» The Mentor Is In News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Wed, 28 Sep 2016 15:46:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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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 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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Great Apps to Create Meaningful Connections Inside (and Outside) the Classroom Fri, 12 Feb 2016 15:41:46 +0000 by Shawn Orr

I love technology! I guess if I’m being completely honest, what I really love is the engagement, excitement, and interactivity that technology brings to my college classroom. I’m not talking about the bells and whistles (although that’s fun, too), but the true engagement that happens when I use technology that really resonates with my digitally native students, that connects them to each other, and (most importantly) helps them master course content. So, whether you are new to using technology in the classroom or a seasoned technology pro, here are five of my favorite applications (apps) to engage students and help them create meaningful connections.

  1. Plickers
    If you’ve ever had a student tell you they don’t have an electronic device so they can’t participate in polling questions, this is the app for you! This free app allows instructors to print paper “clickers” in order to conduct polling, collect formative and summative assessment data, and keep their students engaged and on track in class. Download the Plickers app on your device, and then go to to create quizzes. You can also link each piece of paper to individual students, so taking attendance and grading in-class quizzes is a breeze!
  2. Kahoot
    This is my favorite technology for gaming in the classroom. Instructors create quizzes (or discussion questions and surveys) Students go to on their device browser and enter the quiz code, then play against each other. They earn points based on the speed and accuracy of their answers, plus a leader board enhances engagement and keeps the competitive spirit alive. One of my favorite things about Kahoot is that students see only four colored squares that correspond to the question on their device screens. This keeps students from getting lost in their devices and helps them focus on the content and each other.
  3. Aurasma
    This augmented reality app has changed my syllabus. Instructors go to Aurasma Studio where they upload and link audio and video files with pictures. They then put those pictures on their syllabi (or other document) next to the corresponding content. Students download the free Aurasma app on their mobile device and “follow” their instructor. Whenever a student needs more help on a concept listed on the syllabus, they simply hold their phone over the picture and up pops a video of their instructor talking them through the concept. Talk about providing real-time information—whenever and wherever the student needs it!
  4. MindTap
    This great mobile app allows students to study anytime and anywhere for any class that is using MindTap. Students download the free app, choose the class they want to work on, and can then review pre-built and custom-created flashcards, create and take chapter quizzes (think gaming), set reminders for important project due dates (with alarms), and receive up-to-the-minute notes and messages that instructors can post in their MindTap course. I love this app because it reaches students where they are…on their cell phones!
  5. Eyejot
    The Eyejot app allows instructors to send video email messages to their students. (The app is free on the computer, but there is a small fee to download it to a mobile device.) When I contact a student via Eyejot, the connection is so much more personal, and they don’t even need a webcam to reply back to me. Plus, I think it’s a lot harder to delete my face than one of my email messages.
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The Mentor Is In: Teaching and Supporting Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Thu, 28 Jan 2016 16:14:05 +0000 by Steven Volk

Planning a route, getting gas and changing a flat tire don’t sound challenging to most young adults, but for students on the autism spectrum at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, FL, it was one of the greatest tests of their independence. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year a group of students successfully drove by themselves from Pensacola to a conference in New Orleans after guidance from the university’s Autism Inclusion Program. And West Florida isn’t the only school integrating these students.

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have always been on college campuses, but with the lack of screening technologies just a few years ago, they struggled through schooling virtually invisible. Today, however, the number of children on the spectrum has risen from 1 in 150 to 1 in 88 in less than ten years, and colleges are beginning to acknowledge that these young adults are eager to receive their college degrees.

The Harvard Review of Psychiatry recently released summaries of the latest findings in ASD research and highlighted that there is a significant upsurge of people with ASD arriving on college campuses.  It is difficult to pinpoint just how great this increase is, however, because many students choose not reveal this disorder according to Jane Brown Thierfeld, Ed.D, co-Director of College Autism Spectrum, an organization of professionals who assist students with ASD and their families and author of “The Parent’s Guide to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum.” For every student receiving special services, there are 1-2 on that same campus who have not identified themselves to anyone, she says. According to Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, lead author of the review, we are only seeing the tip of the ice berg in terms of the number of these students seeking to access higher education.


What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The National Institute of Mental Health writes that Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by:

  • Persistent deficits* in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;
  • Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (typically recognized in the first two years of life); and,
  • Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

ASD is referred to as a “spectrum” because it refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that individuals can have, with some being mildly affected by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.

Teaching and Supporting Students with an ASD

A large and growing literature offers advice on how college teachers can best support students with an ASD. I found one article, “Academic Supports for College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview,” by Marci Wheeler, to be particularly useful. She is part of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her article, which originally was posted in 2011, was generated by input from the Students on the Spectrum Club at Indiana University – Bloomington. I have included most of it below.

