Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TEACHING IN JUST TWO WORDS


 
I am delighted to report that last week this blog went over 100,000 page views since its inception.   That is certainly a dream come true for me.   Many thanks to everyone who has been kind enough over the years to mention this blog to all of the teachers around you.   As a new year begins, please continue to let people in the education profession know that I try to post my thoughts on teaching 2 or 3 times each month.   Thanks!!!

**

About 10 days ago, I released my new book on Amazon:   Don’t Just Dream about Success:   Stack the Odds in Your Favor.   As the title clearly implies, I believe that everyone can become more successful more of the time by following certain tactics.   Proceeds from the sale of this book go to finance CPA review for FREE, the website (www.CPAreviewforFREE.com) where candidates can prepare to pass the CPA exam without having to spend a fortune.   I simply do not believe entrance into the accounting profession should be limited to people who can afford to spend $2,000-$3,000 for preparatory materials.   I am not trying to be a rebel or a missionary but I do not think barriers should be set up that basically keep out people who are poor.   For five years, we have been getting 500,000 hits per year on that site.   We need help in financing this project so I wrote this book for that purpose.

You can locate both the Kindle and paperback version of Don’t Just Dream about Success:   Stack the Odds in Your Favor by going to www.Amazon.com and doing a search for “Hoyle Success.”   The book is available for under $9.00.

**

One quote that I discuss in my new Success book comes from the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi.   In that particular chapter of the Success book, I write about failures that arise because of our tendency to make things in life too complicated.   That is an attitude that can prevent us from achieving our most important goals.   Keeping things as simple as possible is usually the best strategy.  

Coach Lombardi said:  “Some people try to find things in this game that don't exist but football is only two things—blocking and tackling.”

So, in today's blog entry, as we are all looking forward to a brand new year, I want you to think about success in teaching (or whatever else you seek to accomplish during 2014) and try to narrow that success down to just two words.   Just two.  For once, let’s keep things truly simple.   Becoming a great teacher should be a simpler task for you.   As a new year starts, I think focusing the whole process of teaching on just two words might help us all get more comfortable with what it really takes to succeed. 

What would your answer be if I asked you to describe “Becoming a Better Teacher” in just two words?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this question and quickly came up with dozens of possibilities.   Here are just three of the words that I considered at first.  They are all extremely important but I didn’t think they were the MOST important.

--Caring.   It is easy for teachers to get annoyed with students.   Students tend to be lazy and forgetful and seem to set terrible priorities.   Hang around the faculty lounge and you will hear so much fussing about students that you wonder why anyone teaches.   But, if you are going to teach well, you have to be able to look out at those faces and care about those people.   They cannot just be random and anonymous.   These are human beings who will be better off in life if you can help them learn and think.   You can make a difference in their futures.   Superficially, everyone seems lazy and dull.   But, get to know them and they are, for the most part, wonderful people.   If you are not happy with your teaching, one place to start is to ask yourself a tough question:   Do I really care enough for these students so that it makes a difference to me whether they learn or not.

--Time.   Every job, everywhere goes better with the investment of an adequate amount of time.   We live in an incredibly busy society.   Thousands of things seem to call for our attention and time.  Procrastination is not just a student problem – it affects us all.   I know you might not want to hear this but if you want to be a better teacher then spend more time at it.   Class preparation can take 5 minutes or 5 hours.   When I am busy, it is easy to seek shortcuts and magic pills and try to get by with 5 minutes.   I hate to disappoint you but there are no shortcuts or magic pills.   If you invest only a little time, don’t be surprised if class seems disorganized and the results appear trivial.   Add time to every teaching task and you will become a better teacher.

--Thinking.   Teaching often comes down to thinking versus memorization.   Students prefer memorization.   Teaching based on memorization is just easier.   I have long been convinced that the enormous amount of criticism that college education faces today goes back to one issue:   We tend to teach little other than memorization.   Of course, if you have read my blog for long, you know that I think this goes back to testing.   If you test memorization, students will memorize.  If you test critical thinking, students will work to become better thinkers.   Give open book tests or open notes tests and you will force yourself to get away from testing memorization.   That will make all the difference in the world. 

Okay, those are all great terms for teaching.   I would have been happy with any of those three.   But, in the end, I thought two other terms were really the most essential for me.   I realize you might disagree.   If so, please leave a comment below and provide your own two word answer to this question.

