» Blogs News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Thu, 29 Sep 2016 17:23:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How California’s “Part-Time Faculty Job Security” Bill Will Hurt PTers Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:29:59 +0000 Photo 26by P.D. Lesko

California State Senate Bill 1379. Where do I even begin? SB-1379 was sold to California adjunct faculty as the so-called Part-Time Faculty Job Security Bill.

However, the legislation on Gov. Brown’s desk waiting for his signature includes this final sentence: “In all cases, part-time faculty assignments shall be temporary in nature, contingent on enrollment and funding, and subject to program changes, and no part-time faculty member shall have reasonable assurance of continued employment at any point, irrespective of the status, length of service, or reemployment preference of that part-time, temporary faculty member.”

How, then, does the proposed law encourage or strengthen the stability of the state’s part-time professorate or provide job security? In point of fact, it doesn’t.

The text of the legislation (which was forwarded to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2016) is uncomplicated. It builds on several disadvantageous laws that shortchange that state’s faculty who are hired to teach less than full-time course loads (67 percent or less of a full-time course load to be precise). Existing California law requires “that a person employed to teach adult or community college classes for not more than 67 percent of the hours per week of a full-time employee having comparable duties, excluding substitute service, be classified as a temporary employee and not a contract employee.” This change in the state’s law was the doing of the California Federation of Teachers, and it raised the bar necessary for non-tenured faculty to quality for the same pay and benefits offered to full-time faculty. In short, California’s state’s AFT affiliate chose to push employment and pay equity further out of reach for adjunct faculty members rather than call for equity in pay and employment to be implemented at, say, 51 percent of the hours per week of a full-time employee.

The California Association of Community Colleges (CACC) lobbied state Senator Tony Mendoza to introduce SB-1379. On that group’s website, faculty are urged to press Gov. Brown to sign the legislation. “Please use CCA’s talking points to contact Gov. Brown urging passage of this important legislation. It will be critical to share local examples of why part time/adjunct faculty need reemployment rights. SB 1379 passed the Senate by one vote on Wednesday night at 11:15 pm, right before the deadline for bills to be approved.”

Adjunct faculty do need job security and pay equity. This boondoggle, however, doesn’t provide either.

The CACC’s SB-1379 talking points include these:

  • It is cost-effective to keep the same part-time/adjunct faculty semester after semester.
  • Student success relies on stable faculty.
  • There should be equity for all faculty.
  • Part-Time/Adjunct job security is a cost effective means of assuring student success.

Likewise, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges included SB-1379 among its list of state and federal legislative priorities. That group describes the legislation as “implementing seniority and due process rights for part-time faculty.”

However, there is nothing in the legislation that guarantees adjunct faculty job security or due process. In fact, the Bill clearly states the opposite, that “no part-time faculty member shall have reasonable assurance of continued employment at any point, irrespective of the status, length of service, or reemployment preference of that part-time, temporary faculty member.” In other words, should this Bill become law, adjunct faculty can be refused continued employment without explanation, because no part-time faculty member will ever be guaranteed reasonable assurance of continued employment. Union negotiators who attempted to bargain contracts which provide any assurance of continued employment for part-time faculty would, then, be thwarted by the the language of SB-1379.

So if California adjuncts aren’t getting job security or due process, if their students aren’t being provided a stable part-time professorate who has job security, who’s benefitting?

The as yet unsigned Bill requires every community college in California that does not have a collective bargaining agreement with part-time, temporary faculty in effect as of January 1, 2017, to “commence negotiations with the exclusive representatives for part-time, temporary faculty regarding the terms and conditions required by subdivision (b). The parties shall negotiate these rights for part-time, temporary faculty.”

Sounds great, right? Well, what if the college where the part-time, temporary faculty are employed already has a union local for the full-time faculty controlled by those same full-time faculty? Will that union local automatically become the “exclusive representatives” for its college’s part-time faculty? Such unified locals have been harshly criticized by adjunct activists as routinely providing grossly unequal representation of full-time and part-time union members. This and other events suggest that full-time faculty union locals and their members simply can’t be trusted to bargain on behalf of or represent the best interests of part-time faculty members.

A little more than a decade ago, we saw thievery when the state of California allocated almost $60 million for adjunct faculty equity pay between 2001 and 2004, and many millions went to union locals controlled by full-time faculty who then doled out the money to themselves and their full-time faculty union members.

In “Parity or Partiality in California: Only Time Will Tell,” published in the January/February 2002 issue of the Adjunct Advocate, author Pam Dillon wrote this: “During negotiations in certain districts, union and district officials have been exploring ways to allocate the funds to full-time faculty, as well. Part-time faculty activist Margaret Quan, who teaches in the Contra Costa district, attended a BayFac (colleges in the Bay area) meeting last October 29th. ‘The main topic for discussion was not whether or not, but how full-time faculty could benefit by this augmentation. Parts of the discussion I found distressing…the union in [one of these] districts has decided that they would take the COLA [cost of living adjustment] entirely for full-time faculty, while giving the part-time faculty in their district a raise from the augmentation money.’”

In “A Tale of Greed and Gluttony: The California Part-Time Faculty Equity Fund Boondoggle,” published in the Adjunct Advocate in 2004, author Chris Cumo writes, “Analyst Chris Storer estimates that each year 15 percent of part-time faculty equity money goes to full-time faculty. Mary Millet, Co-President of Palomar Faculty Federation and California Federation of Teachers Part-Time Faculty Coordinator, estimates the proportion of part-time faculty equity pay distributed to full-time faculty as between one-quarter and one-third of the total. According to these estimates, then, between 2001-2003, full-time faculty at the 72 districts pocketed part-time faculty equity pay totaling anywhere from $17.1 to $31.3 million dollars.”

The proposed legislation further stipulates: “A community college district shall establish minimum standards for the terms of reemployment preference for part-time, temporary faculty assignments through the negotiation process between the community college district and the exclusive representative for part-time, temporary faculty.”

First among those “standards” is seniority: “The length of time part-time, temporary faculty have served at the community college or district.” Second among those standards is seniority: “The number of courses part-time, temporary faculty have taught at the community college or district.” Next come the “evaluations of temporary faculty conducted pursuant to Section 87663 and other related methods of evaluation that can reliably be used to assess educational impact of temporary faculty as it relates to student success.”

According to research, student success is most positively impacted by an institution’s facilities, helping first-year students make meaningful connections on campus, academic engagement and socio-economic indicators. The “length of time a part-time, temporary faculty member has served at the community college or district” or the “number of courses part-time temporary faculty have taught” benefits the faculty member and the education unions’ blind reliance on seniority rather than merit (evaluations). In fact, under the auspices of SB-1379, evaluations can only be used to penalize adjunct faculty (terminate their teaching appointments) and not to reward them. This is not only a disincentive for the faculty members, it’s terrible for the students. It’s common knowledge that length of time in the classroom doesn’t automatically improve the quality of instruction provided.

The icing on the cake? John Martin, Chair of the California Part-Time Faculty Association (CPFA) penned a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 8, 2016 on behalf of the CPFA’s 46,000 members in which Martin writes, “SB 1379 has a straightforward goal: to mandate California’s community college districts to negotiate a baseline set of ‘reemployment preference’ rights and retention practices for part-time faculty across the state.” Martin goes on to claim, “More significantly, SB 1379 would make tremendous strides in boosting student success. By ensuring continuity and stability of faculty work assignments, SB 1379 means critical support and resources for students, support which is otherwise virtually non-existent. SB 1379 thus links directly to California’s future through the success of tens of thousands of California’s community college students.” I have to wonder if John Martin read and understood the final sentence of the one-page bill.

SB-1379 passed the California State Senate by a single vote. We can only hope for the sake of the state’s tens of thousands of part-time faculty that Gov. Brown can read and comprehend plain English better than the advocates of this flawed legislation who are brazenly misleading trusting adjuncts and their students.

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Professor Embraces Flipped Classroom. “Twice As Much Time to Lecture!” Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:17:12 +0000 from the Cronk of Higher Education

Professor Rupert Villanueva returned from the recent Conference for Learning Engagement elated over a teaching model that many instructors presented about. “This is going to change everything!” said Villanueva about what is commonly called the “flipped classroom.” In order to maximize the time students spend discussing and analyzing information traditionally shared in lectures, professors assign material to students via reading or, in Villanueva’s case, videos before they come to class.

“I already have all my lectures memorized verbatim, from the twenty years I’ve given them. This semester, I’m going to videotape myself presenting each one. By next fall, I’ll be able to assign each week’s lectures as homework.”

