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Teaching Corner notes

The Teaching Corner is an informal gathering of faculty and others interested in teaching issues at Binghamton University. Sessions usually take place during the first week of the month during the academic year. The following summaries touch on the main points of each discussion. For more information, contact Hilton Baxter at 777-6376 or

Large Lecture
Effective Learning Activities in the Classroom
Online Teaching
Best Practices in Foreign Language Teaching
International Students in the Classroom
End of Semester Issues
Academic Honesty
When Technology Fails


Large Lecture

Oct. 2, 2009

Participants shared ideas for making large lecture classes more effective and satisfying for everyone involved. For example, tell students at the beginning of the course that a part of the exams will be based on the large lecture. This may encourage attendance and attention. Use clickers to poll students before/after to confirm understanding of particular concepts. Have students write brief summaries of the main idea of the class so far, trade summaries with nearby students, identify discrepancies or points of uncertainty. Ask students to submit single page list of what they learned today, what was least clear, what was most surprising from the class. Review these briefly at next class session, which can help keep everyone on track and engaged. When murmurs start, ask directly "did I lose you? what do you think of what I just said?" Large lecture is a community - find ways to use it as a group (or smaller groups). How does individual input fit into the whole? Highlight the process, put responses on board, discuss the quality, meaning, veracity of responses, as well as the level of learning (are they using critical thinking skills?).

Try peer review of homework, using questions or rubrics to guide their review. Have groups report out on good points and points of confusion, then discuss as full class. Use Blackboard to gather responses to readings (or homework), perhaps with deadline 2 hours before class. Discuss interesting examples of responses during class. Collect names, photos, personal information and background of students. Ask them to write what they'd want to have in a letter of recommendation. Use individual email when appropriate. Let students know you want to know them but they have to meet you at least halfway.

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Effective Learning Activities in the Classroom

Nov. 4, 2009

OHIO - only handle it once (to help time management)

International students - often don't know that asking questions is okay, office hours and tutoring are completely new ideas for students from certain parts of the world. ISSS can help with this, have developed handouts etc.

Team-based learning - set up very simple project or question, 3-5 members, give them 3-5 minutes for brainstorming (come up with 5 solutions, for example), present options briefly to the full class. Teaches brainstorming process, group skills, presentation skills.

Think-pair-share - discuss controversial quotation, concept, historical event, etc.

Do small research project, check it with Turnitin, discuss plagiarism, revise for final grade. Have books, articles, dvd, sound recording, etc at different stations in classroom. Have students compete to create a bibliography of all the items. They can write them on the board, then each can be discussed, compared to a model bibliography, and revised as needed.

RefWorks is a new module on the Libraries webpage. It will organize and track all your references and format them appropriately.

Give students an example of a bad paper. Ask them to identify (in groups or individually) what needs to be improved, discuss, then reveal comment that instructor gave, discuss. Similarly, show students a paragraph which is unclear, wordy, etc. Have them create more concise, more precise version (can they beat the word count of teacher's version?). What does the passage actually mean?

It can also help to read a student's writing out loud. Perhaps have a row of students whisper a passage in each other's ears. Clear writing will probably come through without much change, while unclear writing may come out unrecognizable.

Have one team member give directions for a design or a task, others have to sketch the object or repeat the task. Forces them to make communication clear and precise.

Give students pre-packaged research, have them write it up (maybe as an abstract). Separates research from writing. Points out importance of good communication even if writing or speaking isn't the main focus of course.

Have students underline topic sentence in each paragraph, then check if all the other sentences in the paragraph relate to the topic. This can help streamline the grading process as well.

Storyboard - each person has one picture, group has to figure out what order or arrangement makes sense. They can visit other groups to get different ideas or help clarify their ideas. Similarly, give students several copies of cancelled checks. Groups take out a few checks, develop a narrative about the owner of the check account. Then take out another check, ask if the story needs to change. Repeat several times. Helps students understand the difference between inference and information, the limit of knowledge, scientific process, etc.

Make photo collage based on a reading (bring magazines, scissors, glue, etc).

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Online Teaching

Dec. 1, 2009

Roger Westgate shared his experience with Johns Hopkins University. For online courses they have full-time instructional designers to help faculty throughout the course development process. Faculty get a modest stipend during the design process (in addition to the regular stipend for running the course). Faculty owns the content of the course, but can't offer it through another institution, and JHU can't offer the course without the faculty's permission. This protects both the faculty and the university.

Instructors (and the university) should realize that online courses can take more time to prepare and run than face-to-face courses. Students also should be reminded that it can take more organizational and time management skill to take an online course successfully. Shannon Hilliker-VanStrander, who has done her PhD about online learning, has found that it takes about 6 weeks of full-time work to prepare an online course for the first time. Preparation should be complete, or very close to complete, before the course starts. Online classes should be about 20 students.