--Motivation.   I don’t know whether this is good or bad but I do believe that the best teachers are motivators.   In some way, they convince their students to do exactly what they want them to do.   As the old saying goes, some use carrots and some use sticks but most use both carrots and sticks depending upon the student and the situation.   Whether you have 5 students or 500 students, the issue is whether you can convince those students to do what you believe they need to do.   So, as a new year starts, ask yourself the following questions:   (1) do I honestly know what I want my students to do, (2) if they do what I want them to do, will they learn what I want them to learn, (3) how have I motivated my students in the past and how well has that strategy worked, and (4) as a new semester begins what adjustments should I make that might improve the motivational aspects of my teaching.   If you don’t attempt to motivate your students, then don’t be upset if they don’t do what you want them to do.

--Explain.   It is such a simple word.   But, in teaching, it is so important.   Students don’t know the subject.   It is not that they are stupid.   It is that they are uneducated.   You do know the subject.   You have to explain it to them.   Many times you have to explain it to them many times.   It is always going to seem clear to you because you have been thinking about the material for years if not decades.   To them, it is brand new.   I looked up the word “explain” at www.dictionary.com and the first definition was:   “to make plain or clear; render understandable or intelligible.”   Yes, that sounds to me a lot like excellent teaching.

If I boil teaching down to two words, for me they are "motivation" and "explain."   As I start teaching again in 2014, I am going to keep those two words more firmly in my mind.   When faced with the goal of “Becoming a Better Teacher,” what two words come to your mind?   Keep in simple.

Monday, December 2, 2013

CREATING A FINAL EXAMINATION


“Too often, we settle for dreams that merely scratch the surface of our abilities and then wonder why we are dissatisfied with the results.”

From the book:   Don’t Just Dream about Success:   Stack the Odds in Your Favor

By:   Joe Hoyle (to be published in January 2014)

 
Returning from Thanksgiving break, virtually all college teachers start looking forward to creating and then grading final exams.   It is a necessary part of the job but it is also an event that can impact the education of each student rather significantly.   Below is a rewritten version of a blog entry that I posted 3 ½ years ago.   I thought it made a good point back then.   I believe the same thing today.

**

Why do you give a final exam to your students?
What do you hope to accomplish?
 
I have talked with many professors over the years and their strategies for final examinations vary greatly from one to the next.  Here are several typical strategies:
--It is a comprehensive three-hour examination on the material from the entire semester with a major grade component.    This seemed to be the strategy most of my teachers employed when I attended college back in the 60s.
--It is a one-hour test covering just the material since the last hourly exam with no added weight in comparison to other tests.
--It is basically ignored because the student’s work for the entire semester should be more important than what they can do on one day at the end of the semester.
--It is a little harder than a one-hour test but a student can only improve his or her grade; the final exam cannot hurt the course grade.

I do know that as I walk through our building during final exam week most students seem to leave well before the time limit is reached. I am not sure that many final exams are still three hours in length.

I have always been interested in the final exams that are given by some law school professors.  The entire grade for the semester is based on what the student can do on the final exam questions.  Nothing else counts.  The rationale is that, if you are going to be a lawyer, you need to be at your very best every day that you walk into court no matter what is thrown at you.  There can be no down days.

However, I am teaching 19-20 year old sophomores and juniors in college and not 25-30 year old law students.  I am afraid that I would have students facing nervous breakdowns if I put the entire grade for the semester on the final exam.

So, what are my goals for a final exam? Psychologically, what am I trying to accomplish?
---I want students to stay emotionally involved with my course all the way through the last day of the semester.  I am not interested in them quitting early.  Thus, the final exam has to count enough to make it worth their time to keep working.  In my classes, the final exam is roughly 35 percent of the overall course grade.  I have found that this is enough to keep them emotionally involved until the very end.
---I want students who do poorly on the first (and, even, second) test of the semester to have a chance to improve their grades.  If a student makes a C or a D (or an F) on the first test, it can be very disheartening.  It is easy to lose hope.  I do everything I can to keep them from giving up.  I like to be able to say “if you can show me that you can learn this material, you still have a lot of your grade left to earn on the comprehensive final examination.”  Nothing pleases me more than for a student to make a low C or a D on the first test and then come roaring back to make an A for the course.  That is hard to do unless the final examination has a pretty serious weight attached to it.
---Likewise, I don’t like students who do well on the first test to get complacent and think they have an A in the bag.  I want to be able to tell them:   “Good job on this first test but you need to realize that there is a lot of semester left and you need to keep up this level of work from beginning to end.”
---I want students to understand the material well enough that they can still answer questions from throughout the semester at the very end.  If we cover a topic in September, I think they should be able to answer a reasonable question on that topic in early December.  Because I want to stress understanding more than memorization, I don’t think that is too much to ask.

