Effective Practices for Teaching & Learning | GCTC

Effective Practices for Teaching & Learning

Active learning

What Active Learning is NOT

  • A set of random games thrown into a class on a sporadic basis. While that cool free jeopardy PowerPoint template and theme song can be fun for a summative assessment review session, it does not count as active learning. 
  • The occasional, loosely defined, group work where students do not have clear expectations and group outcomes. Typically, students will just discuss everything but the content.  Why?  Because they know when they come back to the whole class discussion, the professor is not going to listen to what they talked about. Instead, the professor will just lecture on what they “should have discussed”. 
  • A springboard into a long lecture. Faculty often ask a series of close-ended questions, wait 3 seconds, and then answer the questions for the audience, only to lead into a 45-minute lecture. This is not a discussion, though many people define it as such.

What Active Learning IS

  • Transparent and intentional. The professor allows time in the beginning of the semester to discuss the active learning expectations of students: responsibility of learning, professional communication, and active participation. More importantly, the faculty member does not lecture these skills with the student. Instead, the professor designs a series of activities that help guide students to come to these conclusions on their own. Once the framework of how the class will run, the shift will then move to content. 
  • Focused on designing essential, content focused questions that will be answered by the end of a course.  From these essential questions come several subsets of those questions which guide each class session and each active learning task throughout the entire course.
  • Uses intentional sequencing of activities from the start to the end of class, touching upon each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Students will start with basic knowledge and comprehension and will end each class with a level of evaluation and synthesis. 
  • Uses Bloom’s taxonomy to create an umbrella for an entire course. For example, in a theory-based course, the first 4 weeks of a course are focused on basic knowledge, understanding, and the beginning of comprehension. The next 5 - 6 weeks looks to build upon comprehension and enter analysis. Finally, the remainder of the course looks exclusively at evaluation and synthesis. 
  • Making yourself obsolete in your own classroom. By the end of the semester, the students will have engaged so deeply with the content that they have mastered the material and the ability to critically speak about the subject in an articulate manner.
  • Providing students with 3 – 4 opportunities, per class, to receive formative feedback.  This allows students to know exactly where they stand and when they need to focus and provide more effort so that they are not “called out” by having to engage at a higher level than just glazed over “listening” during a lecture.  This formative feedback does not need to be graded.  Instead, active learning takes a moment to debrief each activity so that both faculty and student can identify areas for further clarification. 

Final Thoughts

The “50% rule” is also front and center in the active learning classroom. The active learning classroom uses problem- solving and critical-thinking activities to cover content instead of asking student to simply memorize content. Students complete basic comprehension activities outside of class and are required to work through problems, case-studies, and create materials within class. I call this the 50% rule because students have 50% of the information when they start their work. While it will seem easy to them at first…just give them a few minutes and students will begin to ask questions. The great part? They will listen to the answers. It is the moment when you truly become the expert in the classroom. Often, we believe we are the expert because of our fancy degrees and our own studies. And, in our eyes, we are the experts because of these achieved goals. But our students? We do not become the expert in their eyes until the moment they turn to us for help. And, when we can help them, we become needed. Valued. Respected. And our students officially engage.

Hybrid Courses

Hybrid courses look differently. Some courses might have more in-person meetings while some might have more online content. Whichever format yours might be, successful hybrid courses often share similar practices. Below is a step by step approach to creating a successful hybrid course.

Before you do anything in your hybrid, you need to consider how you plan to approach your blended classroom. The traditional approach to teaching would follow the pattern of students coming to class, the instructor lecturing on a topic, and then online class content would be practice material over the provided lecture.

A more student-centered approach is one called the Flipped Classroom. In this approach, students would review content online prior to coming to class. The content would consist of instructional videos and activities which target basic knowledge and comprehension of material. Often, students are required to submit assignments, and often take a pre-class quiz over readings and concepts. Once students are in class, they often engage with case studies, problem-based discussions, and project-based learning to reinforce and further understand content.

Once you have identified which approach you would like to bring to your hybrid class, a traditional approach or a flipped approach, it makes exploring your Teaching and Learning strategies in step 2 that much easier.

Your hybrid philosophy fully impacts your teaching and learning strategies. Now that you have identified which approach you want to take, take time to reflect on your content and what is best for you and your students. When considering your content, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What do you like about your course?
  2. What do you dislike about your course?
  3. What do you wish you had MORE time for?
  4. Where do you feel you waste time?
  5. When do you feel students “zone out”?
  6. Where is there a disconnect with the students and content?
  7. What content would benefit the most in a synchronous environment?
  8. What topics could be a good candidate for an asynchronous, online environment?

Your answers will help you organize your course topics and identify which ones you want to review in class and what content you can put online.

Once you have identified these items, you will need to translate, or explain how the content compliments each other. Gateway’s eLearning department, known for assisting faculty with award-winning online class design, can help you find the best way to translate what you want into your online class sections.