Protocols and procedures should be in place and thoroughly considered in advance, and clearly explained in the syllabus, to avoid misunderstandings and problems later. Expectations for posting to discussions, can include rubrics, requirement to cite sources (for ex. page numbers in textbook). Indicate what time assignments are due, and make these at a time you can be available in case there are technical problems submitting documents. Consider university helpdesk hours as well, when setting deadlines. Tell students when you will be online.

Exams can be proctored by a supervisor at the student's workplace, or by a librarian at any public library (for a small fee). The proctor should be arranged at the beginning of the course, and should submit a written agreement (on letterhead) to the instructor, agreeing to as a proctor according to the standards you (or the university) establish. A written exam is sent to the proctor who administers it at an agreed-upon time, and then sends it back.

Short exams, quizzes and learning modules can be done online. Unless it's proctored, it should be considered "open book." With that in mind, it helps to set a short time limit for the material so students have to study in advance (and can't easily consult other people during the activity).

The course can use several styles of teaching / learning. Lecture can be captured using audio only, voice over Powerpoint, video, Camtasia, etc. and can be offered synchronously or asynchronously. Student presentations can be submitted online or on CD by mail, and then shared with the rest of the class. Groups can be formed and can work together on specific projects throughout the course. Some textbooks have media available (such as chapters as podcasts, visuals, etc) which can support or enhance online use.

Design discussion questions carefully. Keep track of postings, a rubric can help keep quality of discussions up. Involvement by instructor will keep students involved as well. Consider how you want to communicate within course (email, Blackboard, Facebook, etc) and what parameters to use. For example, if you post an announcement in Blackboard and expect students to have read it, make sure that's stated as a policy in the syllabus. Remind students that you may not be online 24/7 so they shouldn't necessarily expect immediate response to a message from them. It helps to put the course name and number in the subject field of an email, and they should include their full name in messages.

The University Center for Training and Development offers help to faculty who are preparing to teach an online course, based on what the SUNY Learning Network has used.

Finally, one of this morning's attendees participated in the Jossey-Bass Online Teaching and Learning conference (October 2010) and suggested these books that could be helpful:

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Best Practices in Foreign Language Teaching

March 3, 2010

Students take foreign language (or any) class for various reasons. It can help to find out what their goals are. Identify desired outcomes for each class session. Consider different learning styles and strategies. Use the language in context (also for student exercises) - help them understand why they should understand what is being covered (vocabulary, grammar, cultural aspects, etc).

Underline relative pronouns (or other parts of speech) in articles, so students can see language in action. Only speak in the target language. On homework, just circle errors, then have students identify / categorize the errors. Discuss with librarian assignments in advance so they can identify resources. Students should also know what's coming up so they can prepare questions for discussion in class. Library has various resources for language instruction including films on demand.

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April 9, 2010

Good mentoring leads to good mentoring of others - it trickles down. It can prevent or reduce frustration and improve productivity. If a faculty or instructor notices that a student is absent more than twice in a row, it can save trouble later if the mentor contacts the student and follows up. It helps if colleagues let each other know what's going on (with each other, with students, etc)? Departmental and institutional culture affect what support a person can give or can get. If the local environment isn't supportive, a mentor could be found outside the institution, perhaps someone from a different department or from a professional association. 

The Center for Learning and Teaching will help match mentors and proteges (see ) There's a good resource on mentoring of graduate students at (the fable of the rabbit & its dissertation alone is worth reading) but the principles can apply to other mentor-protege relationships.

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International Students in the Classroom

Nov. 3, 2010

International students bring global ideas, expertise, perspectives to the class. But they also have special needs (language, ideas of instructor's role, homesickness, acceptable ways to seek help, others). So they are simultaneously high-functioning yet also needy in some ways. If you ask them questions during class discussion, some cultures see it as intimidating. It helps if you explain the expectations, give them warning if you plan to include them in discussion, especially if their language skills are limited (which can embarrass them, making verbal contribution even more difficult for them). Don't worry too much about fine points of grammar, depending on how long the student has been in the US.

Student's goals may not be compatible with liberal arts education. Some cultures put great deal of parental / family pressure on student. GenEd requirements may need better explanation for international students, even before they come here. FYE courses do not teach how to be learners. Students struggle to bring skills from one context to another. Self-reflection and self-promotion can be very hard for students from certain cultures. Writing assignments about "coming of age," family/national culture, history and norms can be useful in various disciplines and may be worth sharing within class. This can also help international students connect with fellow students who aren't in their own national "cluster."

Students from different cultures may have completely different perspectives on certain issues and events. It can be interesting to get students to "frame" a discussion (writing ideas down) before having the discussion verbally. Explore how the discussion went in directions that different cultures would find unexpected, based on what students thought the discussion would cover beforehand.

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End-of-Semester Issues

Dec. 2, 2010

We discussed several things that might come up toward the end of a semester. A current situation was a student with several deaths in the family. It was suggested that deadlines be extended in such a way that there will be contact with the student over the break, especially at the holidays. As a grad student, the department might consider giving him a slightly lighter load next semester (especially if he's executor of the estate). 