As a result, I do give a comprehensive final examination and I do grade it and that grade (for better or worse) counts roughly 35 percent of the overall course grade.  In my introductory financial accounting course, I want the first student to leave after 2 hours and the last student to finish at 3 hours. I like it when about half stay virtually the whole time.
 
For intermediate accounting, I want the first person to finish in three hours but everyone else is relatively close to being finished. The material in that course is so complicated that I don’t see how a final exam can take much less than three hours.

In writing the exam, I line up all the topics for the entire semester on a sheet of paper and pick one pretty much at random (deferred income tax assets, for example). I then ask myself—if one of my students is at a job in six-months and this topic is raised, what should I expect an A student to be able to remember after five minutes of review?  In all honesty, I would love to ask “what should I expect an A student to be able to remember immediately” but I don’t think that is realistic.  Students forget material quickly (even accounting). 42 years of teaching has shown me that students never remember quite as much as I might hope.

Based on the answer to the question of what I want them to remember in six months, I write a problem to test if they hold that level of knowledge.  I never want to ask an easy question because that proves nothing.   But, there is little reason to ask an impossibly hard question.   Writing a question that no one can answer will not provide me with any usable information.   
I estimate how long that first question will take the A student to answer and go back to my list and select another topic for another question.   When I have filled up my time allotment in this way, I quit.  

However, I then immediately construct an answer sheet.   I do not want to get to the final exam site and discover that a question cannot be answered because of missing information or that a typo is going to throw the students off track or that several questions are really easier than I had anticipated.   It is hard to fix a final exam once the test has been distributed.   The answer sheet is essential because it allows me to evaluate each question as well as the entire exam.   I cannot even guess how many mistakes over the years I have resolved in advance because I force myself to create an answer sheet.

Setting up the final exam in this way keeps the students (I hope) thinking about my course all the way until the end of the semester. I want accounting to be on their minds until the semester is completed.   And, it gives them a reasonable last chance to make up for any poor grades they might have earned during the semester.

What’s your philosophy? Why do you give a final exam?   How do you set it up?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF TEACHING


As some of you might know, about five years ago I cofounded the website www.CPAreviewforFREE.com.   Since that time, we have provided CPA exam candidates with 2,400 free questions and answers which are (in my opinion) well written and well explained.  We do this because we firmly believe that everyone needs access to affordable materials so that they have a reasonable opportunity of passing the CPA exam.  The CPA profession should be open to all people, even those who cannot afford expensive study guides and review materials.  Over the years, many candidates have passed the exam solely using our questions and answers.  These are often young people with very limited resources.   These are the kinds of folks who keep the profession fresh, active, and innovative.

We have been searching for some way to fund this site so that we can continue to offer this assistance for free.   Over the last couple of months, I have been writing an entire book on Achieving Success.   I am thrilled with the way it has turned out – even better than I had hoped.   We will publish the book in January or February for under $10 (with proceeds going to support www.CPAreviewforFREE.com).   

More information will be available soon but I wanted to get this book on your radar.  It is intended as a guide for anyone who wants to become more successful:   more successful in school, more successful at work, more successful on tests, and just more successful in life.   You can never be successful 100 percent of the time but you can certainly increase the odds for success by adopting logical (and reasonable) strategies.   Success does not happen by accident.

When the book is published in early 2014, I hope you will consider buying a copy and telling your friends, neighbors, relatives, enemies, and anyone else you encounter all about it.   You will be helping us continue our mission AND I hope that my thoughts on achieving success will prove to be beneficial.
**

I was in San Francisco a few days ago on business and had some time to waste.   So, I wandered around the city and played one of my favorite games.   In this game, I assume that I am a rich business owner who has an unlimited number of jobs to fill.   I need one of everything:   one bus driver, one plumber, one dish washer, etc.   As I walk from place to place and go in and out of buildings, I ask myself which people I would hire.   Who catches my attention for doing a particularly good job?   And, just as importantly, what did they do that caught my attention?  I am trying to figure out what makes someone excellent at their work.   I am obviously fascinated by success and this is one way that I can better see what leads to success.  Focusing on the essential nature of success helps a person become more successful. 

In life, a few people are terrible at their vocations whereas a great majority are basically average.   Luckily, the remaining folks (a relatively small number) are absolutely excellent.   What makes this last batch so very good at what they do?   How does Mr. A manage to do his job so much better than Mr. B?   What can we learn from these people?

For example, while I was in San Francisco, I had to rush across town and then hurry back to work.   The driver of the taxicab was wonderful.   He stayed calm in heavy traffic and was both friendly and helpful.   I would have hired him for my company.   I liked his attitude.  I liked his efficiency.   I liked his calm control while he navigated through all the cars.   If I drove a cab, I would want to be like him.

