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


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

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

Bob Jensen's threads on education technology and learning theory ---

Bob Jensen's threads on listservs, blogs, and social networking ---

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.)---

Bob Jensen's threads on Higher Education Controversies ---

Bob Jensen's Home Page ---