“Academic Supports for College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview,” by Marci Wheeler


Autism awareness ribbon.

There is a wide range of functioning and abilities seen across individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Generalities are hard to make except to say that communication and social skills deficits are present. There are also neurological differences that affect everyone on the autism spectrum. However, each person is affected in different ways. The sensory perceptions, motor skills, learning styles and coping strategies are often affected and may cause “hidden” challenges that are not understood by those supporting these students. As a result of these challenges the observable behaviors of students on the autism spectrum may make them appear inattentive, bored, rude, defiant or possibly even on drugs. Ritualistic or repetitive behaviors, an attachment to incongruous objects and additional unusual communication and social skills (especially under stress) can make some of these students seem odd and bring unwanted attention to them.

Some students on the autism spectrum may experience sensory overload and/or be distressed by the social and communication demands of a class. They may have learned “acceptable” strategies to cope and have the ability to stay focused on their intellectual pursuits such that they can navigate through their classes (at least the classes in their chosen major) and pass as “normal”. Some students expend a lot of energy, at all costs, to blend in and not be detected. Unfortunately, for some, this may result in them leaving the university without finishing a degree as the stress is too great. Also, on any college campus be assured that there are students who have not been formally diagnosed or students that are not diagnosed until their college years.

Professors and other instructors need to be aware of possible supports that a student on the autism spectrum might find necessary to participate in class and complete classwork. The following six sections briefly state a common concern for most students and list some possible issues and accommodations. Each student on the autism spectrum has unique needs and should work closely with instructors and other college staff to design an individualized plan of proactive support and response to challenges if they arise.

Communication Skills

By definition (following diagnostic criteria) all students with an autism spectrum disorder have some problems which may interfere with receptive or expressive communication. Some of these differences are very subtle and can lead to misunderstandings that are misinterpreted as volitional acts on the part of the student. Students with an autism spectrum disorder may be very articulate and have a large vocabulary which may “hide” their communication challenges. Those supporting students on the autism spectrum should become aware of each individual students weaknesses in this area. Some of these are listed below along with possible accommodations.

Receptive difficulties often experienced by students on the autism spectrum include processing verbal exchanges more slowly, misunderstanding sarcasm, idioms and jokes, very literal interpretation of words, and misunderstanding gestures and body language.

The expressive difficulties of individuals on the autism spectrum may include problems initiating communication; even for those students who at first glance may seem very articulate and even very talkative. Those on the autism spectrum may have trouble staying on topic, turn taking and following conversational “protocol”. Some may be slower to organize thoughts and speak, and/or their voice tone and volume may be unusual. Idiosyncratic use of words and phrases may be present.

Accommodations for a college student with an autism spectrum disorder might include providing the instructor’s lecture notes or a note taker to help key in on important information, providing study guides for tests, allowing a longer verbal response time from the student and allowing for important exchanges of information to be done in written form. It would also help for instructors to be clear, concise, concrete and logical when communicating as well as asking for clarification; don’t make assumptions about what students truly understand.

Social Skills

Social skills (also included in diagnostic criteria) might not seem important in a class setting, but, in fact social difficulties can and do impact the classwork of many students on the autism spectrum. Many college courses require class participation and group work as part of earning a grade. Just going to class with peers necessitates the use of social skills. Some social difficulties and possible accommodations are discussed below.

The social challenges for a student on the autism spectrum include problems understanding others perspectives, sharing space and making eye contact. Many high functioning individuals with an autism spectrum disorder have extreme social anxiety and have difficulty negotiating with others, and interacting and working in pairs or groups. These students likely will not understand the “unwritten” classroom etiquette and will often misinterpret facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. Possible accommodations for students on the autism spectrum include allowing for short breaks to leave class and/or allowing the student to have a “social buffering” object which might include a computer, book or other object that initially might seem distracting or “out of place”. Honoring the student’s chosen level of eye contact w/o judgment can be helpful. If there is group work assigned for class the instructor might assist in the formation and monitoring of pairs or groups of students to assure the proper inclusion of the student with an autism spectrum diagnosis. Also providing written rules for asking questions and other classroom logistics (as needed) may support students with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

Sensory Differences

When the DSM-5 was released in May 2013, reactivity to sensory input was added as part of the diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum disorder.  Sensory processing issues seem to affect the majority of these individuals. Some on the autism spectrum have an extreme over sensitivity or under sensitivity to input, from the environment to the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. A significant number of persons experience synesthesia. Synesthesia may affect any of the senses. Synesthesia is phenomena in which the actual information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense. Listed below are some common sensory differences and accommodations that may be important in a class setting.