Later that day, I went to a deli (a large chain) and ordered a sandwich.   Four employees stood in line behind the counter making sandwiches.   Three of these people never looked at me even once, never smiled, never seemed to care if I lived or died.   However, the third person in the line looked up with a kind smile and asked how she could be of help.   She actually listened to my request and made the sandwich in the way that I had asked.   She was quick and efficient.   I would have gladly hired her for my company.   Her attitude made my day a bit brighter and she did her work with a genuine sense of enthusiasm.   If I made sandwiches for a living, I would want to be like her.

There are two ways to do things – the right way and the wrong way.   I was looking for people who did their job the right way.   And, they are out there but you will see them only if you look.

This game got me to thinking.   Let’s assume that I was going to hire someone to teach at my school.   What characteristics would I search for?   This question intrigued me so much that, on the plane trip home, I made a list of characteristics that I would be looking for if I was given the task of hiring one exceptional teacher.   Here is my list but you might want to stop before reading and make your own list for comparison purposes.   Remember, though, how I have defined the position:   a person to teach at your school.

Because I stopped at ten items, I refer to this as my Ten Commandments of Teaching.

--Walks in every day adequately prepared.   No one ever teaches well making up the lessons on the spot.   No one becomes a great teacher by just reading Power Point slides to the students.

--Has a true sense of what he or she wants to accomplish.   If you have a reasonable understanding of what you want your students to know on the last day of class, the entire semester goes better.   (I wrote about this in one of my first blog entries “Thinking about Teaching” way back on February 28, 2010.)

--Is able to impart a sense of excitement about the material.  If the teacher shows no enthusiasm, why should the students get excited?

--Is able to engage the students so that the energy for learning comes from them instead of being forced on them.

--Is fair to all students.   The education process breaks down almost immediately if students feel they are being treated unfairly.   Fairness usually requires a lot of open and frank communications.

--Stays as far away from memorization as is humanly possible.   With modern day technology, education needs to focus on using information rather than memorizing it.

--Cares about the students as individuals.  Teachers and students should be on the same side and not come to be rivals or enemies.   

--Makes efficient use of class time.   At my school, we have the students in class for 150 minutes each week.   That is not a lot of time.   It is important to make good use of every one of those minutes.

--Works to teach 100 percent of the students and not just the top 10 percent.

--Is not put off when students claim “I am stupid,” “I am lazy,” “I cannot do this.”  Education teaches students to push for a low threshold.   Don’t let them pull that trick.   If you don’t demand excellence, you’ll never get it.


Okay, what would you add or delete?   This was just the list that I came up with on a plane flight across the country.   But, I believe that a person who followed this list would likely be an outstanding teacher.   This job is not rocket science.   I think it is important to take the mystery out of teaching.   Most of us know what it takes to become excellent.   In fact, as you can see from my list, it is basically just common sense.  

Now, do one more thing.  Take your list or take my list.   That makes no difference.   Look at each of those ten commandments very carefully and give yourself a grade on each one.    Where are you strong and where are you weak?   That can be amazingly helpful as you strive to become a better teacher.   For the 2-3 areas where you give yourself the lowest grade, make it your goal over the next week or two to focus on them in particular.   If you can locate weaknesses and address them with some serious effort, your chances of becoming a great teacher go up immediately.

Make it your long term goal to be the type of teacher that an outside person would see and immediately say “If I were hiring someone to teach at my school, it would be that person because that’s a person who knows what it takes to be successful and can make learning happen.”

 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Half-Time Adjustments


Quick note:   This teaching blog went over 95,600 page views yesterday.   Thanks a million (and a half) to everyone who has mentioned these random writings to someone else who teaches.   I’m convinced that people throughout the world of education really do want to have conversations about better teaching just so they can bat some ideas around.   Sometimes, though, it is hard to get those conversations started.   Perhaps something that is written here can serve as a conversation starter.   College education gets beaten up a lot these days in the news.   I’m convinced that more conversations among teachers would be a good way to start solving some of those problems.

And, in case you wondered, a total of 95,600 page views is roughly the equivalent of one page view every 21 minutes, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week for the past 3.6 years.   Hopefully, that translates into a whole lot of better teaching.

**

Are you a sports fan?   One of the things that I have noted over the years of watching basketball and football is that some teams just play better after half-time.    They look lousy for the first half of the game and then, at the start of the second half, they suddenly seem infinitely better.   An apparent lose is turned into an impressive win.   As Shakespeare once wrote “All’s well that ends well.”   I thought about this last Saturday when one college team that I follow was behind by three touchdowns late in the first half and I was completely disgusted by their efforts.   However, in the second half, they looked like an entirely different team and went on to win by two touchdowns.  A horrible game became a super game.

