Alan Alda on teaching science

Alan Alda is an award-winning actor known for his roles on the hit television shows M.A.S.H. and The West Wing. However, Alda is now more passionate about improving teaching science. He has spoken across the nation and world about his work at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. I recently attended a lecture by Alda and want to share my insights from his talk in today’s post.

Alan Alda on teaching science

I’ve always loved Alan Alda. He is such a classic actor to me. He seems to really embody the character.

Given a personal health crisis and his own experience as a T.V. doctor, Alda has begun to use his celebrity to support the cause of communicating science better.

While much of his work is talking about communicating with a broader public, there are some specific lessons for anyone involved in college teaching— in the sciences and beyond.

Video grading can improve your student feedback

One of the biggest challenges that I have as a professor is helping my students improve their writing.  Encouraging students to practice the art and skill of writing is one of the areas where we can have the biggest impact on our students.  I’ve always found the hardest part of teaching writing is providing feedback.  I used to struggled to provide comments to students that addressed larger issues as well as edits for style and grammar.  I also had to manage the time needed to grade in order to provide prompt feedback and protect my own sanity.  Video grading can improve your student feedback and provides the best solution for offering writing feedback.

video grading

Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax

Video grading provides many advantages for delivering student assessment and feedback.  Students have been traumatized by the dreaded red pen and often want to write the “correct” way.  Few of my students have learned the writing process before coming into my class.  My goal is to help them learn the process as much as any specific tips or advice I may have for their papers.  Video grading presents a perfect opportunity to guide students through the writing process.  It also offers many advantages over other feedback methods I have tried.

Can we have class outside?

The weather has been unusually nice lately in Dallas. Students enjoy being able to move outdoors and I’ve seen them reading under trees or chatting in the sun: the quintessential college life. Of course when it is this nice, who wants to go inside to have class? No one including the professors! Some of my favorite teaching memories are taking classes outside. In today’s post, I want to share one of the IDEAS from my book, Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success. In this IDEA, we share how to take advantage of the beautiful weather.

can we have class outside

Photo credit: SMU

My reading list for 2017

Happy New Year! I have never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions but I do enjoy picking out books that I’m going to read for the year. Some years I focus on popular books that I’ve never read or on non-higher education books. For this year, I have identified 10 books that are mostly focused on faculty and academic governance. This is an area I ended 2016 thinking about and want to continue into 2017. Below are my books for the year along with blurbs from Amazon. What are you reading this year?

Photo credit: Moyan Brenn

What are trigger warnings and why all the fuss?

Since the University of Chicago sent a letter to all incoming students informing them that they wouldn’t receive trigger warnings, the concept has been debated within and outside of higher education. In fact, it has probably been debated more than many higher education problems that are far more prevalent. In today’s post, I will answer the question: What are trigger warnings and why all the fuss?

what are trigger warnings

Photo credit: Jason Eppink

When I teach the History of Higher Education, I have the students read the Charter and Statutes of William and Mary. The text is dense with hard to understand language. Before I have them read it, I warn them that largely because of the language that it will probably be the hardest thing that we will read in class. I also tell them it is pretty dry, but there are some key themes that I want them to gather.

So is this a trigger warning?