Common visual and auditory sensory difficulties experienced by students on the autism spectrum include florescent lights that may appear to flicker and certain “bright” colors that may produce “overload”. Someone may see better from a “different” angle or may hear low level frequency sounds emitted by florescent lights. Also certain “typical” classroom sounds may be perceived as “painful” such as the movement and use of desks, people and other objects in the room. Often a person on the autism spectrum may not filter out extraneous sounds and/or may hear sounds in the next room.

Sensory issues related to the sense of touch and/or the sense of smell may occur. For example, certain textures may be “painful” and/or individuals may crave certain textures. Students on the autism spectrum may be disturbed by people accidentally bumping them or the feel of a particular desk or chair. They may wear “unusual” clothing, footwear or accessories because of sensory differences. Also students may be sensitive to certain odors and certain smells may cause “overload”. Some who are very sensitive may be affected by scents from certain perfumes, deodorants and soaps.

Possible accommodations to support a student with sensory differences include allowing hats, sunglasses and tinted lens glasses to be worn and allowing ear plugs or ear phones. Also allowing the student to choose their seat and helping to assure it is always available may be important. If requested by the student, an alternative writing instrument for tests and assignments and/or a computer for in class work, tests and assignments might also be an appropriate accommodation.

A student with an autism spectrum diagnosis may find that a small sensory item brings comfort in class. It is likely, if a student uses a sensory item, that it is inconspicuous but this may not always be the case. Be aware that a student may make a last minute request for a seating change and/or to leave abruptly due to sensory overload. Help devise an acceptable plan to address urgent sensory issues for the student.


Motor Skills

Both fine and gross motor skills may be affected in individuals with an autism spectrum disorder. In addition motor planning and poor awareness of body in space are two areas that often affect motor skills for these individuals. Often fine and gross motor skills as well as motor planning skills are very uneven. Listed below are possible problems in these areas along with possible accommodations.

Fine motor challenges for students on the autism spectrum might affect writing, drawing, turning pages, using utensils, playing an instrument, using locks and keys, and manipulating small objects. Gross motor challenges may affect walking (may have “odd” gait), running, sitting and balancing. Motor planning and the awareness of the placement of their body in space can affect the ways in which an individual moves their body and is able to navigate themselves to accomplish all motor tasks.

Possible accommodations for students on the autism spectrum with motor skills difficulties include allowing a computer for in class work, tests and assignments, providing a note taker, allowing work assignments done at a slower pace, providing models and step by step instruction, providing extra time to take tests and providing readers and scribes (or technology that reads and takes notes). Further accommodations might need to be considered for students taking physical education courses in which motor skills differences might provide further complications.

Learning Style

Students with an autism spectrum disorder often have a very uneven learning profile. They often excel creatively in a non-conventional way. Students on the autism spectrum tend to have excellent long term and rote memory abilities. Executive functioning deficits cause these students many problems. Many are thought to be right-brained thinkers. Most need to like and trust an instructor before they can perform in a class. Some common learning challenges, strengths and possible accommodations are listed below.

Executive function challenges experienced by students with an autism spectrum diagnosis include general organization and planning skills, problems with impulsivity and problem solving and the ability to monitor themselves in the completion of a goal.

Along with the executive functioning deficits, common learning barriers include poor sequential learning, easily bored with repetition once something is learned, attention problems, literal thinking, nebulous sense of time and as mentioned previously, perspective taking deficits. Other issues that impacts learning for students on the autism spectrum are the fact that they need to understand why something is important, relevant or meaningful to them and they may not realize they are having academic difficulty until it may be too late or too difficult for them to rectify on their own.

The strengths of students on the autism spectrum can sometimes help them compensate for their weaknesses. These students can do quite well academically, especially in their chosen field, and their strengths should be respected and used whenever possible. For example these students may have extremely good visual and visual-spatial skills. They often learn best from whole to part (complex to simple) and they can be very creative; out of the box thinkers. These students can also show an amazing knowledge on topics of interest which is most often their major field of study at the university.

Possible accommodations for students on the autism spectrum to support their learning style include providing review sheets, work checklists, and “sub” deadlines and/or intermittent “check-ins.” If possible provide hands on learning, models, demonstrations and other visuals. If possible, pair with peer mentors who might help with feedback and provide “proof-read” opportunities and ongoing structure to keeping on target with work assignments.

Instructors can help support students on the autism spectrum by providing reinforcement at every opportunity. Other accommodations that might be helpful for some students are allowing advanced negotiation of deadlines, extra time for tests, and/or a separate “quiet” place for tests.