What happened?

Some coaches just seem to have the knack for making half-time adjustments.   They are able to see what is going wrong with their team and they figure out changes that can be set up to make improvements.    In the very few minutes allowed at half-time, they manage to change how plays are run or what defenses are set up or the plays that will be called and the momentum changes abruptly in their team's favor.   The winner is often the one where the coach makes the best adjustments at half-time.  

As complex and fast as football and basketball can be, making changes that quickly and explaining them to the team has got to be tough.   But it clearly can be done because a few coaches make those adjustments so very well.

Now, here in October, most college professors are about halfway through the fall semester.    Are things going absolutely perfectly?   If so, you clearly do not need to make any changes.    If you are really happy with the class results so far, keep on keeping on (as the song says).   Or, as I often hear people say, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But, my guess is that many of you have recognized aspects of your fall class that are not making you happy.    After 43 years at this job, I'm never totally pleased; something always seems to worry me.  Some students do poorly on tests or they fail to prepare adequately for class or they refuse to participate in class.   Why not stop and consider making some half-time adjustments and see if there is improvement?   There are always things that can be done differently.   There are always changes that you can try.

Experimentation and innovation are good for education.   Don’t get stuck in a rut.   If you don’t like what is happening, try something a bit different.    If a coach can turn an entire team around in just 15-20 minutes at half-time, you (yes, YOU) can create some positive adjustments in your own classes.   

Here is a process I would suggest.  

1--Write down every concern that you have about each class so far this semester.   List out everything that could be going better.    Take your time and reflect on the first 6-8 weeks of class.   If you don’t identify problems, it is hard to fix them.

Some of those issues might be totally related to you and your teaching.   For example, maybe your class organization is not good enough or the problems you choose to work in class don’t demonstrate the issues you want to cover.  
 
Other problems might be purely student related.   For example, a percentage of students might come to class without having read the material or worked assigned problems.  

2--Put this list in order from the biggest problem to the smallest.   What really is holding back the learning that you want?   What is keeping you from having the very best class in your building, in your school?   That's always a good question to consider.    Don’t dwell obsessively on problems that you simply find irritating.   If a student shows up 2 minutes for class, that might be a problem but the education for that day has probably not been ruined.   Place problems at the top that really have a serious impact on class performance—for the individual or for the group.  

3--For each of your classes, look more closely at the five worse problems.   You cannot solve all issues so try to isolate the ones that are the biggest.   Of those five, choose the three that you are most able to influence.   There is really no reason to waste energy at half-time if a quick fix is not possible.  

4--You have now selected three of your top five problems.   These are going to be the focus of your half-time adjustments.  This is where you (yes, YOU) are going to turn the game around.  

For each of these problems, list one or two reasons for its existence.   Problems have reasons; they don’t happen by accident.   I would bet that if it is your problem (you are having trouble with some aspect of class) then the most likely reason is lack of time invested.   In truth, almost any problem can be solved with the allocation of sufficient time.   Maybe there are other reasons for specific problems but never, never overlook the obvious:   You are not investing enough time.   Faculty are like students -- they look for shortcuts.   Teachers can simply be underprepared when they walk into the classroom.   After 43 years, I am always amazed by how much time I have to spend in preparing for each class.   I must be a slow learner (my wife tells me).

On the other hand, if the problem is connected to students and student behavior, it usually relates to a lack of incentive.   In life, incentives matter.   If students are not doing what you ask (assuming you are asking for a reasonable amount of work), they must believe the request is a waste of time or (maybe more politely) they have seen no good reason to do what you ask.   Students will not do work without a reason and it needs to be a good reason (“do it because I say so” probably lost its effectiveness in the Eisenhower administration).   

5--Okay, so what are your half-time adjustments going to be?   For your problems, are there ways that you can allocate more time especially to specific issues that do not seem to be going well?   I realize, especially if you are also doing serious research, that time can be short.   Nonetheless, if you want to be a better teacher, decisions and sacrifices do have to be made.  

6--And, for the problems that relate to the students, can you add more effective incentives?   It is always good to look at class and class work through the eyes of your students.    What messages are you sending that are encouraging them to do the work?   What messages are you sending that are reducing their interest in doing what you want?    “Read Chapter 7 and I promise that on the next test, I’ll ask at least two questions that come directly from the material.”   Or “Read Chapter 7 because I am going to ask you the following 5 questions in class on Wednesday that come directly from this material.”  