“I already have all my lectures memorized verbatim, from the twenty years I’ve given them. This semester, I’m going to videotape myself presenting each one. By next fall, I’ll be able to assign each week’s lectures as homework.”

“I’m going to implement this model next year,” said Villanueva, who indicated that he has lots of preparation to do. “I already have all my lectures memorized verbatim, from the twenty years I’ve given them. This semester, I’m going to videotape myself presenting each one. By next fall, I’ll be able to assign each week’s lectures as homework.”

Villanueva was sent to the Conference for Learning Engagement after students complained in evaluations that his dry lectures included no time for discussion and that he never interacted with the students in his class to assess their comprehension of the material.

“I confess that I was more than a little resentful of being forced to go to that conference, but I told my dean that she was right after all,” said Villanueva. “By this time next fall, students will have heard each one of my lectures twice – once on video and once in person. No one can accuse me of not appealing to students’ different learning styles.”

Impressed by Villanueva’s adoption of the progressive teaching model, Dean Marian Cromwell has encouraged him to present the basics to his peers at an meeting of the faculty senate.

“That should be easy enough,” said Villanueva. “I can use a multimodal approach by showing the faculty a video of my assigned lecture and then videotaping myself when I present the follow-up lecture to exemplify how I reinforce the material and value the learning of the students. Come to think of it, if I videotape the presentation I give at faculty senate, I can show that at the next Conference for Learning Engagement.”

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How to Use Cumulative Testing to Enhance Learning Outcomes Tue, 20 Sep 2016 15:57:16 +0000 by Kevin Patton

One of the most effective enhancements I’ve ever made to my human anatomy & physiology course was switching to cumulative testing. What I mean by that is instead of testing on each topic once, then moving on to a test on the next topic, I started testing my students on all the covered topics (thus far in the course) in each successive test.

I’ve always had a comprehensive exam at the end of the course—and eventually added a comprehensive midterm exam, too. I found that adding that midterm helped my students relearn what they’d forgotten during the first half of the semester—making them better prepared for the comprehensive final. But not a whole lot better.

As I got older and wiser—or at least grayer—and got more serious about seeking out solid research on how people actually learn new information and retain it for the long term, I realized that my thinking was sort of alongside the right track. But not fully on the right track. It finally dawned on me that I could not expect my students to really “get it” and “keep it” unless they were repeatedly challenged with a variety of test items that required them to dig back into their memories and drag out those “old” ideas from early in the course.

Learning experts sometimes call this retrieval practice. The students practice retrieving their stored knowledge and skills. One of the key elements of using retrieval practice in learning is that it is most effective when it is spaced out over time. That is, it occurs after the brain has had time to do some forgetting.

The “re-learning” and “re-remembering” that must happen after a spaced interval is one of the keys to getting it all solidly embedded into our memory. As my tai chi teacher always tells me, “you can’t master it until you’ve forgotten it.” The forgetting, making mistakes, and relearning also enhances our ability to get those concepts and skills back out of memory—thus enabling us to retrieve it when we need to apply it.

Of course, most of the effort in getting my course on the right track in this regard was getting over that same old, often insurmountable, hurdle of taking a step outside of the “way we’ve always done it.” This nearly universal mindset not only holds me back from trying new things—it encourages my colleagues and students to tell me how wrong I am when I do.

After at least a year of self-doubt, I just forged ahead and tried it. Every one of my tests now includes test items from all previous topics. I told my students ahead of time why I was doing it and why. And guess what? They were okay with it! I didn’t tell any of my colleagues what I was doing because, er, my internal voice was already telling me I was doing it all wrong.

And you know what? Without changing much else in my course that semester, the comprehensive exam grades—and even the course grades—went up almost a whole letter grade on average. In other words, my course activities and testing covered the same content, at the same level of rigor, but my students were apparent much more successful in their ability to recall the information and skills they need to solve problems at the end of the course.

This was about ten or so years ago, and I probably still have the numbers somewhere. I didn’t do a statistical analysis and I didn’t have a control group—unless you count sections of the course in previous semesters. But I didn’t—and still don’t—feel I really need that. My student grades that semester (and ever since) show a dramatic increase that I’m not willing to reverse.

Looking back through the lens of 20/20 hindsight, I can see that this should have been plain to me all along. How can we expect anyone to learn something deeply and for the long term, if they only get one chance to have their knowledge and skills challenged? Only through repeated challenges can we master concepts at a level of usefulness.

We expect our students to build a complete enough conceptual framework to see patterns and understand relationships among concepts. To really see the big picture. But do we give them enough practice to do that effectively? Or do we let them forget what they know and fail to give them those critical opportunities to relearn, thereby solidifying, key concepts?

In my experience, cumulative testing is a valuable strategy to enhance learning in our courses.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduates?

    • Adding items to every test that review all previous topics convert your testing strategy to cumulative testing. This may provide the repetitive, spaced retrieval practice that students need for learning for the long term.
  • Consider using a cumulative strategy for other forms of retrieval practice in your course. For example:
    • Quizzes
    • Clicker questions
    • Pre-lecture and pre-lab videos or reviews
    • Adaptive learning assignments
    • Homework/review assignments
    • In-class, small group reviews
    • Recommended study strategies for individuals and study groups

 Want to know more?

The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention

  • Roediger H Butler A. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2011 vol: 15 (1) pp: 20-27. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.09.003

Make It Stick

  • Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger, Mark A. McDaniel. Harvard University Press, Apr 14, 2014. 313 pages.

This is book written for the average teacher or student to help them understand what we now know about effective learning that may be different then the traditional approaches.You really need to read this book! It’s well written, engaging, and has a wealth of great ideas.

This was originally posted here and is used with permission. 

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LIU-Brooklyn Faculty Lockout: Why Americans Don’t Care Fri, 16 Sep 2016 16:01:13 +0000 Photo 26by P.D. Lesko

From The Atlantic (Monthly) to the Pacific, newspapers, magazines, online education news sites, columnists, bloggers, pundits, activists, unionists, Facebook friends and Tweeps worked the “Je Suis Charlie” angle hard on behalf of the 400 faculty whom the President of Long Island University-Brooklyn (LIU-Brooklyn) locked out for 12 days in response to a contract dispute. The faculty lost their health and dental insurance, to boot, as well as access to school email accounts.

For LIU President Kimberly Cline, the lockout was a bad news buffet, in part because most mainstream media education reporters lack a fundamental understanding of the inner workings of higher education and higher education unions. The blind led the blind into the same ditch of simplistic reporting and rehashed stories.

Is it any wonder the American public was decidedly disinterested?

The education media coverage was predictably deep on hyperbole and frenzy and shallow on nuance. The coverage of the “battle,” the “conflict,” the “war” between LIU and the faculty union has been shrill and predictably partisan. This disconnect does a disservice to the public, particularly since higher education is a multi-trillion dollar industry that is reported on with infrequency by the mainstream media.

Such reporting does an even greater disservice to LIU’s adjunct faculty who are being used as puppets in a very public charade by their own union leaders.

Let me explain.

liu-lockoutAccording to a recent LIUFF union member update, adjuncts are “the group of faculty who teach the majority of classes at LIU.” To hear the union’s negotiators tell it, the proposal from the administration is “a regression that our part time members truly cannot endure.” That’s saying a lot because, as we know, adjunct faculty across the globe endure enormous pay gaps, lack of job security, administrative caprices and a level of professional disrespect that could be described as coming dangerously close to sadistic.

This dispute should have resulted in widespread news coverage of the lopsided union contract under which LIU’s adjunct union members toil (and for which they pay dues to the union for the privilege). The lockout ought have raised pointed questions about how these contractual disparities came to be and how they’ve been perpetuated and to whose advantage.

However, judging from the coverage thus far, mainstream media reporters have little appetite to wade through the LIUFF’s 165-page union contract. It’s a pity, because a much juicier, spicier and important news story awaits the reporter who spots the enormous gaps in pay, benefits and employment parity that separates the school’s full- and part-time faculty, despite a consolidated union local and long-time representation.

With that bit of backstory, the LIUFF’s insistence that, in large part, the 12-day stand-off was precipitated by the college’s outlandish proposals to cut the pay and “benefits” for adjunct faculty resembles more the Lady Doth Protest Too Much and much less We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers.