Instructors and other college staff can also encourage the use of calendars (computer, traditional, phone w/alarms). Most likely the student has experience with using an organizational tool or tools, of choice, before coming to college. However, sometimes in a new environment the tools and skills used and learned to compensate for executive function deficits do not transfer easily to a new setting. Because the setting has changed, the student may need time “extra” transition time to begin the use of these tools and to maintain routines in the new environment.

Coping Skills

Individuals with an autism spectrum disorder frequently describe themselves as dealing with a lot of anxiety and stress. Sensory sensitivities, social and communication expectations as well as transitions and unexpected changes often trigger this anxiety and stress. It is during these times when these students may display behavior that can seem bewildering, rude or disruptive. Most often when a student displays these behaviors they are doing what they know to do to cope. In fact, these sometimes “confusing” behaviors are often experienced as calming. Included below are examples of coping behaviors in which students with an autism spectrum disorder may engage and possible accommodations.

When under stress, students on the autism spectrum may engage in stress relieving activities which look odd and may even make others feel uncomfortable. These activities may include body rocking, pacing, waving or flapping hands or fingers repetitively, chewing on their clothing or body, “lecturing” on a topic of interest or they may display the “opposite” emotion for the situation. They also may abruptly leave the situation with no explanation before or afterwards.

A possible accommodation in helping the student cope, in the moment, might be to discretely ask the student if something is overwhelming and/or ask if the student needs help or wants to leave. Do not discourage or interrupt behavior unless truly disruptive and understand that student does not intend to be disrespectful. Allow sensory items and/or other “comfort” objects. A student, who is having a hard time coping, might not realize when s/he is being disruptive and needs to leave. The instructor and student can agree on a cue that the instructor can give to signal to the student that it is okay/time to leave. They can also agree on a signal, to inform the instructor when the student is overwhelmed or confused.

Ideally, preparing young adults with an autism spectrum disorder for the demands of college has started years earlier. With a proper diagnosis, individualized early intervention and careful transition planning, college students with an autism spectrum diagnosis, will be better prepared to advocate for themselves. At the same time college professors and other staff at post-secondary colleges and universities need to be prepared for students on the spectrum who are seeking to be a part of these institutions in greater and greater numbers. These students must be given reasonable accommodations to provide an equal opportunity for pursuing a college education. Many great minds and opportunities for society could be lost if individuals on the autism spectrum are not supported in their post-secondary academic pursuits.

Check that Metaphor

Another useful article was Lee Burdette Williams’ nicely titled “Rethinking Everything…Literally,”which appeared in Inside Higher Ed (Dec. 12, 2014). Burdette works with in a residential and academic support program designed to help high-functioning autistic students or students with significant executive function challenges, succeed in college. These students, he writes, “can do many things: solve complex math problems, explain chemistry to anyone who will listen, remember dates of significant world historical events in a manner foreign to most college students who only want to memorize what will be on an exam. What they can’t do very well is understand my metaphors. They are, most of them, literal thinkers.”

So, when she cajoled a student not to “throw in the towel,” or advised another to not let his adversary “get his goat,” she was met with everything from alarm to blank stares. She realized that figurative language, which is so central to how we think, feel and act, had to be, well, rethought in his new teaching context. She concludes, “I find that I do recognize that bewildered expression more quickly these days, and so catch myself almost as soon as the maxim, proverb, aphorism or metaphor is out of my mouth, or I at least announce, ‘I’m going to make a comparison between two things’ (explaining a rule or predicting an action is often very helpful to students on the autism spectrum). I have come to recognize, too, that some of my students do not have this particular deficit, and that some of them are so quick to use a metaphor to describe something that I need a moment to catch up myself.” Most of us are not teaching in Williams’ circumstances, but “re-thinking” our teaching strategies in light of our changing classrooms is never a bad idea.


Very few of us have any expertise in this area, but we are fortunate that good information is available and that we can always seek the reasoned and informed advice of our Office of Disability Services as well as some of our colleagues such as Elizabeth Hamilton.

Here are a few sources that you might also find useful:

Kathy DeOrnellas, “Teaching College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Faculty Focus, April 17, 2015.

The College Program for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders at Marshall University

Abigail Sullivan Moore, “Students on the Spectrum,” New York Times (Nov. 5, 2006).

Chantal Sicile-Kira’s “Autism College” blog is also valuable. Sicile-Kira is an autism consultant specializing in adolescence and transition to adulthood who has authored a number of books on autism.  Her most recent book, A Full Life with Autism: From Learning to Forming Relationships to Achieving Independence (Macmillan, March 2012) was co-authored with her son, Jeremy, who was diagnosed as severely autistic when he was an infant. Her first book,Autism Spectrum Disorder, was recently updated by Penguin.