Academic Honesty - people shared examples of recent cheating. It was suggested that BU have panel of students visit freshman classes and res halls to discuss this. There could also be a website with FAQs and other information. There was some interest in having an online quiz about academic honesty (like the safety trainings faculty and staff must take). Carol Bell will explore options and expenses for this. Students could help design the training.

International students and applications are coming in - Greg Ketchum is a good resource for credential equivalents of international students. There are also services that will help evaluate students from other countries (for fee). Departments with large numbers of int'l applicants may ask a faculty member from relevant countries to interview student by phone or Skype (if available).

The Content Collection in Blackboard will be phased out in September, 2011. It's not used by many people and is expensive. Google Apps may have similar functionality.

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Academic Honesty

Feb. 7, 2011

Some students bring multiple iClickers to class, essentially impersonating other class members (allowing the other students to skip class without penalty). In large classes, TAs can roam the room, confiscate extra clickers when discovered. In the Chemistry Department, when they discover students using multiple clickers, all the students involved lose points for the day. Should they be required to sign an Admission of Dishonesty form at that point? If it's a 1st offense. Faculty in any school should check with the chair of their Academic Honesty Committee to find out if there are any previous violations. If it's a 2nd offense, it would automatically go to an honesty hearing. One cannot know if a student has cheated in the past if there's no record - the Admission of Dishonesty is the official way to have the incident on record.

Probation at BU doesn’t have much of a consequence for most students. Discussions continued about whether Maybe BU needs something between probation and suspension. Probation from extracurricular activities would be hard to enforce since a student can participate in many activities without having to sign up, and the groups don't have to tell academic authorities who is participating.

Some examples of recent honesty cases involve students emailing tests and quizzes to each other. It can be useful to check photo IDs before giving a major test. This makes it harder for someone to take the test in place of another student.

Requiring students to report others they know are cheating, or instituting an honor code - this would be a big culture shift at BU. They don't eliminate cheating, but may encourage discussions of ethics and integrity. Harpur Associate Dean Jennifer Jensen has talked to some student groups about integrity and honesty (programs on personal integrity during orientation). Another participant pointed out that students who cheat ultimately are shortchanging themselves. Perhaps have student speakers or alumni discuss the value of honesty and integrity in the real world. Some faculty have an "honor code" as part of their course syllabus, a pledge or contract, which may or may not go beyond the university policies (and thus may or may not be enforceable).

It can help to ask students "what are you yourself going to do to genuinely learn?" This helps them focus on their own goals and strategies for the class. "Would you want to have a doctor, or lawyer, who cheated his / her way through school?"

How can one test students in ways that make cheating less likely? Multiple versions of the same exam. Questions that require higher level reasoning (not just basic answers). 

In general, people are less likely to cheat in smaller classes because people know each other. Are there ways to encourage similar dynamics in large classes?

Could the Dean's offices (or Provost's office) set up a website where faculty could keep up-to-date on what students are doing? Summaries of recent honesty cases, language that can be used in a syllabus to encourage honesty, what to watch for and how to respond, etc.

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When Technology Fails

March 10, 2011

Getting help before classes start

Classrooms are normally available the week before the semester starts, so instructors can visit the classrooms they'll be teaching in, make sure the technology is appropriate to their courses and that they know how to use it.

If the cables don't seem to fit correctly, don't force them. EdComm has many cables and adapters available (for sale at cost) so you can be sure everything will work. Graphics cards in laptops have different settings which may also present compatibility issues. Laptop screen resolutions can conflict with projector resolutions. This can cut off part of the image when projected. Refresh rate may not be compatible, which would make screen black.

EdComm will meet you in the room and go through things with you if you wish. Doing this by appointment in advance is better for everyone.

When you first teach in a particular classroom, locate the telephone. This will save time if there is a problem or emergency later. There should also be an instruction sheet with information on connecting laptops, turning things on, handling built-in video players, etc. Download your own copy here (.doc 1.48 MB)

The Center for Training and Development also has workshops and walk-in help, and will help by appointment.

Setting up for class

If you plan to use documents that depend on the network (Blackboard, web, etc), have a backup saved on a USB flash drive. Remember to bring the drive with you to class (and take it with you at the end of class).

The order you turn things on matters - laptop should be connected first and turned on last. If necessary, check cable connections and a laptop restart solves many problems. Click "Auto Image" on technology control box; this makes sure projector optimizes the image coming from your laptop.

Getting help during class

The EdComm Help number should be on the phone in the classroom. There should be staff on duty until 10:00 pm.

Projectors are on a three-hour time limit to conserve lamp life. The bulbs are very expensive and have barely enough life to last a year. If you push a button on the technology control box that resets the three-hour limit. But plugging in a laptop may not reset it because the system doesn't recognize individual laptops as unique devices. So clicking "Auto Image" right before class starts (or again at break in a longer class) should prevent the projector from shutting down (which then requires 5 minutes for restart).

If the entire image on projector has odd color, it could be a bad cable. Call EdComm and they will bring a new cable.

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Last Updated: 7/23/15