Before I criticize, it’s fair to first give LIU President Dr. Kimberly Cline her due. Shortly after her arrival in 2013, Dr. Cline took an axe to LIU’s administrative bloat: she condensed the PR department then fired administrators and staff in the Conolly College Dean’s office, Public Relations, Advertisement, Admissions, Registrar, Academic Reinforcement Center, ESL, Secretarial staff and Telephone Services. She also trimmed the ranks of the faculty. Dr. Cline made clear that at LIU-Brooklyn the sun did not revolve around the college’s administrative organizational flowchart. What she did was courageous and, yes, forward-thinking.

Alas, on the surface, the LIU president’s present proposals concerning cuts to adjunct teaching hours and benefits come off as having been devised by a magna cum laude graduate of the Ebenezer Scrooge School of Management & Parsimony. Here they are:

  • Cut the single hour of pay given to adjuncts for office hours;
  • Cut the $80,000 Adjunct Benefit Trust Fund (used by adjuncts to offset the cost of their self-funded health and dental insurance premiums);
  • Cut $65,000 seniority payment for adjuncts (which the union was using to provide a pension plan for part-timers).

“Are there no workhouses?” Dr. Cline might be expected to enquire.

Here’s where reading the union contract comes in handy in telling a more interesting, important and nuanced story. Think of it as the moment when we read of Scrooge coming face-to-face with the ghost of his long-dead partner Jacob Marley, whose long, heavy chain Marley wears around his body, forged during his life.

The contract is the long, heavy chain forged by LIU’s full-time faculty union leaders and wrapped tightly around the college’s adjuncts. That contract provides 60 minutes of office hour pay to adjunct faculty who teach ten or more credit hours in a given semester. LIU courses are normally three credit hours, and LIU adjunct faculty are contractually permitted to teach a maximum of 12 credit hours (4 classes). Thus, the ten credit hour minimum necessary to be paid for the single office hour is really little more than a bit of hotdog on a string with the majority of LIU adjuncts chasing it.

Likewise, the Adjunct Benefit Trust Fund cut sounds draconian—unless you remember that Obamacare offers very generous health insurance premium subsidies to people who earn less than $25,000 per year.

According to a 2013 piece by NPR, “Adjuncts typically earn between $20,000 and $25,000 annually.” There’s also this: Since 2011, the LIU has contributed $80,000 annually to the Adjunct Benefit Trust Fund, with no negotiated increases. The union contract “allows” adjunct faculty to self-insure under the auspices of the college’s health insurance program. Simply put, this means the lowest paid faculty fork over 100 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums. Per the contact, full-time faculty—whose salaries start at $80,000 and go up to $150,000—pay 18-25 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums.

LIU’s president wants to cut seniority payments for adjuncts. Wrong-headed, yes, but again, there’s more Jacob Marley’s chain in the details.

According to the contract, each year, LIU gave over $65,000 to the union for Adjunct Seniority Payments (approximately $300 per adjunct). This money was to be distributed “amongst the adjunct faculty in a manner to be determined by the Union.” The union used the money, according to its negotiators, “to provide a minimal sum to be used toward a pension plan.” To call such a sum for 250 people’s retirement minimal is taking unfair advantage of literary license.

A 2014 piece in The Atlantic included this: “[A] report by the American Association of University Professors showed that adjuncts now constitute 76.4 percent of U.S. faculty across all institutional types, from liberal-arts colleges to research universities to community colleges. A study released by the U.S. House of Representatives in January reveals that the majority of these adjuncts live below the poverty line.”

Per the union contract, each full-time LIU retiree receives $50,000 to purchase retiree health insurance benefits through the university’s retiree health insurance program (adjunct faculty are barred from participation).

Add to this the fact that the full-time faculty at LIU are in up in arms because, according to union bargainers, “Full-time hires will receive lower contributions to TIAA/CREF (8% rather than 11%).” The union contract requires LIU to match pension contributions for full-time faculty up to 11 percent.

Is it any wonder, then, that the majority of adjuncts live and retire below the poverty line, including those who are unionized? The media should be asking pointed questions about why a union contract permits $65,000 in seniority pay to be used instead to provide a minimal sum toward a pension plan for the adjunct faculty as opposed to union leaders bargaining for pension plan parity.

So what’s really at the heart of the dispute between Dr. Cline and the 210 members of LIUFF whose expired contract was recently extended through May of 2017?

More pay for full-time faculty.

According to LIUFF union officials, full-time faculty at LIU-Brooklyn are paid starting salaries that are $16,000 less than those faculty on the LIU-Post campus, whose salaries start at $96,000. Full-time faculty on the Brooklyn campus want those starting salaries raised.

In addition, the full-timers object to the administration’s insistence on post-tenure review. Yet, the LIUFF contract requires adjunct faculty to reappointed based on annual “positive reviews.”

University officials propose to cut the maximum number of credit hours adjuncts are permitted to teach from 12 per semester to nine per semester. LIUFF union officials have framed this proposal as a heartless 25 percent reduction in adjunct pay. The truth is less altruistic: if adjuncts teach fewer classes, full-time faculty will be required to do so, because LIU’s president wants a new contract that increases class sizes.

Given the frequency with which some in higher education testify before state legislatures, comment, and publish essays in mainstream newspapers alleging (incorrectly) that adjunct faculty adversely impact student retention and success, it’s not a stretch to see why Dr. Cline wants more credit hours taught by full-time faculty.

The labor dispute at LIU-Brooklyn is a story of the 1 Percenters who teach less than half the credit hours, but whose salaries, perks and benefits amount to over 80 percent of the money allocated to faculty compensation, and the 99 Percenters. These faculty, despite union representation, are still sitting in Jim Crow’s upper balcony; they do not get equal pay for equal work.

Since women comprise the majority of faculty off the tenure-track, the dispute at LIU-Brooklyn illuminates the pernicious, growing pay and benefits gap between women and men in higher education.

Make no mistake, the LIU-Brooklyn dispute is about money. More than that, however, it’s about white, male privilege, power and the larger question of whether a higher education union local that has a consolidated membership of both full-time and part-time faculty can ever be forced to provide equal representation to both groups.

Adjunct faculty comprise almost 75 percent of the American professorate, and this lockout is a chapter in the untold story of institutionalized sex discrimination and economic apartheid that directly and indirectly impacts 20 million American college students each and every day.

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Adjunct Writes Guidebook on Thriving in the Online Classroom Tue, 13 Sep 2016 19:25:54 +0000 by Cindy O’Dell

Taking a completely online class can be a case of sink or swim, says Jeffrey M. Welch, an adjunct professor in the School of Education.

After more than nine years of teaching at Brandman in both blended and online classes, as well as seeing how online learning is moving into K-12 classrooms (Welch teaches history full time at Emilie J. Ross Middle School in Hughson, California, in the Central Valley), he decided it was time to share what he’s learned by writing a book.

outside-the-wallsOutside the Walls: A Practical Guidebook to Thriving in the Online Classroom is based on his experiences and the experiences of his students, but he’s tried to make it general enough to apply to any type of online learning. It’s available on

“I tried to write it so it wouldn’t be outdated by next week,” said Welch, explaining his focus on learning styles rather specific software. He does provide specific tips throughout the book on everything from time management to effective online presentations to crafting constructive arguments.

“Most of what I say was true five years ago and is still true today,” he said. He called writing the book a great experience and one he would recommend for anyone. “It took me longer than I thought it would but writing about the larger experience really helped me focus on my teaching.”

Welch earned his single-subject teaching credential at Brandman in the ‘90s, which brought him to Dr. Carla Piper‘s attention.

“Jeff was actually in my Educational Applications course in Modesto … He was such an outstanding student, I told him I’d love to have him teach for us,” said Piper. Welch decided he needed a little more teaching experience before taking her up on that proposal but returned to Brandman as an adjunct in 2007 to teach the applications course.

Over the years, the course has moved from blended to completely online. When that happened, Welch began to notice trends among students who struggled. Among them:

  • Not knowing how to use the internet effectively for research.
  • Not knowing how to add an email attachment
  • Difficulty managing time.
  • Thinking online would be “easier.”
  • Difficulty writing clear and specific answers.

“There’s a big group of students who are ready to go (fully online). But there’s also always a group that seems confused,” said Welch. That prompted the book.

It starts with students understanding of their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning. It’s not that people can’t succeed online, it’s that it’s not always the best fit, said Welch.

Reading – either difficulty with the volume of reading required or difficulty understanding what’s being emphasized because there are no visual or auditory cues – is often at the root of the problems.  “Some students just need to see the professor face to face.”