National Autism Center

Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 2007.

John Harpur, Maria Lawler, and Michael Fitzgerald, Succeeding in College with Asperger Syndrome: A Student Guide (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 2004.

Dawn Prince-Hughes, Aquamarine Blue 5: Personal Stories of College Students with Autism (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2002).

Lorraine E. Wolf, Jane Tierfield Brown, and Ruth Bork, Students with Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel (Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company), 2009.

Michael R. Dillon, “Creating Supports for College Students with Asperger Syndrome through Collaboration,” College Student Journal 41 (2007): 499–504.

Ann Palmer, Realizing the College Dream with Autism and Asperger Syndrome (Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publisher), 2006.

*A very good point has been raised as to whether a word other than “deficit,” with its connotations of something lacking (as opposed to something different) exists to discuss people with an autism spectrum disorder. The same term was often used to describe those who were learning English, whereas now the preferred term is an “emergent” bilingual. Suggestions? [Added April 20, 2015: 7:59 PM]

Originally posted to the website of Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence at Oberlin College. Used here with permission.

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Tips for Designing and Using Rubrics Fri, 13 Nov 2015 19:50:48 +0000 by Andrew Miller

Rubrics are a beast. Grrrrrrr! They are time-consuming to construct, challenging to write and sometimes hard to use effectively. They are everywhere. There are rubrics all over the web, plus tools to create them, and as educators, it can overwhelm us. Rubrics are driven by reforms, from standards-based grading to assessment for learning. With so many competing purposes, it only makes sense that rubrics remain a beast to create and to use. Here are some (only some) tips for designing and using effective rubrics. Regardless of the reforms and structures you have in place, these can be used by all educators.

1) Use Parallel Language
Make sure that the language from column to column is similar, that syntax and wording correspond. Of course, the words will change for each section or assignment, as will the expectations. But in terms of readability, you need to make sure that the rubric can be easily read from left to right or vice versa. In addition, if you have an indicator described in one category, then it needs to be described in the next category, whether it is about “having” or “not having” something. This is all about clarity and transparency to students.

2) Use Student Friendly Language!
Tip #1 hints at a larger issue. If the students can’t understand the rubric, then how do you expect it to guide instruction, reflection and assessment? If you want students to engage in using the rubric, they have to understand it. Make sure the language is learning-level appropriate. If you use academic language or concepts, then you’ll need time to teach students those meanings and concepts.

3) Use the Rubric with Your Students… Please!!!
You have to use the rubric with the students. It means nothing to them if you don’t. We’ve all had that time when we gave students the rubric and they threw it away, or the papers lay across the room like snow at the end of class. In order for students to keep a rubric, and more importantly to find it useful in terms of their learning, they must see a reason for using it. Students should understand that the rubric is there to help them reflect, self-assess, unpack, critique and more. Use it as a conversation piece during student-led conferences and parent-teacher conferences. If students and stakeholders use a rubric, they will understand the expectations and their relevancy to learning.

4) Don’t Use Too Many Columns
This has to do with organization in general. You want the rubric to be comprehensible and organized. We’ve all been in the situation where we feel like it’s a stretch to move a criterion in a rubric across many columns. Perhaps there are just too many columns? Pick the right amount so that the criteria flow logically and naturally across levels.

5) Common Rubrics and Templates are Awesome
Avoid rubric fatigue, as in creating rubrics to the point where you just can’t do it any more. This can be done with common rubrics that students see across multiple classroom activities, and through creating templates that you can alter slightly as needed. Design those templates for learning targets or similar performance tasks in your classroom. It’s easy to change these types of rubrics later. In terms of common rubrics, students need routines, and what better way to create that routine than with a common rubric for a department or grade level? Students feel more confident when they go into different classrooms with the knowledge that expectations are the same. The easiest rubrics I have seen are used commonly for practices that all teachers work on, such as reading, writing and 21st century skills. Figure out your common practices and create a single rubric your team can use.

6) Rely on Descriptive Language
The most effective descriptions you can use are specific descriptions. That means avoiding words like “good” and “excellent.” At the same time, don’t rely on numbers, such as number of resources, as your crutch. Instead of saying “find excellent sources” or “use three sources,” focus your rubric language on the quality use of whatever sources students find, and on the best possible way of aligning that data to the work. It isn’t about the number of sources, and “excellent” is too vague for students. Be specific and descriptive.