Half-time adjustments are never perfect.   Sometime your team is going to lose regardless of what changes the coach makes.   But, you are clearly not without hope.   Adjustments are available.   Improvements are possible.   

--Identify the problems you are seeing.  

--Determine which ones could be improved in the second half of the semester.  
 
--Select ones that are important and can be impacted quickly.

--Analyze whether each one is a teacher issue or a student issue.  

--Consider changes that might turn things around.  

--For teacher issues, think about the allocation and use of time, especially time spent before you walk into class.  

--For student issues, figure out incentives that might encourage students to do what you want them to do.  


Take control of the second half.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

CONVERSATION WITH BOB JENSEN



Before I get started today, I wanted to pass along a link to a great article (sent to me recently by a friend) titled “Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results”:    


There was a lot that I loved about this article but here are two great observations:

“An entire industry of books and consultants has grown up that capitalizes on our collective fear that American education is inadequate and asks what American educators are doing wrong.   I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K (a teacher that he profiles) do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?”

“Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids' self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.”

Read it – I’ll bet you’ll gain something from it.

**

Joe:    Today, I have the great pleasure of exchanging some thoughts with Bob Jensen, one of the best known accounting educators in the US, especially because of his tireless work with technology.

Bob, I know you are kind of retired although you seem to stay extremely busy. Can you furnish us with a biography of some of your many accomplishments over the years?

Bob:   It's hard to summarize the innovative things I've done for students across 40 years of teaching. My teaching changed a lot over the years from lectures to BAM-like.   BAM-like has been described in the following manner:   The main innovation of the BAM pedagogy is that students teach themselves in a discovery learning pedagogy. The main purpose of BAM is to make students constantly confront ambiguity.
I guess you and I are similar in class where we like a Socratic method that forces students to seek their own answers. I carried it further by forcing them to find the answers on their own outside the classroom.   However, I was somewhat inconsistent, especially in Accounting Theory and in AIS when dealing with issues that had highly technical and crisp right and wrong answers such as forming a relational database in MS Access or accounting for an interest rate swap.

On very technical issues I provided value by making hundreds of Camtasia videos that students use much like students use the Khan Academy. Rather than remain totally overwhelmed by the technicality of some issues, students could watch my Camtasia videos over and over and over again until, at last, they could shout --- I got it!

That's a bit like learning on your own --- but not quite. Real learning on your own means going to the library and to the Web and to experts such that there's value added in searching experience. Viewing videos that I provided did not have the search value added. But often there was nowhere else to search on topics where I prepared my own Camtasia videos.
If there is one difference between you and me when it comes to teaching, I think I was more eager to explore the unfolding wonders of education technology.

Joe:  Since you brought it up, let’s talk a little about technology. We are certainly in the middle of a transition period in college education. You mentioned the Khan Academy but we could also bring up Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, edX, Knewton, as well as credentials and badges. One concept that you hear a lot about is the “flipped classroom” which I have seen defined as “a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed.” Basically, students use technology in advance of class to achieve a foundation level of knowledge. Class time is then used to make sure that this level of knowledge is in place so that the teacher and students can start adding more in-depth knowledge. How well do you think this will work? Isn’t the real question how you get students to do the work in advance of class? Can technology overcome student (human) tendencies to procrastinate?

Bob:   Actually, I had a type of flipped classroom.   My students each had a computer work station and usually worked in class from that station such as when solving MS Access relational database assignments or in theory courses when making journal entries for derivatives transactions. I think they hated the quizzes but that was based on the extent to which they prepared for class.
The question is class size. Top business schools and law schools often use cases and the Socratic method for upwards of 100 students. But these horror shows of filled lecture halls with 500-1500 students are more likely to require lectures and PowerPoint shows. Flipped classrooms are also not practical for MOOC classes of 5,000-250,000 students.

What would really be interesting would be a study of student performance when students are randomly divided into your preferred pedagogy that you use now versus same-sized classes where you lecture with PowerPoint shows. Most research shows that if students know what is expected of them for high grades, there will be "No-Significant-Differences" due to pedagogy.   (http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/Assess.htm#AssessmentIssues)
But a course grade is only one measure of extent of learning. The BAM project in intermediate accounting suggests that self-learning metacognitively improves long-term retention.   (http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/265wp.htm)
Put another way, the top student in a lecture section of a course might also have been the top student in a self-learning BAM section of that course. But the students most likely will have better long-term recall regarding what they learned on their own even if they really, really hated having to learn on their own. However, don't look for stellar teaching evaluations in the BAM sections.