Awareness about learning styles, which he details in the book, are useful at all levels of education, he said. Gaining that awareness can be particularly challenging for first-generation college students. Welch understands because he was one, too.

“I think I just got lucky. But some have a real struggle with understanding how the process works,” said Welch. “It’s people who naively think you don’t have to show up or that it’s no big deal who will have trouble.”


Welch also includes what the online environment looks like from the faculty perspective. Among his pet peeves are “zombie” students who never fully engage and those who seem to have the same excuses over and over for not being able to finish work on time.

“Education in general and college, in particular, are about what you bring to them,” he writes in his conclusion. “Engaging with human knowledge and your classroom community are the point.

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Diversity and the Exploitiation of Adjunct Professors Thu, 01 Sep 2016 15:45:01 +0000 by Jennifer Jean

This past May, I drove Professor Gwendolyn Rosemond home after she attended one of the bi-annual artist retreats I co-direct with my husband—we traveled along scenic route 127, from Gloucester at the tip of Cape Ann in Massachusetts, to Salem which is further South, at the Northshore’s midpoint. We drove for about forty five minutes and in that span we solved both the adjunct problem and the diversity problem at universities. Well, we solved a key portion of these problems. “Grow your own!” Gwen said. And, she was absolutely right.


Gwen and I were colleagues for more than a decade at a local public university where the enrollment of minority students was low, and the number of minority teachers was even lower. The school has a summer “recruitment”program in place to, ostensibly, attract minority students from lower-income, so-called “diverse” Boston-area neighborhoods; yet, enrollment numbers still stagnate. Gwen and I talked about how universities could take the long-road, the “grow your own” approach to solve these pernicious problems.

First of all, common sense dictates that recruitment and retention are related issues as regards minority students. Universities could continue their summer “recruitment” programs, but officially alter their institutional mission statement so that efforts are focused on investing in minority undergraduate students with a mind to funnel them into the university’s grad programs; and, from there to nurture students interested in teaching in their discipline and funnel those folks into adjunct positions with an additional, uncomplicated pipeline leading towards a tenure-track position.


If this model were employed, universities would likely need to work more consciously than they do now on retaining minority faculty. According to Professor Joy Misra’s Inside HigherEd article, “Diversity Issues and Midcareer Faculty:” “A larger proportion of Ph.D.s of color than white Ph.D.s leave academe at every turning point.” As well, “Universities also need to develop strategies aimed at addressing the particular service burdens borne by faculty of color, including course releases for unusual committee service and recognition of increased time spent mentoring and on community service.” (For further study on this topic, read: The Truly DiverseFaculty: New Dialogues in American Higher Education, edited by Stephanie Fryberg and Ernesto Martínez.)


A key element of the “grow your own” model is the uncomplicated pipeline for minority adjuncts to reach tenure-track positions. However, existing adjuncts of every color rarely procure tenure-track positions. Right now, it seems universities are allergic to their own. On average, they do not hire adjuncts they’ve already employed. Joseph Fruscione talks about this phenomenon in his Inside HigherEd article “Moving Up From the Inside?”as does David Perry in his Vitae article “How Adjuncts Want to Be Hired.” If universities are committed to diversifying their student body and their full-time faculty they must alter the current system whereby contingent faculty have little chance at upward mobility, no job security, and are grossly underpaid (the national average per course is $2700, with an average “cap” of two courses per college).

Caroline Frederickson in her Atlantic article “There is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts” says, “Schools seem to be doing just what trucking companies, housecleaning services, and now app-driven businesses such as Uber and Lyft have been accused of doing: misclassifying workers as contractors.Especially when a teacher is asked to carry out similar responsibilities as full-time permanent staff but for less than half the salary, there may be grounds to believe that universities and colleges are evading their legal obligations as employers. And with the overrepresentation of women in these jobs, it seems possible that many of these universities could be violating not only labor laws but civil-rights laws as well.”


Lack of opportunity for upward mobility, lack of sustainability due to an absence of benefits and equitable pay, a swell as lack of community due to adjuncts’ status as (very temporary) contractors, mean adjuncts themselves have no reason to invest in the development and reputation of any particular academic institution—regardless of how much they invest in students while teaching a particular class. So far, in their hunt for more and more profits, universities see this byproduct as an acceptable loss. I’ve nothing against financial sustainability for such institutions. However, I think it’s important to note that mega-successful companies like Google and Apple earn massive profits and still somehow find ways to pay their employees incredibly well, to encourage internal job mobility, and to nurture loyalty and institution-wide community. As far as diversity goes, such companies still have major issues, but compared to academia, they’re making significant headway.



Adjunct unions are proliferating—there is a great grassroots movement going on that’s making strides and exposing adjuncting-issues to the public. But what’s also needed is a top-down effort. On that end, what is needed is a hero—I’m not kidding. We need a top administrator, or a radical board of trustees, that will be devoted to creating a model wherein a university maintains profits and prestige through sustainability, maintains access to upward mobility, and nurtures community—as well as diversity. I’m willing to bet that university’s reputation would increase, alumni donations would increase, and profits would increase because quality students will be drawn to a quality education and a quality community.  Always—the best investment is in people.

When I was adjuncting, I’m sorry to say it, but I gave into despair. I absolutely love to teach—but I’ve taught at eight different universities and came to see them as interchangeable—just as they saw each body in “the adjunct pool” as interchangeable. As far as academia goes, it may be too late for me. But not for others—not for those just coming up in the world.

“Grow your own!” Gwen said as we pulled up to a Starbuck’s in Salem, where her daughter was meeting her. Then she laughed, “Problem solved! You’re welcome world. Now, where do we pick up our check?”

This essay was originally posted to Solstice.

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Unemployed Summer – Death of an Adjunct #1 Fri, 13 May 2016 16:13:58 +0000 by Monica Paige DePaul

I have recently finished the last of my grading for the spring 2016 semester. The essays weren’t bad, all things considered, but I’m still drowning in anxiety for a different reason. Every summer term, I need to endure about eight weeks or so of having no income at all—hardly anyone signs up for freshman-level English courses during the first half of summer, so I am basically unemployed.

An immediate reaction might say, “Hey, you get all those weeks off! It’s like a vacation!” I suppose that’s true. Maybe I can go on a road trip or fly someplace exotic. Perhaps I should stay home, make myself comfortable, and work on my writing. Maybe I can even spend all these weeks doing nothing but play video games.

Oh, but wait, when last I checked, those in high-level career professions typically get paid vacation time so they can still survive while not at work. Despite my profession requiring at least a master’s degree, I am only paid on a course-by-course basis. If I do not or simply am unable to teach, I make no money. To make matters worse, since I’m on the books as an “adjunct” or “part-time” professor, I’m paid far, far less than a full-time professor, even without tenure, for the same work, amounting to a measly $2,250 per course for the whole semester. This past spring, I was only assigned one course. Essentially, I need to make that meager amount last from January until July.

Officially, I’m still an employee, just not one worth paying on a regular basis. Am I unemployed right now? I’m not sure, but I’m too proud to apply for unemployment. I’ve been conditioned to believe that handouts through unemployment benefits are just for those uneducated masses too lazy to work, who don’t bother going to college because they’re living the good life on welfare. Of course, that’s bullshit. Welfare is not enough to survive, and getting a good job usually requires a college education. Then again, even an advanced degree like mine yields nary more than a pittance with no benefits.

Therefore, what is the value of college? State governments cut funding while administrators raise tuition alongside their own pay, and those who provide the central function of academia are increasingly left questioning whether they can even afford to live. Each semester, I train another set of future professionals to improve their communication and interpretation skills so that they can survive in the real world, so they can thrive in their personal and professional pursuits, whatever those may be. However, here I am, unemployed yet again, right on schedule. If success is measured in steady employment and financial security after college, then I’m an ironic failure. My job is essentially to train my students to not be like me.

Will I have the usual two classes for the second half of summer? I have no idea. Adjuncts are usually in the precarious position of not knowing the nature of their employment until the week right before it happens. Even if I do, while making $4,500 in six-weeks is nice, the accelerated pace is inhuman. Last year, at the height of absolute stress from the never-ending flow of work—teaching for seven straight hours with just a 10-minute break on two days plus grading and planning for about 10 straight hours the other five—I actually contemplated suicide upon realizing that making a living, if it can be called that, in my dream profession (I love teaching college) was killing me.