These are some useful tips for rubrics, and I’m sure you have many yourselves that come from your experience as educators. One of my favorite books for rubrics is Creating and Recognizing Quality Rubrics. It has helped me refine my rubrics and work with teachers to refine their own. It has great examples and non-examples, as well as a rubric for rubrics! Funny, huh? There are many books and resources out there to help you create rubrics, and many rubrics that are great. However, I encourage you all to not only create your own in order to practice and improve your abilities as educators, but also to avoid adopting a rubric instantly. Consider whether is has to be customized to fit your needs and, more importantly, the needs of your students. Be critical of the rubrics out there, but at the same time use the resources that are already available. Please share your best practices with the community!

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When Students Don’t Answer—Interpreting the Awkward Silence Wed, 30 Sep 2015 18:49:18 +0000 by Paul T. Corrigan

One balmy spring afternoon, I asked my students, “What is the difference between being a student and being a learner?” I hoped to start a lively discussion about the purposes of college. Instead, one or two students attempted an answer, while the others sat quietly in their seats, avoiding eye contact with me. The room filled with awkward silence: 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 20 seconds . . .

Whether I consciously think it or not, I often perceive this sort of silence as a sign that students are disinterested or disengaged (or even hostile). I imagine other teachers feel the same from time to time. Thankfully, we know that silence from students is no reason to panic. When a question falls flat, we have plenty of options,* including

  1. reframing the question (“What I mean is, what is your purpose in going to college?”),
  2. calling on students by name (“Shira, what do you think?”),
  3. asking a different, related question (“When you write an essay for a class, why do you do that?”),
  4. waiting longer (at least 30 seconds),
  5. asking students to write out their answers (“Pull out something to write with . . .”),
  6. asking students to discuss the question with someone sitting next to them (“Turn to your neighbor . . .”),
  7. coaching students on how to participate in discussion (“Don’t worry about answering correctly; tell us what you’re thinking and we’ll work from there”),
  8. moving on (“Well, it’s something to think about; we might come back to it later”),
  9. trying a different approach the next time (e.g. using a case or story to set up the question), and
  10. doing more in the future to establish the classroom as a safe, interactive place (e.g. helping students get to know one another better).

On this particular day, however, instead of simply ending the silence, I wanted to understand it. What does silence from students actually mean on any given occasion? To find out, I asked my students: “Pull out something to write with and something to write on. Tell me, why didn’t you answer the question I just asked? I’m curious.”**

I collected the responses and shuffled through them immediately. No one said they didn’t care. No one said they were bored. No one said they disliked me or the class or the question I had asked. Several said they didn’t speak up because they didn’t know the answer. Several confessed they were shy.*** One wasn’t paying attention. One considered listening wiser than speaking. And so forth. (Click here to see the actual responses [PDF].)

When I asked students why they didn’t answer, my perception of the silence shifted.


These responses gave me practical information to use moving forward. Some of the responses suggested that it might be helpful to guide the students more in how to participate in discussion. To those who didn’t know the answer, I might say, “That’s okay. There’s not one correct answer. Just think about it and give a guess.” To the one who was watching a video, I might say, “Consider how that hurts your (and your neighbor’s) learning.” And so on.

More importantly, hearing directly from students about why they didn’t answer shifted my own perception. The silence was neither homogeneous nor negative, as it may have initially felt. The students gave varied and (for the most part) reasonable reasons for why they didn’t speak up. A small epiphany. By simply pausing to ask, I came to better understand both the silence and the students.


*Among many resources available on teaching with questions, several that appear particularly useful and grounded in scholarship include William E. Cashin’s IDEA Paper (no. 31), Kenneth E. Vogler’s “Asking Good Questions,” The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis’s “Asking Questions to Improve Learning,” and William F. McComas and Linda Abraham’s “Asking More Effective Questions.”

**This tactic, an ad hoc student survey, borrows from “muddiest point,” “minute paper,” and other classroom assessment techniques popularized by Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross. This sort of activity shows how easy it can be to pause for a moment to gather information from students about any teaching situation. It is also informed by John Bean’s recommendation in Engaging Ideas: “When students run out of things to say . . . suspend the discussion and ask for several minutes of writing” (p 132). I thought that my new, meta question would not only give me information but also get students thinking for themselves about why they didn’t answer the question, which may prompt them to respond more readily to questions in the future (though I made sure to ask in an inquisitive rather than accusatory tone).

***Susan Cain and others have recently brought greater attention to the challenges introverts face and the contributions they can make.

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Want to Be An Inspiring Teacher? Answer This Question: Why Do You Teach? Thu, 22 Mar 2012 16:58:59 +0000 By Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

Your work as an adjunct instructor – do you remember how it all began? What initially inspired you to teach? Do you still feel the same today? If you have been teaching for any length of time you probably have a familiar routine established. You understand what’s expected for your instructional duties and the importance of developing an effective time management plan. You also realize that there is a significant commitment of time required to be actively engaged in the class and create a meaningful learning experience for your students. But if you find that your work has become too routine feeling, perhaps this is a good time to review the source of your inspiration and how it can have a direct impact on your performance.

