Christina DeJong, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Michigan State University

Teaching Resources

Most university professors (at least in the United States) do not receive training on teaching. We are expected to be experts in our chosen field, but not experts on instruction. We are most often rewarded for research and publication, with much less emphasis on teaching.

When we assign graduate students to their first teaching position, we provide them with a syllabus and a faculty supervisor and encourage them to learn about best practices. But learning to teach is not a formal part of the degree, nor is it required prior to taking on a teaching assignment.

Part of the struggle for graduate students is their already FULL schedule. Between classes, comprehensive exams, dissertation planning, their assistantships, having a life outside school… it’s difficult to add anything else.

In an attempt to provide materials to our students that can help them learn to be strong instructors, I’m providing some links and information below. Some are quick tips/sites, some are longer readings. Here’s hoping it’s useful!

First steps: Create the Course Competencies

Imagine a course with the following course competency:

  • Evaluate how race and racism play a role in each stage of the criminal justice process

…but the assessments used for the course are all multiple choice exams. How would we write a multiple choice question that requires students evaluate the criminal justice process? This is an outcome that seems to require a different form of assessment (essay exam, short paper, podcast, etc.).

Backward design is a technique for developing a course to ensure that your assessments are aligned with your course goals. Understanding by Design: Using Backward Design to Design a Meaningful Course is a great resource you can use to read more about what this means and how to do it.

Writing course competencies isn’t as easy as it seems. The action verbs used in the competencies must be assessable. What does that mean?

Think about it this way: Do you want your students to just memorize facts, or engage in critical thinking and problem-solving? (HINT: It’s the latter!) Bloom’s Taxonomy is a paradigm used understand and assess learning… from basic competencies (memorize facts) to advanced ones (critical evaluation & creation of knowledge).

Blooms_Taxonomy_pyramid_cake-style-use-with-permission

Image credit: Jessica Shabatura

Note that Bloom’s Taxonomy is cumulative. In order to Apply a concept, you need to first Remember it and then Understand it. So your learning outcomes should focus on higher-level skills because lower-level skills are embedded within them.

We should also avoid writing competencies that cannot be assessed, like “appreciate”. Competencies need to be assessable and measurable. One of my favorite resources is the list of action verbs for Bloom’s taxonomy.

Next: Develop Assessments that are Aligned with Course Competencies

With your competencies in mind, think about the assessments you will use to determine whether your students have met the competencies.

If you competencies include the word “recall” or “remember” then multiple choice exams might be fine! Even application can be assessed with well-written multiple choice exams, but that becomes more difficult as we move higher in Bloom’s taxonomy. Assessment also becomes more cumbersome as class size increases.

I use a course plan worksheet to align my competencies and assessments. Assessments can be single items or a group of items, and they don’t have to be exams! Think about the best ways to determine if your students have met the competencies.

I’m trying a new competency in my online class this summer:

  • Evaluate media stories on issues related to class, and indicate their reliability and political leanings

To assess this competency, students will evaluate 4 news articles over the course of the semester and defend their evaluation. I will collate all ratings and display the class averages so students can see if their evaluations were similar/different than their classmates.

Think about how to create meaningful and interesting assessments! There are a number of excellent resources available–I’m still collecting them, but here’s one to start:

Next: Develop Meaningful Class Activities

It’s time to ditch the traditional lecture, folks. The research is clear: active learning techniques lead to more effective learning than lecture. This shouldn’t be surprising–lecture is BORING!

My F2F undergraduate courses start with a question posted on the video screens to give students something to do and think about while they wait for class to start. For example:

Ricky Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman, and Kwame Ajamu were just awarded $18 million after the city of Cleveland wrongly convicted them for murder. What types of evidence were used to convict them in 1975?

This allows students to look up the case and do a bit of research, then we start class with a discussion about their findings. This leads into 5-10 minutes of lecture to set the stage for the day’s class, then we go straight into class activities.

I use several kinds of activities in class in place of lecture to reinforce course concepts and engage students.

  • Small group discussion (4-5 students)
  • Whole class discussion
  • Video examples with application
  • Critical media analysis (new!)
  • Data collection & pattern identification
  • Public Awareness Projects (in place of final exam)
  • Poster Presentations (in place of final exam)
  • Guest speakers (but not lecture!)

Enhancing classroom discussions:

Finally, plan each class meeting around the competencies

You may assess some competencies early in the class and others later. That’s fine! There’s no need for all the competencies to be packed into one cumulative final exam.

For each class period, I provide learning outcomes (LO’s) to my students so they understand the purpose of that day’s readings and activities. For the competency I list above, some of the first LO’s are:

  • Define the concept of “implicit bias”
  • Explain the methods used to rank media sources on a scale from “extremely liberal” to “extremely conservative”.

Define and explain are both action verbs that assess lower levels of knowledge in Bloom’s Taxonomy, and are appropriate for early semester LO’s in an undergraduate course. My competency above starts with the word evaluate, and will be assessed later in the semester after students understand basic concepts.

Other resources (in progress):

Moving from F2F to online:

  • Engagement with students in the online environment
  • Teaching Online by Claire Major

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Other resources:

The University of Texas System’s Little Orange Book

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