Speaking of Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, edX, Knewton, etc. I view these as fundamentally different in that prestigious universities deliver the courses and these corporations are mainly concerned with competency-based assessment of that learning.

Khan Academy, on the other hand, is a nonprofit organization that actually prepares the learning modules but does not assess the degree of learning.

The SMOC (synchronous massive online course) providers like the University of Texas are going to do both --- the teaching and the assessment.

Joe:   Let's go forward 10 years. What do you think college education will look like at that time? Will any students anywhere walk into a small classroom where a professor will give the equivalent of a lecture? Some people foresee a radical overall of the educational experience in the next few years. Others think that such predicted changes have been vastly overstated. What do you believe?

Bob:   I will give you some of my specific predictions for 2024 and 2040. In 2024 it's more likely that classrooms with 500-1500+ will virtually disappear. Universities by 2024 will replace these with either classrooms of less than 60 students or competency-based credits without contact hours required for credits.

Small classes of less than 60 students will probably increase in numbers both onsite and online. Many will be classes of less than 25 students and have intense communications with instructors and each other, including small online courses. Professors will teach more subjects and more students than is the case in 2013.

College campuses provide much more than learning for degrees. Heavily endowed universities like Swarthmore, Davidson, and Haverford will continue to thrive as Tier 1 residency campuses as will schools like Richmond (where you teach) and Trinity (where I taught). Most poorly endowed colleges will disappear or totally redefine their missions.

More students will enroll in Minerva-like programs, although these will still be a small proportion of the total number of higher education students.  Medical students and perhaps accounting, engineering, nursing, and pharmacy students will drop more and more education from their increasingly intense and streamlined training programs.

In 2024 there will be an enormous increase in degrees awarded to students who have no instructors or very few instructors.  By 2040 there won't be such things as degrees and diplomas.

Students will continue to live, learn, and mature on larger campuses like the Ivy League, Notre Dame, and BYU. Smaller classes will increase in frequency. Enormous universities like OSU, Texas, Illinois, etc. will have the hardest time adapting, but they will probably adapt with more online courses, MOOCs, and SMOCs taking the place of large lecture halls. At the same time they will offer many more small and specialized courses onsite and online.

MOOC and SMOC mentoring sections will greatly increase in number that will be somewhat similar to the recitation sections that now exist for enormous lecture courses. These mentoring sections will also be available for smaller classes, although usage by students willing to pay the reasonable fees will probably be voluntary. Mentoring fees for minority students and learning disabled students will increasingly paid for by taxpayers.

Degree programs based on course credit accumulations will probably disappear, although perhaps this will be more like 2040 than 2024. Students in virtually all universities will eventually be confronted with competency-based certifications. The “washed” will do so as residents on campuses. The “unwashed” will do so without spending many (probably not any) terms on campus.

Competency-based performance will cease to be on a pass-fail basis. Instead competency-based scores will be reported on ordinal or possible even ratio scales that have common zero points. This may also be the case for professional licensing scores on things like CPA examinations, BAR examinations, medical certification examinations, nursing examinations, etc.

Tenure will probably disappear by 2040, although it may not matter much if seniority based upon years of service is still engrained in the USA. Performance rewards may be more heavily based upon teaching performance than research.  More performance credit may be given for micro-level research.   This is a good thing.

For more predictions for the years 2000-2024 go to
http://go.rm0001.net/rmgo.asp?tid=3722512&eid=3362&sb_id=781901

Joe:   And here are some other great links to Bob’s thoughts about education:

Bob Jensen's threads on education technology and learning theory ---
http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/000aaa/0000start.htm

Bob Jensen's threads on listservs, blogs, and social networking ---
http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/ListservRoles.htm

Bob Jensen's Threads on Shared Open Courseware (OCW) from Around the World: OKI, MIT, Rice, Berkeley, Yale, and Other Sharing Universities (OKI. MOOCs, SMOCs, etc.)---
http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/000aaa/updateee.htm#OKI

Bob Jensen's threads on Higher Education Controversies ---
http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/HigherEdControversies.htm

Bob Jensen's Home Page ---
http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/


Thursday, September 19, 2013

What Stands Between You and Greatness


In my previous blog on this site, I provided some tips for becoming a great teacher. Not surprisingly, the question came up as to what constitutes great teaching. I think most of us probably have some fairly firm definition of “good teaching” but what is the next step up the ladder? What exactly do we mean by“great teaching?” If you describe someone as a great teacher, what characteristics are you describing?

Do we know what great teaching is? As I sometimes tell my students, “if you don’t know where you are going, then a road map won’t be of any help.”