Many adjuncts describe teaching as something they are passionate about and it results from a desire to share their knowledge and experience with students. It is also an opportunity to help students develop academic skills, self-motivation, self-confidence, and an overall sense of self-empowerment. Another reason why adjuncts pursue teaching opportunities is that they love to learn. Schools encourage continued learning because they expect instructors to remain current in their field and participate in professional development to expand their knowledge and enhance their facilitation skills.

Students can pick up on how you feel about teaching or your general attitude – whether you teach in a classroom or online. It is evident in the tone of your communication and responsiveness to them. If you can remember why you chose this work, despite deadlines, expectations, frustrations, and a busy (often stressful) work schedule (that may seem unrealistic to you at times), you can stay focused on what is most important to you and your students.

Share Your Knowledge

A source of inspiration may be a desire to share knowledge and experience with students. Most adjuncts are working in a career that is related to the subject matter taught, along with advanced education. This adds depth to the class discussions because you understand the course concepts and can translate theory in a way that allows your students to view it in the context of the real world. In other words, you bring the course materials to life.

The knowledge you possess also strengthens the class assignments because you know if students are on the right track with their analyses, research, and projects. For example, undergraduate students often submit written assignments that address real world issues from a “should” or “needs to” perspective, without considering the potential implications or reality of their proposed solutions. Through the use of Socratic questioning and feedback, which challenges the premise of their statements, you are able to guide students and encourage them to explore alternative perspectives, ideas, and solutions.

Teach Skillset Development

Another source of inspiration may be the result of wanting to help students acquire more than content-specific knowledge. Adjuncts often see their students as individuals and take an interest in learning about their needs. As you know, there isn’t one set of characteristics or qualities that can be applied to all students because each possess an individualized approach to learning and have varying skills and abilities. The process of teaching involves being able to quickly assess and interpret where each student is at, from an academic skill set perspective, and knowing how to assist them.

Working with students requires patience, emotional intelligence, and strong communication skills – if you are going to connect with them and develop productive working relationships. Addressing skillset developmental needs such as writing and critical thinking can be very rewarding because you watch a shift in their perspective and approach to interacting with their environment. For example, as they discover a capacity to learn they become more self-confident and over time their self-motivation increases. This is the essence of self-empowerment – when students understand that their work and effort produces a positive result, including the accomplishment of their goals.

Encourage Lifelong Learning

Do you have a love of learning? Another reason why adjuncts choose to teach is that they are passionate about their career and enjoy reading about research, topics, and trends within that field. As an educator it is absolutely essential to stay up-to-date so your instructional approach is relevant to current issues and topics. Through your passion for learning will also teach your students how to become lifelong learners. Encourage them to do more with their discussion responses and written assignments than offer opinions – ask them to find scholarly sources and credible information. This will also promote the development of critical thinking and analysis skills.

As you reflect upon the reasons why you are inspired to teach you are likely to remember the sense of personal and professional fulfillment that results from helping students reach their academic goals. While the work of an adjunct often requires a substantial investment of time, it is a necessary part of the process of teaching that you accept and gladly perform for the benefit of your students. The opportunity to share knowledge and experience, while teaching self-developmental skills, can be transformative for you and your students.

By Bruce A. Johnson, PhD, MBA

Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.  Follow Dr. J on Twitter at @DrBruceJ

Look for Dr. J’s new book Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Part-Time Faculty Who Teach Undergrad and Grad School Business Courses, published by Part-Time Press, Inc. – available summer 2012.

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Should Online Students Get to Choose Their Instructor(s)? Fri, 24 Feb 2012 13:59:12 +0000 photoBy Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

When students enroll in online classes, they often do not get to choose their instructors for and may not find out who the instructor for a particular class will be until the class starts. The question to consider is whether or not it would be of benefit for students to choose their instructors for online courses. Students have to rely upon the school to determine if the instructor has adequate experience, education, and knowledge to facilitate the class – and it is assumed the school has determined the best fit for the instructor and the course. It would be interesting to know how students would respond if they could review a list of instructors’ qualifications prior to the start of class – and would they be able to determine which instructor would best facilitate the course and help meet their academic needs.