You might say, “Just find a better job,” but since when was being a college professor not supposed to be a high-level, respectable job that pays a living? Furthermore, I have submitted plenty of employment applications over the past several months. I have not received a response from any. I’ve found that being a professor commands a high-level of respect outside of academia—so high, in fact, that I am overqualified for jobs that pay far more but require less education. As for getting a full-time job in higher education, even if I got a Ph.D, I would still be underqualified. Full-time positions are rare and are guaranteed to never be awarded to a mere 29-year-old adjunct when far more experienced professors are fighting to get in.

I submit my rent payment and I buy groceries, and I feel guilty. Should I really be spending any money on my own survival when I am incapable of earning it myself? Am I so worthless as an adult that I need my parents’ money to keep me alive, like a child? That’s what happens every summer, and even most of the rest of the year. I worked hard and I got an advanced education, but all the joy of summertime is gone knowing that my employer doesn’t value me enough to keep me alive.

This is the first of a series of short essays that I call “Death of an Adjunct.” This is not a suicide note—I have no intention of killing myself—but rather an examination of matters that are destroying a tremendous chunk of America’s intellectual population. When the most educated people have no voice and struggle to survive, when they are too busy wondering how to make their next rent payment that they can’t produce meaningful research or creative endeavors, the collective mind of humanity suffers. Great minds are dying just so bureaucrats can cut costs. This is my chronicle of the sins of higher education.

Find Monica’s blog at .

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Do This, and Your Students Will Never Miss Class Again Mon, 09 May 2016 21:16:49 +0000 by Bridgett McGowen-Hawkins
Senior Digital Educator, Cengage Learning

Growing up, you heard the lectures from your parents. And then you went to school and heard even more lectures. And once you arrived in college, you were just about lectured-out. However, now you teach, and you do what you know best. You lecture! Okay, perhaps you don’t—but I know when I first stepped into the college classroom in 2002, lecture is what I did!

Regardless of whether lecturing is the focal point of your classes, remember these points to help you work toward achieving your course goals while inviting student participation during class. If you do so—if you try these tips—then your students will walk away tuned in and having actually learned, and you will leave class with a sense of accomplishment in having achieved new heights in student engagement!

Studies show that people are only fully engaged for the first 18 to 30 seconds someone is speaking to him/her before external thoughts start creeping in, such as dinner plans, errands to run, email messages that need responses, and so on. (And be honest, you are having external thoughts right this very moment! Come back to me!). At the start of your lecture, think about how you might help students become more metacognitive about their thinking and more engaged in what you have to share with them during your lecture.

Within the first five minutes of class, you must excite, engage, involve, and inform your students. Engage them by making connections between the lecture topic and them, and involve your students by getting their input. The “inform” part is easy; it’s the objective material you provide in your lectures. It is the “excitement” part that requires a little more effort. Excite them simply by telling them how their lives, success, and abilities will be exponentially enhanced with what you share in that class . . . that if they can learn X, Y, and Z, then A, B, and C can come their way.

Think back to the start of this blog entry and how I shared if you do ___, then ___ would happen. You were excited! You wanted (and did!) immediately dive into reading, right?

This is good, but you may ask, “Bridgett, how do I keep the momentum going beyond the first five minutes of class?” This is how:

Your course content is like a buffet. You have so much information you can provide students. At the same time, your students’ minds are similar to buffet plates. In 1956, George A. Miller formulated the “chunk concept” when he presented evidence that the working memory is limited in capacity. Miller stated that working memory could hold seven (plus or minus two) chunks of information at once. However, it is now thought that the number is closer to four or five bits of information. The takeaway is that if a learner’s working memory is full, the excess information will just drop out. It means that if you are explaining something complex and the learner must hold several factors in mind to understand it, you will need to chunk information into bite-sized pieces and present it in organized sections.

So, the final point is for you to ensure that you provide students with chunks of information—no more than twelve to fifteen minutes of content—then pause and let them digest that information. You might use a formative assessment or a classroom assessment technique for them to process information, then give them another chunk of information. You may have heard the lessons a hundred times and can regurgitate the material at the drop of a hat. However, students are hearing your content for the first time. They need time to think. Consider this: If I asked you what you had for dinner yesterday, you would have to stop and think. Similarly, give your students the time necessary to process complex content. You may find 12 minutes is too long; 12 minutes is not a hard and fast rule. You know your students best. If you see they are starting to check out, pause and give them time to fully comprehend what you have shared.

Want more tips and specific, easy-to-use activities? Check out the recording of Lecture Light Shine, a webinar on how to make your class sessions something your students never want to miss.

]]> 0 Jokes and Kim Kardashian: Keeping Students Motivated Wed, 04 May 2016 16:01:49 +0000 Ortizby Jenny Ortiz

A a Freeway Flyer, I’ve been given some tough time slots to teach. Currently I have a 7 in the morning business writing class at St. John’s and at at LaGuardia Community College a 6 in the evening writing class that ends at 10  (this is alongside my other courses for the semester) These two classes are very different but the same idea pops into my head: how do I keep these students motivated and interested.

Most students are sluggish and not responsive at 10 in the morning let alone 7. Most have a long day ahead of them;  these students go to work full-time and only go to class when it’s dark outside. For my students in this particular class, they come in with the idea that they’ll get some notes, memorize them during their lunch break and have time to grab a drink with friends after work only to go to sleep and start all over again.

As for my LaGuardia Community College students, they come to my class after a long day of work with the idea that four hours can be crammed in the first fifteen minutes of class. Their constant question is: will we get out early today? Although learning is important to them, the class is too long for them to stay upbeat the entire time.

Levels-of-Student-EngagementHow do I keep my students, especially in these particularly difficult time slots, motivated? I’ve come to learn that a student who isn’t engaged will have no problem sitting in class spaced out. For them, coming to the class should be reason enough to give them an A (one has to admit a dedication to attending early morning or late evening classes!)

With my morning class, which revolves around heavy note taking as well as lecture, I try to keep a steady flow of jokes and anecdotes going. I’m not very funny, but relating the lecture to things my students have seen on television, or about the hottest music artist seems to not only help their understanding of the material, but also keeps them alert. Many of the students have additional insights to the materials I give them. Current events allow the students to identify with material they normally wouldn’t encounter.

With my evening class, 4 hours is a lot of time to fill and keep my students engaged in their writing. I’ve found that straight lecture or long hours of writing cause my students to, one-by-one, disappear into the bathrooms or the hallways. Group work keeps my evening class engaged. I give them a visual, or reading an assignment and then break them up into groups. I leave it up to my students to initiate their learning process.

In order to successfully understand the material, it is up to them to discuss it amongst themselves. I move from one group to the next to help them stay focused and allow them to develop their ideas. Variety is the key to keeping students engaged during long classes.  By giving them group work and then time to write on their own, these students are self-motivating. I’ve found that my students can be more focused at 10 in the evening than they were when they first came to class.

Being a Freeway Flyer is about adaptation and learning to stay on one’s toes. Part of the allure of bouncing from one campus to the next is that I’m never bored and that my attention is always focused on the next task. Similarly, I’ve come to discover my students are the same way. They bounce from one class to the other and want to stay engaged. It’s my job to anticipate my students’ needs and remember if every class were taught the same, I’d be dying to leave too!

To keep my students motivated, I’ve played video clips of “True Blood,” listened to the Flobots, read about Taco Bell, explained how a cover letter is much like a first date and, which works every time, mentioned Kim Kardashian.  How does Kim relate to a writing course. I don’t know, but her name keeps them focused! What classroom techniques, do you all use to keep your students motivated in the classroom?

About the Freeway Flyer: Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 23 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off  earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun).  When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream.  If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on,, Jersey Devil Press,, Eighty Percent Magazine, Breakwater Review and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter:

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From Koala to Kangaroo—Getting Your Students Hopping With Active Learning Tue, 26 Apr 2016 19:06:43 +0000 by Shawn Orr, Digital Educator

 You’ve probably seen this chart or another many times over the course of your teaching. Basically, it’s saying that we remember very little of what somebody talks to us about. We remember more if we can see it. We remember much more if we can actually practice it and experience it. Dottie Walters and her book Speak and Grow Rich and William Glasser and his Choice Theory both say that our students will learn and retain 90-95% of what they teach each other and what they are actually involved in the creation process. Who doesn’t want their students to know 90-95% of the course content? It’s not about earning the A, right? We don’t use grades to prove learning; that proves content mastery.

What can I do so that my students are actively involved, so they are learning and retaining? I look at the classes that I taught 22 years ago and I thought “Man, if I can pair my knowledge of the subject today, 22 years later, to what I knew then—I can’t believe how much more I know.” Certainly, that should be the way it is. Not only is new information coming in, but I’m teaching it. I’m learning and retaining and coming up with new ways to apply it every day. That is ultimately the goal. That’s what we’re looking at.

