A review of Claire Major’s Teaching Online

I have always been a skeptic of online education. As someone who thrives on the power of face-to-face instruction, I have always doubted the ability of online education to equal that experience. Yet, as someone in a faculty development role, I have to acknowledge that online education is something we have to give attention to in today’s environment. To that end, I have an excellent resource to recommend to anyone thinking about teaching online or trying to support those teaching online. My colleague and coauthor on Teaching for Learning has a new book that provides a valuable discussion of the research and practice related to online education. In today’s post, I will share my review of Claire Major’s Teaching Online: A Guide to Theory, Research, and Practice (Johns Hopkins, 2015).

Photo credit: University of Maryland Merrill College of Journalism

I was familiar with the basics of online education, but found Major’s Teaching Online did a great job providing a mix of research findings and practice questions to consider. 

A response to the Atlantic: Active Learning Doesn’t Harm Students

The Atlantic published an essay from Christine Gross-Loh entitled, “Should Colleges Really Eliminate the College Lecture?” This follows a similar op-ed published in the New York Times, “Lecture Me. Really.” Is there someone out there assaulting lecturers? Are there colleges out there eliminating the lecture? Is there even a college out there that could force an elimination if they tried? What is this really about? There is a growing and substantial body of research that suggests the importance of engagement and active learning. This scholarship has led to calls to reduce the frequency (more importantly, the length) of lectures in favor of engaging students in the classroom. Clearly, those who believe in the power and potential of lectures feel under threat. Yet, the research is clear that the inclusion of active learning helps students learn content better. The defense of the lecture in the Atlantic essay is long on anecdotal support for lecturing and wrong in numerous ways. In response, I want to respond to a few of the most inaccurate passages as a response to the Atlantic and underline my central argument: active learning doesn’t harm students.

14th Century Lecture in Bologna

When you lecture, take a break!

When I work with faculty on improving their teaching, one of the areas that I constantly try to get them to improve is in their lecturing. Particularly in certain disciplines, lecturing is the primary instructional approach used by professors. Lecturing is probably the oldest teaching approach and can be effective. However, lecturing can also be done very poorly as the stereotype of the professor reading form the yellowed lecture notes illustrates. I try to convince faculty to include more active learning approaches into their classes and I find the pause procedure is an excellent vehicle for this. In today’s post, I want to share an excerpt from my book on college teaching (Teaching for Learning)  that describes the pause procedure and how to use it effectively in the college classroom.

Are college students more brilliant? The grade inflation debate

Brilliant! I loved the series of Guinness commercials that made fun of the British affinity for using the word brilliant. It is hard not to love using brilliant and I often join in after only a few days in England (resulting in much ribbing from my colleagues). Of course, the issue is that if everything is brilliant- is anything? Brilliant used to mean exceptionally good, but now it has been watered down due to overuse. All of this leads to me think of the grade inflation debate in higher education and whether today’s college students are more brilliant than in the past.

“Grades A and B are sometimes given too readily—Grade A for work of no very high merit, and Grade B for work not far above mediocrity. . . One of the chief obstacles to raising the standards of the degree is the readiness with which insincere students gain passable grades by sham work.”  — Report of the Committee on Raising the Standard, Harvard University, 1984

The grade inflation debate is not new.  

Houston, we have a problem teaching activity

In the popular movie, Apollo 13, the astronauts are trapped with their oxygen running out.  In a classic scene, all of the NASA engineers gather in a room with all of the stuff in the spacecraft and have to figure out how to make a square air filter fit a hole made for a round filter.  Literally, the engineers have to make a square peg fit in a round hole. In today’s post, I want to share an IDEA from my book Teaching for Learning on how you can use this as the basis for a class activity.

In the Houston We Have a Problem IDEA, students are given a collection of items or information that they must use to solve a problem presented by the instructor.

The game is designed to encourage class participation, creativity, and problem solving.