The learning process involves the acquisition of information, including course materials and other sources that are designed to help students meet the learning objectives. The instructor is expected to implement activities that provide an opportunity for students to interact with the information in a way that results in knowledge creation and skill set development. An instructor’s expertise has a direct impact on class discussions, communication, working relationships with students, and feedback provided for class assignments. When an instructor has significant real-world experience they are able to enrich the learning experience by bringing the course materials to life. If an instructor has also had prior classroom facilitation experience they will be familiar with the process of developing meaningful feedback, effectively guide the learning process, and address students’ developmental needs.

photoIf students were allowed to choose the instructor, the most likely source of information they would receive would be the instructor’s biography. For schools that allow students to choose their instructors, the school website typically provides the instructors’ backgrounds — often the same introduction that is posted in the class. An Instructors will either project an image of working with the students by sharing knowledge and expertise, or an instructor may establish him/herself as an expert or authority from whom students are expected to learn.

It is imperative that instructors consider the impact of their introductions and the images they are attempting to establish – whether an introduction is posted on the school website or in the classroom. Students may not have a choice when it comes to who will facilitate a class; however, they will make a determination about their involvement in the class based upon their interactions with the instructor and the relationship that they are able to develop with the instructor. The introduction can create a positive perception of working together if it uses a warm and inviting tone.

The most important question related to this topic is whether or not students would be able to accurately match the instructor’s written background to their learning needs and the course objectives if they were given a choice. This could pose several potential challenges for the school, especially if the institution does not have a wide variety of instructors to offer for the courses. There would be scheduling challenges, which would require schools to create a large pools of available instructors. Another possible challenge would be assisting students if they cannot make a choice and need further guidance when signing up for a class.

The idea of allowing online students have a choice certainly has merit.

Online programs could list instructors’ credentials, background, experience, and work in the subject field (including published work). The instructors’ quality scores and teaching measures could also be used, although this is certain to bring about some debate because these measurements are often based upon student surveys and it is understood that if a student has a disagreement about their final outcome they may intentionally provide a lower rating or score. What’s important to remember is that students ultimately do have choices – whether they learn about your background prior to or at the start of class and you can shape their decisions through your involvement in the class. Use the introduction you develop as a means to create a welcoming tone and set the stage for productive working relationships. Students are likely to choose to be open to your facilitation of the class and willing to follow your instructional lead.

By Bruce A. Johnson, PhD, MBA

Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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What Does Your Online Image Say About You? Mon, 09 Jan 2012 18:27:52 +0000 photoBy Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

As an online instructor do you consider the virtual or perceptual image you have established with your students? Do you consider the image you portray and how this image is developed throughout the course? If so, how do you manage your image? An online instructor is represented with every classroom posting and every message sent to the students. A virtual image is developed through students’ perceptual processing and is influenced by the perceived tone of the instructor’s messages, the word choice utilized, and mechanics of everything that has been written. Development of a positive online instructional image is necessary as it has a direct influence on working relationships and how receptive students are to their instructor’s guidance, feedback, and support.

Within an online classroom students typically become acquainted with their instructor when they read the introduction or biography posted. This presents an opportunity for the instructor to share highlights of their background, which includes their experience and education, as a means of creating an image of being knowledgeable, personable, and a “real” person to the students. The importance of the classroom introduction should not be overlooked as a brief response may be perceived as a lack of caring when it needs to promote a sense of community. This introduction can be enhanced by inviting students to professional social networking platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn. Instructors should be cautious about utilizing Facebook, if their profile reveals personal information that would have a negative impact on their virtual instructional presence.

Instructors have another opportunity to enhance their virtual image through messages posted in the classroom. For online lectures and instructional participation postings instructors can demonstrate their subject matter expertise, which has a direct impact on their credibility. Students also develop a sense of who their instructor is when they review the feedback provided. Your image as an instructor may be that of someone who truly cares about their students’ development or someone who demands compliance to their expectations. The challenge when creating these messages is to utilize wording that is professional but does not talk up to or down to students. In addition, the wording should be engaging and utilized as a means of encouraging productive communication, if the goal is to create a responsive presence. Some instructors prefer a direct approach to classroom facilitation and choose to establish an authoritative presence.

The online classroom environment requires an instructional approach that bridges the gap between technology and students. Students’ engagement in the class is often influenced by their perception of the classroom environment, which is directly affected by the instructor’s virtual presence. Should an instructor care about their image? The answer is yes, if the instructor wants to develop meaningful interactions and effective communication. A positive online instructional image helps to build a sense of working together and can increase students’ acceptance of feedback, coaching, and guidance provided. Instructors can develop a strong image by paying attention to their communication, their postings, and their interactions. It can be further enhanced through the use of professional social networking. Instructors develop facilitation techniques and practices that are designed to influence the process of learning and students will respond favorably if they have a positive overall perception of their instructor and the instructor’s abilities.

By Bruce A. Johnson, PhD, MBA

Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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