We’re going to look at 7 Icebreakers and 11 Active Learning Strategies to really engage your students in the classroom. My goal for you is that you walk away with one or two. Don’t feel overwhelmed if you see the things that I’m doing and I’m using, just pick one or two that will really resonate with your students and would really make a difference. Or pick one lecture that you’re saying “I know this is the lecture that my students really struggle with or it causes them boredom” and find one activity that you can use in there.

Icebreakers are any tool that we use to facilitate interaction, stimulate creative thinking and introduce new concepts and material. Usually when we think of icebreakers, we think of them as social ways to build connection. But, icebreakers are so much more than that. They also can be educational and topical. A way that we can introduce new content, we can help make ideas relevant, and help students think in the way that we need to that day. If I know I need my students to think creatively, I might start out my course with an icebreaker where they have to engage in a lot of creative thinking. Even something as easy as a Sudoku puzzle up on the Smartboard when they walk in. They start to think creatively and critically as we move into the content.

Active learning is any activity that gets students involved in the learning process with the goal of them constructing meaning. When they construct meaning, when they draw conclusions, when they collaborate with their peers, they will learn and retain the information.

Icebreaker #1: Create a “Name Card”

I do this in all my courses, and mine might be smaller than what some of you are. They range from 12-25 students, my largest class in 45. I have the goal that I will know every single student’s name by the end of the first week. If I want to increase retention, my students have to feel like they’re a part of a community and part of group that cares about them.

I have them do nametags. The nametags are obviously for me, but I bring in markers and poster board. It’s amazing how your tactile learners immediately are drawn to doing this project and start to talk to each other. Rather than having them just put their name, I have them put something on their card that’s relevant or interesting to them.

I always make myself a cheerleader because I’m always making fun of myself and my students will laugh with me because I always say “I am your biggest cheerleader. I will be so excited and there will be tears of joy that day you walk across that stage and graduate—I can hardly wait for that day. Know that I am in your corner. You’re responsible for your learning, but I am your biggest supporter.” My students will put everything. They’ll put guitars, pictures of computers, pictures of their kids, and their animals. All of a sudden, we are having a conversation about what is meaningful and important to them.

Now, I don’t have my students introduce them this way, but when I call on someone, I’ll ask “What is that on your card? I can’t make that out. You are the worst drawer I have ever seen. Explain that to me.” Then they’ll laugh and suddenly they are talking about something that’s relevant to them and pretty soon we’ve formed that sense of community. This is purely a social icebreaker.

Icebreaker #2: The Five Finger Introduction

This is my favorite icebreaker to do on the second day of classes called “The Five Finger Introduction.” I always tell my students it’s not the one finger introduction I get on the highway all the time because I’m a very slow driver, but this is the Five Finger Introduction. I poorly draw a hand on the board and then I say “You’re going to get with the person next to you and introduce these 5 Things:

  • Pointer finger: Tell them about yourself, your major, and what’s a one-word description of you as a student. Maybe they might say motivated or energetic or nervous.
  • Middle finger: Who is someone you look up to? Who is a mentor or somebody that you admire? Or, who is someone that you want to emulate you career after? And for many of my students, that’s the first time that think “What do I want my career to look like and who would be a great mentor?”
  • Ring finger: Who is someone you love? Somebody that’s going to be in your corner and really love and support you.
  • Pinky finger: Something you need to be a little more of or a little less of. Like, I could be a little more patient or I could be a little less of a procrastinator.
  • Thumb: What’s “thumb-thing” you would really love to discuss or learn? On the first day of class, I might make this about the topic in general. What is something you’re really excited to learn about Business? What is something that you really think is going to relevant to make you more marketable in this course? What are you excited about?

I’ve also done this activity halfway through the semester and just changed up some of these things. Like, what is something you need to do a little bit more in this class? Or, what is something you need me to do a little more in this class? What’s a learning style that you really hope I continue to do. There’s lots of ways you can change this up. This is also a great one to do online because it’s very visual.

Icebreaker #3: Teaching a blended or online class?

I’ve used this activity several times for my all-online courses. At Adrian College, we use Blackboard. I’ll post an image in the discussion forum and say “Introduce yourself to us, tell me why you’re taking this course, and then I want you to put a digital image that tells us something about who you are or what’s important to you.”

This is a picture that I might put up and I might say that I live on a farm, I’m passionate about horses, and this is my best friend and share a little bit about myself. Here is the reason this is a great an effective strategy in an online course: I like to frontload my courses in my blended courses. That means that anything that I’m going to have my students using over the term, I want them to try out in the first week. So if I want them to upload a paper, I want them to do it in a very low stakes assignment during the first part of the first couple weeks of class. If they’re going to be using the discussion board, if they’re going to be working in UCU on a group project, I want them to get in a try it out.


This right away tells me something about my students. If they cannot figure out how to attach a digital image, it tells me something about their computer skills, it gives me the opportunity to intervene early — before the first big paper is due, when they can’t figure out how to get it uploaded, and that frustration overwhelms them. It tells me a lot about their skills, plus it gives me a chance to really engage with them right away and talk about their pictures and share.

Icebreaker #4: Commonality

Commonality is not just a social icebreaker, but also an educational icebreaker. This could be a great way to start your course out or a great way to start a specific lesson out. I actually found this one on a science website and my students love this. I download these pictures from Google and click the boxes that are free to use, even commercially, and I pass them out as students walk in.

I always greet my students at the door when they walk in to help create that connection. They then have to get together, I’ll say in groups of four, and they have to figure out who their groups are. The group on the right-hand side is the Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie, which I do have to tell you, most of my students don’t know what Little House on the Prairie is. I grew up with that show and they don’t even know who Paul Ingalls is. It’s a very very sad state of society right now. But if I put the Simpsons up there or something like that, they might right away know who they were. You can put it in groups and then you can have them introduce each other in groups and you can also ask relevant questions.

Let’s say it’s the first day of a nursing class or a medical assisting class. Maybe I would use those pictures on the bottom. If we were able to chat and I could ask you who those were, I’m sure you’d be able to identify those right away as historically famous nurses. Florence Nightingale, who wrote books on nursing and still shapes the industry of nursing today; Mary Mahoney, the first African American Registered Nurse; Mary Breckinridge, who was part of the frontier nursing service and rode a horse to do her nursing. Sometimes if they don’t know who they are, but they also notice the have nursing caps, they’ll get together for nursing hats and ask for a hint. And then I’ll have them look up the history of these important people. You can do this in so many different ways. You can put four terms that go together. So maybe I would put “Planning,” “Organizing,” “Leading,” and “Controlling,” and the students that have those would have to figure out that those are the Four Functions of Management. There are lots of ways that you can make this relevant to your content area. The neat thing is, is that students tend to congregate in groups and teams of who they know. I want my students to know everyone in the classroom. I want them to feel like they have somebody to side beside somebody that they have to connect with. This is a great activity for that.

Another one that plays off this is that when I put my students into groups or teams, I use playing cards. When they walk in the classroom, they pull a playing card off the deck from the table. All my Kings go together, all my Aces go together, and that way they’re in a different group and a different team every time. It’s a really terrific way to get different students together.

I can also tell you sometimes I stack the groups the way I want them. I use MindTap, so I’m able to go in and look at how engaged my students are in a course. Not just how well they’re doing, but how much time they’re spending in their reading and how much time they’re spending in their activities. I can take my students that are highly engaged and pair them with my students that aren’t quite as engaged and might be struggling with some of the concepts. It’s a terrific way to create formative groups to help my students be successful. 

Icebreaker #5: Candy

I’m sure you’ve probably given little bags of M&Ms and for every one M&M you ate, you have to tell us one thing about yourself. That’s a social icebreaker. Let me tell you how to make it educational or topical. I’ll bring in the bags of M&Ms, but then I’ll say “For however many green M&Ms you have, that’s how many times you have to participate in class today.” If you have 3 M&Ms, 1 M&M, 4M&Ms, that’s how many of my questions you have to answer, that’s how many of my activities you have to participate in.

Until everyone has participated their number of times, that’s when we’ll be done for the day. Or, if everyone can participate their number of times before the halfway point, we’ll have an extra five minutes during the break. Students feel a sense of obligation to participate and can gauge when they’re being called out. They hold each other accountable for it.

