Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ensuring Academic Integrity

Today I attended one of the workshops in our Teaching Workshops Series. This particular workshop was on how to deter academic misconduct, and how to deal with it if it occurs. We shared a lot of great tips and ideas.

For example, breaking written assignments down into several parts (e.g., topic selection, annotated bibliography, outline, draft, final) means that students must work through the steps towards a final written assignment, making plagiarism less likely - and meaning you end up grading more polished work! This doesn't necessarily increase grading time - you can grade the early stages as credit/no credit, or even make them subject to peer review.

For exams, some of the ideas included writing essay (or at least partially written answers) instead of completely multiple choice exams, as this makes it harder for students to memorize answers if they get them ahead of time, or to copy from a classmate. Also, make sure you're modifying your exams each semester so the same set of questions and answers isn't going out semester after semester. If you do use multiple choice, try creating different forms by, for example, shuffling the order of the questions.

For all of the great tips and resources from this workshop, check out CTLE Videos. The video of the workshop itself may take a week or so to post, but in the mean time you can view videos of past workshops or sign up for future workshops. The next is on October 30: Workshop 3: Is an Online Format Right for You and Your Course? (classroom and WIMBA settings).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tips for Quick Grading Written Work

As we approach midterms (I know, already!), you may be testing out those red pens, doing wrist-strengthening exercises, and stocking up on chocolate-covered double-espresso beans to help get you through the grading that is to come.

But grading doesn't have to be this way. Really.

So how can you reduce the time and energy required to grade? I'm concentrating here on written work (lab reports, essay exams, thought papers), and will focus on other types of assessments in future posts.

1) Have as much written work submitted electronically as possible.

Although some instructors are "old school" about grading by hand, once you get used to reading on the screen and providing type-written comments you'll realize that it's much faster. Other perks: you're saving paper, you have a copy of all of your comments saved to your computer, and students will never complain about your hand writing again!

2) Have a well-defined rubric.

We always recommend not only creating clear grading criteria and weighting of points, but also offering this to students ahead of time. All of my written assignment descriptions are accompanied by the rubric right in the syllabus. On exams, whenever I include multiple-part written answer questions, I am sure to include the point breakdown. This helps students focus their efforts on the most important points, and actually leads to better formulated responses. When it comes time to grade, you can convert your rubric into a checklist and simply go down the list. Students are less likely to be confused about why they earned the grade they did, and you've sped up your grading time considerably.

Never created a rubric before? Come to us for guidance. Or try RubiStar, where you can create your own rubrics for free.

Bonus points: Pair this tip with the previous one and complete and return all of your rubrics electronically.

3) Create "canned" feedback.

This is an ingenious tip from Darrell Coleman, Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence.

Have you ever noticed as you grade that students always seem to have trouble with the exact same concepts? There are always patterns in the errors students make; the same confusions appear from semester to semester. So why should you have to respond each and every time the same mistake is made? Well, you don't.

If you create a document with all of the comments you make the first time you grade an assignment, you can simply go back to that document and cut and paste each time you need to make the same comment again. Brilliant!

What are your time-saving tips for grading written work? We'd love to hear them!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Peer Review - Increasing quality and decreasing grading time

Have you ever looked at a stack of student work and thought, "I wish I didn't have to grade this pile of garbage!" Well, the answer is simple. Don't.

Instead, get students to review one another's work before submitting it. This is quite common in writing classes, but why can't it also be used in science classes where students are writing research papers, in humanities classes where they are writing essays, in fine arts classes where they are creating and designing? Any time students are being asked to submit work that you hope they have taken the time to proofread or revise in some way, you can take advantage of peer review.

All you need to do is create an earlier deadline, and offer points for submitting work early and reviewing other students' work. I suggest giving students your grading rubric ahead of time so that they can (a) use it to guide their own work, and (b) use it to review the work of their peers. You can use class time to do peer reviews, or you can set up groups on your course website for students to review written work. You don't have to grade the submission or feedback beyond the fact that it has been completed, but I find giving guidelines on how to leave effective feedback and possibly grading feedback with a simple scale (like credit/no credit or check, check-minus, check-plus) helps.

Not only will having their work reviewed by others lead to a better product, research has shown that when students spend time reviewing someone else's work their own work improves as well. (Anecdotally, I also find that for some reason students are more embarrassed about turning in shoddy work to their peers than they are to me, so even the first drafts tend to be better!)

