With some extended breaks coming up in the next two months, you may have more time to do some professional reading than the usual academic schedule allows. There’s a boatload of scholarship on effective teaching strategies for college teachers of every discipline, with more on the way all the time. One of UP’s Rock Star librarians, Heidi Senior, compiled this very helpful list of extended resources, helpfully clustered by type of medium: website, news service, book, table of content subscription service. Click here for a list that manages to be both succinct and comprehensive. Then pour yourself a cup of coffee and do some exploring.
We all want to be effective teachers, but how do we gauge whether our teaching has been effective? One simple way to gather informal, low-stakes feedback from students is through exit cards. In the last several minutes of class, the instructor can pose a question to the class, have students write their answer on a card, and collect the cards. Exit cards can be anonymous or graded; low-tech or electronic; and about pedagogy or about content. After reviewing the cards, the instructor can address student concerns either individually or with the whole class. Rather than relying on end-of-semester evaluations to evaluate how a class is going, exit cards can give on-going feedback to help instructors make decisions about instructional techniques, pacing, or classroom management. Exit cards provide an equitable way for all students to share their voice, and they can open up opportunities for further dialogue with students who may be hesitant to share concerns face-to-face.
Exit cards can be used to gauge specific, disciplinary content. For example, a Calculus II instructor might ask students: “What is the difference between the comparison test and the limit comparison test for series convergence.” Used as a formative assessment tool, exit cards can indicate whether more time is needed for particular content or if common misconceptions exist in the class. Exit cards can also be used to gauge pedagogical components of the course, such as course content and structure; participation, collaboration, and inclusion; use of technology; or groupwork. Consider this list of possible exit cards:
Course Content and Structure
- How is the pace of this class? (Too slow, About right, Too fast)
- Is there a topic from class this week that was particularly challenging? What is your strategy for learning this topic?
- What is one misconception you or another student had about the lesson today? How would you address that misconception?
- Do you feel this class challenges you in a productive way on most days? Please give examples of how.
- How challenging have you found the material in this class to be compared to other classes you have taken? Circle one: Low, Medium, High
- What were the main learning objectives from today’s lesson? Rank how well you currently understand them (0 = not so much, 5 = totally get it)
- Do you feel this class is organized around specific learning objectives that focus on building your knowledge? Please give one example of how.
- Do you believe that exam and test materials in this class are clearly defined based on specific learning objectives? Please give one example:
- Do you feel the material in this class is meaningful or has interesting applications?
Participation, Collaboration, and Inclusion
- How comfortable are you participating in this class? Give examples of types of participation that are comfortable for you and those that are less comfortable for you.
- In class today, did you get to hear different ideas from your classmates? What was one idea/question/solution from a classmate that helped you understand something?
- Did you have the chance to share your ideas during class today? Give an example of one idea you had and how you shared it.
- What is one thing you can do to help a classmate feel more comfortable sharing incomplete or incorrect ideas? What could the instructor do to make you feel more comfortable sharing ideas?
- Do you feel comfortable sharing incomplete or incorrect ideas with your small group? What could be done differently to help you feel more comfortable sharing ideas in your small group?
- How safe do you feel in this classroom? Please explain. How comfortable do you feel in this classroom? Please explain.
- Estimate how many different people you have worked with in this class this term.
- Estimate how many different people you feel you have gotten to know better in this class this term.
- Do you feel comfortable sharing your identity with them?
- How would you characterize the inclusivity of this classroom? (Low, Medium, High) What can you do to help make the class more inclusive?
Use of Technology
- Do you feel technology is used effectively in this class? Please give examples of how.
- Estimate how many different types of technology used in this class you found helpful this week? (examples include course website, discussion board, videos developed, etc)
- How would you characterize the use of technology in this class compared to other classes you have taken? Circle one: Needs Improvement, Good, Excellent. Explain your choice.
- Did you value the group activity today? Do you think the activity or task would have been better done alone?
- Did you find your group members to participate equally?
- Do you value the product of the group activity or task today?
- Do you feel your group members listened to your contributions in the group activity today?
- How did you make your group members feel welcome sharing ideas today?
For more information on the benefits and use of exit cards, consider
Each fall the Teaching & Learning Collaborative puts together a tri-fold brochure that contains all the offices (and their contact info!) that have answers to your teaching questions. Click here to download the 2018-2019 version.
Class discussions can sometimes be described as “transient instructional events.” They pass through the class, the course, and the educational experiences of students with few lingering effects. Ideas are batted around, often with forced participation; students don’t take notes; and then the discussion ends—it runs out of steam or the class runs out of time. If asked a few days later about the exchange, most students would be hard-pressed to remember anything beyond what they themselves might have said, if that. Click here for the 2 page PDF that includes 9 concrete tips for avoiding those pitfalls.
We’re on the other side of Fall Break, bracing for the tsunami that is the end of the semester, and working really, really hard. Really hard. Some colleagues have said it can feel like they are working harder for their students’ success than the students themselves. This might be a good time to reflect on the emerging phenomenon of the “helicopter professor.” Just as “helicopter parents” tend to hover near their children and strive to prevent their experiencing any kind of failure–and therefore deprive their children of the life lessons that recovering from failure can bring about– diligent professors may be on the road to helicopter status as instructors if they can answer “yep, always” to these questions:
- Am I always available (24/7) to clarify criteria and answer questions about the assignments I give?
- Do I provide micro-level feedback on multiple drafts of student work?
- Do I make it impossible for students to earn low grades in my courses?
- Am I constantly exhausted by efforts to be present to and affirm students regardless of their actual performance on academic tasks?
Of course, we want our students to flourish, and UP faculty rightfully take pride in being invested in their success here and beyond. There’s no question it’s possible to do too little for students; but if you find yourself even a little resentful at the relative balance between your effort to teach and students’ apparent efforts to learn, it might be worth taking a deep breath and asking yourself if you are doing too much to ensure academic success and depriving your students of the benefits to be derived from a well-earned failure. Living through a D or an F in an atmosphere that supports your efforts to get back up and try again–and perhaps even to learn that you are a worthwhile person deserving of respect even after you bombed an assignment or missed a deadline–might be every bit as important a learning outcome as anything else found on our syllabi.
If you’d like to read some more on the potential downfalls of helicopter professoring, check out this article by Kristie McAllum (2016)– Managing imposter syndrome among the “Trophy Kids”: Creating teaching practices that develop independence in millennial students.Communication Education, 65 (3), 363-365.