Another cool way to do this, is to say “You have to share three things from this week’s lectures, or three facts from last week’s lectures, based on how many M&Ms you have, and tell us why they are important.”

This is a neat way to take this social icebreaker and make it so that’s it relevant to the content area.

Icebreaker #6: How many items can you remember?

I want everyone to grab a piece of scrap paper or something that’s sitting right there. What we’re going to do right now is we’re going to do an icebreaker. I had a colleague tell me, “Oh Shawn, I love your idea of doing icebreakers in class to engage your students, but I’m teaching PC repair. This isn’t really a great course to be able to do an icebreaker in.” I said, you know, what, I bet I could, I bet I could design an icebreaker that you could use in your class this coming week. This is the icebreaker I designed for him and it was wildly successful. It actually turned into the entire lecture for the class.

I’m going to show you something on the screen, and I’m going to just show it to you for a few seconds. Then I’m going to take it off and I want you to see how many of the items you can remember. Write them down, but don’t write anything down until I take the picture off the screen. Alright, here we go. Write down as many of those items as you can remember from what was on the screen. Here’s a hint: there are eight items.

So let me go ahead, show you what the items are then, and see how many you were actually able to remember. So obviously, there’s a flashlight. There’s a pair of tweezers. There’s a screwdriver, a jump drive. The band with the yellow on it is an anti-static band, and anti-shock band. There’s compressed air. That’s what that thing is supposed to be at the bottom. There is cable ties, an outlet. I asked my students, “How many can you remember?” We had a competition and I gave out a candy bar for whoever remembered the most. I asked, “What do all these items have in common?” One student raised their hand they said, “Well, that’s what this chapter was about. It was about all the items you should have available for you in your PC repair kit if somebody calls you to say there’s a problem with their computer, and they don’t believe it’s a software problem.” I’m like, brilliant. Let’s talk about each of these items then. What kind of screwdrivers and what does the textbook say? How many types did you have? What is the anti-static band for? It’s so you don’t shock yourself. And they’re like, “Oh Professor Orr, you’re so silly. It’s not for you. It’s so you don’t shock the computer. So that if you have static in you, it doesn’t shock the computer and ruin the data.” I’m like, oh that’s so brilliant.

Well who’s doing the teaching, right? Who’s doing the pushups? They’re teaching me what each of these tools are for and why you might need them. They look and go cable ties. Why in the heck would we need cable ties? All of a sudden they’re flipping through the pages of their book, looking it up and saying why do the experts say I need to have that in my tool kit. They’re doing the teaching. While this is a great icebreaker, a way to start out, it’s also a terrific way to lead right into the lecture and teach.

Think of the ways that you could adapt this. You could, if you were teaching a medical course, you could have a picture of a tray of everything you need to have for a specific blood draw. If you were teaching a business course, you could have all of the elements you have to have together if you want to do a flow chart. There’s a lot of different ways that you could do this. Obviously, it works better for classes that are very tactile and hands-on, but once again, just another really neat icebreaker.

Icebreaker #7: Reflection

Finally, my last icebreaker I want to share is an assessment icebreaker. I do a lot of informative and summative assessments and I really like Cross and Angelo’s Classroom Assessment Techniques. It’s one of the leading industry standards on really doing great classroom assessment, both formative and summative. It’s one of my coveted, cherished books that I use all the time as I look at how my students are doing within each class and what I can change to help them learn more effectively. Then summative assessment: How can I summarize how my students did at the end of a unit?

I love this reflections icebreaker. I do this one at the end of class. I’ll put these statements up: I liked this unit… It got me thinking about… Something that surprised me today…. Sometimes I’ll do PNI: what was one positive thing that happened today, one negative thing that happened, and something interesting that you learned. I usually have my students do these on note cards and then turn them in as they’re leaving. They hand them to me and there’s several ways that I use these. Sometimes I use them as formative assessments. So if I had a lot of students that say, I’m concerned about the steps to put together a title page. Or, I still don’t completely understand which side of the t-cell a debit goes on and which side a credit goes on. That informs my teaching. I know right away where to start my next class. Sometimes I use those as discussion board questions. So several students say I learned this interesting thing or I was surprised by this. I can put a great discussion board question up to get all of the students talking about that concept or that idea. So there’s lots of different ways. You can start your class off with this saying based on the reading or based on the homework, and have them do this and then flip through them during the break. I love doing these and I love doing this at the end.

Let me tell you one other quick way that I like to modify this. I give my students sticky notes, and on each side of the white board I’ll say write one thing that you really enjoyed in this first half of the course, one thing that you’re really clear on, and one thing you’re going to use. On the other side of the board, I want you to write down one thing that you’re concerned about and one question you wish I would answer in the second half of the class. Then when they go on break, I can flip through those post-it notes. If I have six questions, or six students all ask the same question, I know exactly where to start my learning. They’re engaged, they’re doing something, and they’re providing feedback.

Alright, those are seven icebreaker activities. I hope that you picked out one of those that you might be able to use in your course.

Let’s go ahead and jump forward, and look at what additional things we could do during our class time to really get my students active and engaged, really get them involved in the learning process. I found this interesting statistic about kangaroos. Much like T-Rexes, from Jurassic Park, kangaroos have really good eyesight, but they only respond to objects that are moving. So if I want my students to see the importance of the course content, I’ve got to get them moving. I’ve got to get them doing something with that content. If they’re just sitting back and taking it in, I don’t know if they’re really getting it until I do an assessment. If that midterm assessment they get a D on, it doesn’t mean they can’t still be successful, but it means we’ve got a long way to go versus getting them active and involved every single day in every single course.

Let me give you 11 more great activities and strategies that I’m using in my course. And before I jump into these, Britany, are there any specific questions that somebody needs addressed right now before we jump into active learning strategies?

>> Jackie asked earlier when you were first talking about your class, do you have a lot of first generation college students in your courses? Can you give us a little bit more about the demographics of your courses?

>> I taught at a small private college, a technical school for 19 years in Toledo. It was predominantly first generation college students. I had a lot of students that did not have role models for college that weren’t raised around the ideology of the importance of education. One of the things that I really tried to stress with them is that education is a great equalizer. It is the only thing that is really ever going to change someone’s socioeconomic status. If they’re hoping for the lottery to do that, it’s not going to happen. Education is the thing that’s going to make a difference in their lives and their children’s lives. Right now, I teach at Adrian College. We don’t have a lot of first generation college students. Adrian College is a private college in Adrian, Michigan. We have around 3,000 students. A bit of a different demographic there, but yes, I definitely have taught to a very wide variety of students. I also taught at Bowling Green State University as well for two years when I was a graduate assistant and then after I graduated.

Active Learning Strategy #1: Identify the “Gold Nuggets”

So lecturing. Do I lecture in my classes? I absolutely lecture. I think students need direct instruction. They need to know what’s important in the content. If they could just take the chapter and read it and understand the key points, they probably wouldn’t need me. However, I will tell you there’s several things that I do. One of the things that I do for my students. I use MindTap e-books, so I’m actually able to annotate the chapters for my students. I’m able to go in and highlight the first chapter and leave them post-it notes, and then it pushes right into their electronic book, the e-book. When the students get their e-book, the first chapters highlighted for them list post-it notes I’ve left them throughout. This is why this concept is important. This is how this is going to be relevant. We’re going to be talking about this in class. Remember when Matt made a comment in class about this? Here it is.

When I lecture, I lecture on what I like to consider the “gold nuggets”—the few key concepts that every single student in my course must know in order to be successful. Then, we do a lot of active learning strategies and activities. In a 75-minute course, I’m going to lecture at the most 15 to 20 minutes. The key most important points. Then we’re going to take the gold nuggets and then the silver nuggets, the five or six additional pieces of information that students should know, and we’re going to do active learning strategies. We’re going to do activities. We’re going to do application. We’re going to do case studies. We’re going to do all these kinds of 11 activities that I’m getting ready to share with you in class. And then those bronze nuggets, the things that the students could know, those extras, those things that our A students are going to be able to pick out and are going to know as well, those are the things that are going to also be part of the homework for after. We’re really extending the line. The gold nuggets and lecture, then the gold and silver nuggets and activity and practice, and then the gold, silver and bronze nuggets in their homework.

