highlighting, annotation, and downloading options), yet shows that print books have other advantages in terms of deep learning.  Readers will move to print copies for "reading, note taking, text comparison, and deep study" (see the May 2011 study).  This preference is shown more by students in the arts and humanities (the same group that scores highest in writing and critical thinking, according to the authors of Academically Adrift).   What is most interesting is the reported preference for print-on-demand options for textbooks. 

So, as you plan for courses next year, consider how to integrate reading into your courses--and how to encourage your students to adopt deep reading strategies!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer News

Summer, for many of us, is a time to catch up on news in higher education and to spend a bit of time reading more than the headlines. Here's some recent articles of interest:
Do you think about the future of education?  Check out the 2020 Forecast which provides ideas for you to explore, in terms of drivers of change, trends, signals, and learning agents.

Ever wonder about the debate between the effectiveness of lecture versus active learning?  There is a great deal of research supporting the effectiveness of pedagogies that engage students.  Take a look at this recent article on the results from research on an undergraduate physics course, "Applying science to the teaching of science"; "according to Dr Deslauriers and his team, their result is the biggest performance boost ever documented in educational research."

Want to learn more about options for new classrooms and learn about new trends (and possibly throw in your recommendation with an administrative committee?).  Campus Technology has an interesting article on new "active learning classrooms" that integrate technology for positive results.

And finally, read the new Faculty Focus special report on Course Design and Development Ideas that Work.  You can download the report for free.  There are several relevant topics to teaching at a university today, and my eye was caught by the discussion of scaffolding (supporting) learning:

"But the point of teaching cannot be to eliminate or even reduce the likelihood of failure. To eliminate failure throttles the learner. For the student does the learning. The student must be free to think and act and, in so doing, err—and recover. That is the cost of learning. To prescribe that teachers enable learning is a tautology. Of course that is what we want to do—the question we beg is: “How?” If scaffolding is to help answer that question, it should illuminate the differences between what the teacher does and what the student does. It should get us to think about the instructor as a planner and initiator of activities that invite students to develop their own goals and strategies. As we know, learning grows out of the students’ previous knowledge and skills. But the assignment must challenge without being so difficult as to discourage learning or so easy as to evade it. Both student and instructor have to be active."