FoTT Conf 2009: Effective Teaching — Tips from Award Winning Faculty

The fourth and last session for the day is “Effective Teaching–Tips from Award Winning Faculty”. This is a panel of instructors — Carrie Ellis-Kalton of Maryville University, Laura Pawlow of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Bill Mayhan & James Henry from UMSL, and Peggy Cohen, also from UMSL who will be moderating the panel. It should be an interesting discussion.

Since this is a panel discussion, it will be difficult–if not next to impossible–to properly attribute who says what. The extended entry will simply document what is said, along with my own internal commentary.


One fabulous thing panelists do to interact with their students:

  • Learn names of all students, email interactions, bring in music and food
  • Really important to be upbeat and enthusiastic in the classroom. Positive attitude about what you are teaching. You sometimes need to be very personal when teaching students to describe how the content has affected your own life (example: Literature and poetry).
  • Give students a sticker for A-level work (tests, homework). Sounds ridiculous at the college level, but apparently students really love it because it shows the instructor takes a personal interest in the students’ work.
  • Learn the students’ names! The Memory Book teaches mnemonic devices for learning lists, as well as students’ names/faces. Speaker actually remembered my name, just by observing me outside the presentation room.
  • Survey of students show that they really desire personal interactions with instructors.

Active Learning and Collaborative Learning

  • Music is one of the most abstract of the arts (like math is the most abstract of sciences). Translate the abstract into the concrete to help students understand the concepts. Speaker used an example of a music box to illustrate resonance–music box barely makes a sound, but if you put it on the table, the table acts as a resonator to amplify the sound waves into something that can be heard across the room.
  • Have students teach the content after they have learned it. Teaching someone else how to do something is one of the best ways to learn it yourself. It really helps on exams.
  • Everyone in class has to face the same challenges on assignments. For instance, in a writing class, students have to write a single thesis, present it to the other students in their small groups, and the group has to decide which one in the group is the most interesting or best. Then they discuss the different responses as a class group.
  • When faculty members weigh in on discussion boards, it can suppress student participation.
  • One panelist uses lots and lots of props in her psychology course. She encourages students to view concepts from the perspectives of other people.

Enriching Academic Experiences:

  • For a literature course, bring in samples of art and music to help illustrate different periods and cultures from which the literature springs. Generally gets positive responses from students who have never been exposed to the different cultural aspects of literature and humanities.
  • Students want academic experiences that are relevant to real world applications. [mhaysExtremely important at S&T, where so much of what we do (science and engineering) is directly tied to the real world].
  • Popular culture can be a good source of material that ties into the course content (magazine articles, web sites, movies, television, and more).
  • In music, performance itself is an enriching experience. However, cross-disciplinary activities can also be included to enrich a music course (i.e. bring in literature and art, just as you include music and art in a literature course). History can be used to enhance virtually any course, since students can see exactly where the content comes from over time.
  • On our campus, there are a number of design teams where students can learn and apply most of their engineering knowledge to real-world problems.

Academic challenge

  • Show students the general statistical data on student performance in the course (how many A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. that historical data shows is statistically likely).
  • Set the expectations early for student performance–let them know up front what it takes to get the best grade in the course.
  • Tell students not to focus on the grades, but to focus on what they are actually learning in the course.
  • Give examples of high-quality work so students can see what is really expected of them. Help them understand why it is such high-quality so they are able to understand how to get there on their own, rather than simply copy the form of the high-quality work.
  • Focus on students’ analytical skills. Give them an assignment with lots of wrong information and have them critically analyze it so the students can figure out the wrong information on their own.