As we look at some of these active learning, I think we should lecture, but it needs to be limited. This is a whole other webinar series, but I really, really love teaching a flipped classroom where my students watch their lectures outside of the class. I record 15-minute lectures with something that they have to deal with the first time I get a flipped class. I didn’t have my students do anything. I just sent them an electronic version of the lecture, and almost nobody watched it. My students don’t really do optional. I don’t either, right. If my grades are due Wednesday at noon, I’m probably still working on them Wednesday morning. We’re busy, and our students are busy. If I send a lecture out, there’s also a worksheet that goes with it. There’s the discussion posts they have to answer based on the lecture. There’s a quiz that accompanies it. I’m not saying don’t lecture, but we just want to limit what we’re actually lecturing on.

Active Learning Strategy #2: Plickers

Alright, here’s a really cool new active learning strategy. I actually heard about this from one of my peers and it’s called Plickers. Now probably many of you use polling in your classroom. My favorite site for polling is I love Poll Everywhere. Students can use their cell phones. I ask poll questions. They use their cell phones to put responses in. It can be an A, B, C, D. I can have them text in their response, and what answer did you get to number seven and everybody text in their answers.

However, inevitably I get a student that says, “Oh, I don’t have a phone,” or, “The internet’s so slow I can’t get it to work.” So one of my colleagues introduced me to this. It’s called Plickers. You go to and you download these free squares. They look kind of like QR codes and each side of the square has a letter on it, A, B, C and D. So I ask a question like, “Joe is writing a new job description. Which level of management is he engaging in? If you think it’s planning, say A. If you think it’s leading, say B. If you think it’s controlling, say D.” Then the student holds up their Plicker, their paper Plicker for whichever side they think is correct. If they think it’s A, they hold the side up that says A and nobody can see which side they’re holding up. I take my device, my phone or my iPad, and I scan the room with it. All of the data pops up on the board for them to see. It’s live polling, but the only person that has to have an electronic device is me the teacher. You could actually also take attendance this way because each of those cards also has a number on it. Number one can be Mary, number two can be Joe, and number three can be Sally. I can scan the room and take attendance. I can scan the room again after the break and see who came back on time. I can scan the room again at the end to make sure everybody’s still there.

There’s lots of fun ways you can do this. I have a mixture of students. I find that some of my older students often have really, really strong critical thinking skills and my younger students are really comfortable with technology. Often when I use these, I put them in groups and teams and I’ll ask questions and give them a chance to work together on the answer. Then I’ll have the hold up their answers as a group.

Here’s the best thing. This formative assessment, if everyone in my group gets the correct answer or 90% of the class answers it correctly, I know, “Move on in the lecture Shawn. They’ve got it.” If half my class gets it wrong, it’s a red flag for me. Stop, reengage, let’s talk about this concept. Let’s give them a new example, and then let’s ask another question and try again. So very, very easy to use. You go to You type in your questions. You print out these free sheets. You can actually buy them if you want as well. They come laminated and all that. And then you just pass them out in class and use them just like Plickers. Very, very cool tool. I hope somebody can use those in your class.

There are lots of neat ways that you can use that active learning strategy, but once again, instead of my students just sitting back and one or two students answering all the questions, everybody is contributing. Because their answers are anonymous, nobody knows if you’re the one that said A and everybody else say D.

Active Learning Strategy #3: Flyswatter Trivia (low-tech clickers)

If you don’t like Poll Everywhere where your students have devices and you don’t like Plickers where you have the device, here’s another one. This is called Flyswatter Trivia. My students love this. I never let them out of class early, not even ten minutes. You know, I’m trying to teach them work ethic, right, and marketability. So if we even have 10 or 15 minutes, they beg me to get out the Flyswatters. They get in teams, usually based on playing cards, and I ask them a question from the chapter. If I can do a 20 minute lecture, we have time to play and use activities and have them use this. They’re not all easy. It’s not like lowest level knowledge thinking. I might ask a case study question: What would be the best leadership style to use if somebody fell down the stairs? They have to know what the leadership styles are and they have to be able to apply it. They slap their flyswatter down and whoever’s on the bottom, closest to the X taped to the table, get to answer first. If they say, “Oh, the best leadership style would be participatory.” I’m like shoot, I’m sorry. That was a great guess. You’re right, there is a place for that, but we’ll talk about that in a second. Who is the next color? The next color will get a chance to answer.

Now if nobody on the team gets it right, the question goes back to their team. While they’re trying to answer, everyone else in the room is furiously scrolling through their e-book or flipping through their book or their notes trying to find the answers. They’re active. They’re engaged. I’m not up there saying, “In a crisis, don’t ever use the participatory.” You definitely need to use the leadership style where you make a decision and you come right in and do it. My students are doing the pushups here.

There’s 100 different ways that you can use this. I have learned that with active learning, you’ve got to learn to embrace a little chaos. My boys will sometimes beat each other with those flyswatters and we have fun with it.

I’ve learned to embrace chaos, because if my students are talking, especially about the content and engaging and flipping through pages, they’re doing the pushups, and they’re learning.

Active Learning Strategy #4: Treasure Hunting Definitions (Card Split)

Here’s another one: Treasure hunt. I told you I always greet my students when they come in the door. Sometimes I make up flashcards, and my books come with fabulous flashcards. We can make custom flashcards. I can add flashcards and send them out and I can print the flashcards out. What I’ll do is I’ll print them out, cut them out, and as they come in, I give them. So one person gets operational planning, the next person gets strategic planning, and then other people get definitions. They have to go and pair up, much like that commonality where they had to find if they were part of the Ingalls family. They have to find who has the definition to their word or who has the term to their definition. Then, they sit together in class forming connections.

There’s two ways that I’ve used this. I either do my lecture and when I get to operational planning I say “Who has that card?” Those two stand up and give us the definition. Or, I just say “Today, there’s 20 key definitions that we need to go through and when it comes to your definition you’re going to stand up and give us a definition. You’re going to explain it, and you’re going to give us a relevant example.” They would stand up and say, “Oh, operational planning. It’s the day-to-day operations. I work at Chipotle, and when my manager is doing operational planning she’s making a schedule for the week.” All of a sudden they’re standing up and making it relevant to them. They’re teaching each other. They’re giving a lecture. I’m providing the lecture and the guidance, but they’re the ones that are creating a lecture.

Active Learning Strategy #5: Text Your Thoughts

On days that I allow my students to use technology, I really love these two free texting apps. What students do is they download one of these two free texting apps, Text Now or Text Plus, and it gives them a generic telephone number. Now, they don’t have to download the free app. If they want to give out their telephone number, they can. Then, they pick somebody’s telephone number, and I’ll ask a question, and I’ll say text your answer.

If it was a college success course, and I was teaching note taking, I might ask the question, “What would happen if you use the Cornell notetaking method and you had an instructor that talked really fast? What’s likely to happen. Predict.” That is a very high level of thinking. So they text their answer to somebody. I always tell them to use an emoji. If you’re sure your answer is right, give it a thumbs up. If you have no idea if you’re right, give it a thumbs down. Let them know how sure you are. Then, I’ll have some people share their answers. It’s safe to share because it wasn’t their answer. They didn’t say if the person’s wrong, that’s on them, not them, and they don’t know who the person is. Because they have a generic number.

There’s lots of ways you can use it. What answer did you get to number seven on the homework? Kind of like the phone a friend for Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Why should you put important information in the beginning of a memo? Oh, because often the only part of a memo people read. So all of a sudden I have my students engage with the content. They’re texting each other. They’re talking.

Now, I love technology. I embrace and I use it. I will let you know I kind of went into the technology generation kicking and screaming a little bit. Now, I’ve realized if we’re not talking about technology for the sake of the bells and whistles, if we’re really talking about it for how we can engage our students, there are amazing technologies that we can use to engage students. I love texting. I also have my technology-free Tuesdays where we don’t use any technology in class. That’s a day where we really focus on interpersonal skills and talking things out and doing case studies. However, on a day that we’re using technology, my students love doing this. Do I know that they’re not texting their boyfriend or checking on their kids? No, probably not, but I’m always walking around. If they are the person that didn’t get a text answer back, you know they’re holding up their phone going, “Hey, my person didn’t text me yet. I don’t have an answer to share.” And you could also put them in small groups.

To learn more (and to hear about Shawn’s icebreakers and active learning strategies), access the webinar recording, part of the Striving for Excellence* series.

*The Striving for Excellence Series a collaboration between Cengage Learning and the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), a membership organization committed to promoting and celebrating excellence in teaching, learning, and leadership at community and technical colleges. Recognizing the growing need for adjunct support, Cengage Learning and NISOD are partnering to co-host a series of webinars, podcasts, and blog posts covering professional development topics for adjunct faculty and administrators. To learn more about this partnership, visit

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