One possibility is that we are all satisfied with being good teachers so we have no real reason to consider what comes next. There is no urgency. In your dreams, do you seek to be a good teacher or a great teacher? If you say“great teacher,” then you must have some definition in mind as to what that means.

As I often mention here, I teach at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond. My colleagues take teaching very seriously. So, I went to several of them recently and asked: “To you, what does ‘great teaching’ really mean?” I wanted to get some different ideas to mull over.

Below are some of the responses that I received. Look them over – consider what they have to say. (In case you are interested, my response is the last one on the list.)

Then, ask yourself: “For me, what does great teaching mean?” This question can take some thinking. Avoid a quick, flippant answer. Once you have identified what you believe constitutes great teaching, what would you have to do to achieve that level?

In teaching, what stands between you and greatness?

Here’s what I heard from several of my fellow teachers:

(1) - Great teaching accomplishes or exceeds instructor and institutional objectives, which ideally would focus on what students learn.

(2) - Great teaching is grounded in a thorough knowledge of a discipline, but it doesn't stop there. It calls that knowledge into question, and gives the students the tools to do the same.

Great teaching is transformative. It meets students where they are, but then it helps guide them to a place where they can take their education into their own hands, to where they become independent thinkers and seekers after knowledge. It gives them the tools to become life-long learners, rather than ending when the semester ends.

Great teaching is clear and focused, with achievable outcomes that are fairly assessed. That said, it may not bear fruit during the semester or even the college career of the student. (See "transformative," above.)

(3) - I don't know if I will actually answer your question, but I will share with you what I believe good teaching involves. Good teaching involves passion, creativity, and listening. It requires substance, an ability to challenge one to think, and the ability to motivate one to apply knowledge gained. The key element to good teaching is a motivated teacher. I am convinced that unmotivated teachers cultivate unmotivated students.

What's interesting is that I find it easier to tell you what bad teaching is. Hmmm, why is that?

(4) - A setting where students become actively engaged, probing, challenged, and at the end of the day, more interested in the subject than when they began. Great teaching would also include activities and outcomes that allow the Professor to clearly delineate the A, B, C, D, and F students. We could say that not all students have the same ability, but at a school like ours that is not necessarily the case. It is more likely not all students are motivated equally.

(5) - Great teaching creates great learning. I realize that's an inelegant sentence but it conveys what I believe. The best teacher inspires and helps a student to maximize their comprehension of a subject. The focus should always be on the student's learning.

(6) - My first thought to your question is, when I had a teacher who connected with me as a student, I had the joy of learning the topic AND I was inspired to learn more and more on my own. It made me have a desire to be inquisitive and want to dig and explore the topic even more. One of my best teachers was my 7th grade Earth Science teacher. She made studying rocks fascinating and to this day, I still want to pick up rocks, study them, and figure out how they were made. I think her joy in her topic was contagious. Obviously, my experience was at an earlier level, but I think it applies to all levels of schooling and all subjects.

(7) - First, let’s get rid of the “romanticized gentle mentor” image that constantly gets conjured up in the media. Further, let’s also admit that there is no one method of teaching that is best for all students nor for all teachers. Many of the people who I consider to be great teachers are not “cuddly” nor have a single style in which they teach.

Great teaching, in my opinion, gets the best results out of the students. These results are not simply test scores, but a greater maturity in the process of how to think about and solve problems possibly beyond the subject area. Great teachers/teaching make students better people. The difficult part about it is that great teaching may not be recognized by a student for a number of years and possibly only if the student is introspective enough to realize it. This is part of what makes teaching evaluations a flawed process. Your best teacher is not necessarily the one you enjoyed the most, but the one who got the most out of you.

(8) - Great teaching = Learning + Assessment = Convincing students to value (at least) the broad topic + convincing the instructor that the gained knowledge will provide some benefit to the students and the wellness of the world.

(9) What is a great teacher? At the end of the day, all teachers have to make that decision for themselves.

I have not thought about this for long so I might change my mind but my definition would be that a great teacher is one who assists most of his or her students in gaining a significantly deeper understanding of the subject matter. Accordingly, a teacher who got 100 percent of the students to learn a little might be a good teacher but not a great one. A teacher who gets a few students to gain a much deeper understanding might be a good teacher but not a great one. You have to influence a high percentage of the students and the increase in understanding must be eye-catching.

Popularity is not part of that definition.

Someone might ask how I measure the number who improve and the depth of improvement. Right now, I am not sure that I care. I am trying to set a theoretical goal for myself, not document a tenure decision.



Okay – now it is your turn. You have read all of these and they are quite interesting. How would you define Great Teaching? That’s what I would like to know.