For example, if you would normally provide a lecture on content you plan to put online, you will need to create (or find) an instructional video. Or, if you typically have a whole class discussion of a specific topic in class, you could move it to a message board discussion online. Finally, if you typically have a beginning of class quiz, you could move it online and call it a before-class quiz.

Gateway’s eLearning department can teach you how to use various Blackboard features so you can provide your students with an organized and cohesive course which can be easily navigated by students.

The trick to keeping your students honest with their effort and learning is to make sure there is equal emphasis on hybrid and in-person work.

For example, consider a 35%, 35%, 30% split in your grading. Thirty percent of your overall grade is on exams and other high-stakes assignments. Thirty-five percent is based on completing online assignments and the other thirty-five percent is based on in-person participation.

Additionally, a Pre-Class quiz or assignment makes sure students come into class prepared for in-class activities. Then, after class is over, one of the online assignments, usually a written reflection or writing prompt, can only be answered if they were an active participant in class.

Students know they must complete assignments prior to coming to class and remain engaged during class so they can complete assignments and achieve on high-stakes assessments.

Syllabus Creation

Gateway uses a standard syllabus template for all classes. This template was created in a joint effort between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to provide a consistent platform for our students. With each syllabus laid out the same way with the same expectations, our beginning students are better able to identify and follow information from one class to the next.

A few weeks before each semester begins, you will receive a copy of the Gateway syllabus. On the syllabus, there will be sections highlighted in yellow. These areas are the ones you can personalize and make your own.

These topics include:

  • Course and Instructor Demographics
  • Course Description
  • Course Objectives
  • Course Prerequisites
  • Required Texts, Tools, and Course Supplies
  • Grading / Evaluation Methods
  • Class Attendance Policy
  • Your Withdraw Date
  • Classroom Etiquette / Rules / Regulations
  • Course Outline
  • Final Exam Schedule

Below you will find a series of syllabus best practices to help you craft an informative and effective syllabus for our course.

It is important your syllabus includes positive and inclusive language in your syllabus. For example, in your grading policy, many faculty write “assignments will lose 10 points a day for each day late”. Consider changing this language to be more positive by writing: “Late work is eligible to receive partial credit. One day late can earn up to 90% of the grade. Two days late can earn up to 80% of the grade”, and so on. Another example would be to say, “Class attendance helps you understand content, complete assignments, and master your subject matter” instead of saying “Attendance is mandatory”. In sum, appeal to the students with a purpose and positive language which lets them know they are a part of class!
It is important you provide students with your textbooks, readings, and resources students will need in order to be successful in class. In addition to a list of this information, it is important to explain how these resources will assist in reaching your course goals and objectives.

Students thrive when they know exactly what is expected of them. Take the time to let your students know what is expected for them to be successful. You should be sure to include expectations for activities they need to complete before class, during class, and after class.

Time should be spent outlining how your in-class time will be spent. Provide your students with a general overview of a class so they know what to expect. This can include your teaching approach, group activities, and individualized discussions.

You should also explain how grading will take place. Let students know there are multiple forms of assessment (exams, quizzes, projects, papers, participation, etc) and how each of these assignments tie directly to your learning outcomes. It is even recommended you format your assignments using the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) framework. This framework includes providing a purpose for each assignment (expand knowledge, impact on life-long learning, reinforce skills), tasks (what the assignment entails and how it will be done), criteria (grading rubric) and examples for students to visualize how their project will look.

Finally, make sure policies are clearly articulated for attendance, assignments, late assignments, extra-credit, exams, and make-up options. Provide a statement on cheating and plagiarism, and provide a breakdown of grades (weighted or total points) so students can easily calculate their own grades.

It is important you provide clearly articulated classroom expectations. While Gateway provides some standard messages, there are others you should consider, as well.

One of those messages is one on fostering a safe classroom community which is based on mutual respect and professionalism. Consider a statement like this:

Classroom participants, including your classmates and instructor, should always be treated with courtesy and respect. There should be no harassing statements made in class. Instead, all discussion comments should be factual and constructive in nature. These statements do not mean you must always agree with people. It is ok if you disagree with others; just make sure your statements are free of accusations, prejudice, and opinion. Your disagreeing statements should be based upon facts and documentation. It is the responsibility of each of us in class to create this atmosphere of mutual respect in the classroom. If you have recommendations on how to improve the classroom environment, please feel free to share your ideas directly with your instructor.

When explaining your specific classroom behaviors, be sure to provide concrete and specific language so students know exactly what is expected of them. This allows you to enforce your classroom rules more effectively, if needed.

When creating your course calendar, the number one recommendation we have is for you to bring up the annual academic calendar. Knowing start and end dates for the semester, and any breaks, will allow you to schedule your exams, projects, content, and presentations without conflict.

Your course calendar should provide an outline of your course topics, the aligned readings for each topic, assignment due dates, and any additional resources you might have. The more detailed your course calendar, the easier it is to work with a student who has been absent from class. All necessary information has already been provided for them, so you do not need to collect the information during the semester.