In the end, your students have learned something about providing useful feedback, they've gone through a revision process they might not otherwise have done on their own, and you have the pleasure of grading a much more polished set of submissions.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Teaching Efficiently - What a bright idea!

By now many of us have switched to energy efficient light bulbs, water-saving shower heads and low-flow toilets, re-useable instead of disposable everything. Some of these changes have been made to ease the strain on the environment. Many of these changes have been made to ease the strain on our wallets.

So you may have made your home more energy efficient, but have you done the same for your teaching? The energy we're trying to save here is not necessarily electricity or water, although I suppose we could consider it a natural resource: it's YOU.

Now that so many of us are teaching more classes, each with more students, and trying at the same time to increase research productivity, it seems like the time is ripe to learn what small changes you can make in the way you teach that can add up to big savings in terms of your time, energy, and sanity!

Over the next few weeks we'll be sharing tips on how to teach more efficiently now, and how to make changes to make next semester even better. We also want to hear from you, so share your ideas here or email them to us at info@ctle.utah.edu.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Going paperless

Increases in environmental awareness, and decreases in budget sizes, mean that more and more offices are going paperless. But how can this be done?

I've searched the web and surveyed colleagues to bring you some ideas of how to make your classroom (and maybe all of your academic pursuits) paperless.

  • Make your syllabus available online. Many of us already do this, but then print out copies for students. I haven't printed any copies for the past 3 semesters, and have yet to receive a complaint. Sure, some students print them out for themselves, but there are others who choose to view the syllabus online only, so at least some paper is being saved. (And at the very least, it's not coming out of your budget.)
  • Make handouts available online only. Making lecture notes and handouts available online gives students the choice to print them out or only keep electronic versions, and saves you money by reducing the printing you are doing. If you are asking students to complete a worksheet in class, have it posted on your PowerPoint slides and ask them to copy it to their notebooks. You may also consider encouraging students to bring their laptops to class with them.
  • Stop using overhead slides! Overhead slides need to be reprinted every time you update your lessons. (If you've been using the same slides for more than a few years, you should rethink your lessons. Aren't you getting bored with them?) Opt instead for a more renewable resource, like PowerPoint or the whiteboard/blackboard available in most classrooms.
  • Have assignments submitted online. Use Blackboard Vista or other course management system to have students turn in their assignments online. Additional perks: everything is time and date stamped, and already in a form that can be run through plagiarism software if you so choose. Just make sure that you are providing comments online, and not printing everything out to write longhand. Perk for students: no more illegible handwriting to try to decipher, and grades are available as soon as you're done grading.
  • Consider having quizzes/exams online. As long as you are comfortable with students completing work on their own, you can have them take their exams outside of class time. Many classroom management software packages (including Blackboard Vista) allow you to create self-grading multiple-choice, True/False, and fill-in-the-blank tests. You can also create rubrics for easy grading of open-ended written answer questions. Consider creating exams that are meant to be open-book, or use the timing features of your course management system to limit how long students have to complete the quiz. Even if you have students completing calculations where they need to show their work, you can do it all online (just introduce them to the equation editors available in most word processing software)!
  • Use student response systems. For quizzes, exams, surveys - anything that requires numerical or short text answers in class. The U is now using TurningPoint. Find out more here.
  • Adopt an e-book. I haven't made the switch yet, but it's something I'm definitely considering. Students like the cheaper prices, and you'll probably like the resource materials to which you gain access. Although many are worried about the quality of these texts, the ones you purchase through the major textbook publishing companies are usually just electronic versions of what you'd be using anyway. One thing to be aware of (and warn students about) is that many electronic textbooks only offer a limited subscription (and of course, students won't be able to sell back a used copy).
  • Print, but only to your computer. If you or your students find an article online that you want to read, instead of printing to paper, print it to pdf. CutePDF is a free downloadable program to do this. (Tip from Small Notebook for a Simple Home.) When you do have to print, be sure to print in the smallest font you can read comfortably, with narrow margins, and on both sides of the page.
Don't feel like you have to make all of these changes at once. Adopting small changes gradually will likely ease the transition and make you more likely to stick with it. Every little bit helps!

Did you know?
There are additional tips for making your research paperless available on the Sciencewomen blog. Try also TeachPaperless, a blog geared towards K-12 but also with useful insights for Higher Ed.

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