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How do you wrap up your course?


Gift Box with Your Course written on the tag
The end of the semester is quickly approaching, so how do you wrap up your course for your students and yourself? The article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, Wrapping Up a Large Online Course, provides good ideas, even though the article is intended for larger online classes.

The article provides three big ideas:

  • Evaluate and prioritize assignments for revision based on student success
  • Offer a student survey for specific course feedback
  • Review materials and prioritize content for updating

I like the idea of collecting specific course feedback and reflection. Just because the course is over, what students have learned may not apply to them immediately. It is helpful for students to make connections with prior learning and experience and what they learned in your course. A suggested technique is for students to create a mind map as a way of capturing the key concepts from the course to connect with what the concepts mean and how concepts can be applied.

Sample mind map structure:
Central Point in the middle with branches to main points and sub points

Students can draw a mind map or use a free mind mapping tool.

Another option is to create a Wrap Up discussion forum for you and your students to reflect on the semester. Consider offering open-ended questions which can impact how you revise your course.

  1. How rigorous or difficult was the course?
  2. What is something you accomplished this semester that you are proud of?
  3. What was your most challenging assignment?
  4. What was the most challenging part of this course for you?
  5. If you could change one thing about the course, what would it be?
  6. In what area do you feel you made your biggest improvements?
  7. What are six adjectives that best describe this course?
  8. What advice would you give students taking this course next semester?

When the course is over, you can wrap up the discussion and provide additional resources for students including associations, journals, and books.

From the mind maps and/or open-ended responses, you have additional feedback to consider, so now it is a good time to self-reflect. Ask yourself, did the students make connections as you thought they might? Are big ideas missing? How can you revise your course to make the concepts more clear? You now have information to guide you as you reflect, revise and improve your course.

Salter, Anastasia. (2015, Nov. 20). Wrapping Up A Large Online Course. Retrieved
November 20, 2015 from The Chronicle of Education.


Students and Reading


 horses“You can’t lead a horse to water, but you can salt his oats so he’s damned thirsty when he gets there.”

I’ve heard from many faculty who lament that their students just don’t do the reading. If we put aside the exorbitant cost of some textbooks, why are students not reading and what can faculty do about it?

For some students reading is work, not pleasure. When many students read it is only so deep (let’s say the first two level of Bloom’s Taxonomy – knowledge and comprehension). Moving from who and what to why and how are difficult steps particularly with heavy texts. Even if they can give you back what the reading said, it is far from any kind of interpretation. And honestly, if they just wait long enough odds are you’ll tell them anyway. Will the text tell them something that you won’t? Does it introduce material of just reinforce it? Students are figuring this out in the first few days of class and/or asking former students if they really need the textbook.

Make reading count by counting it. For every reading there should be a quiz, report, or some kind of assessment. Try open book or group work quizzes (additional information).  Be sure to dedicate some time to discuss the reading too. Try the jigsaw cooperative learning technique, have students formulate test questions, guided reciprocal peer questions, or have them collaborate on a concept map.

A resource from K-12: The Teaching Tolerance webinar series


I’m a big fan of mining the wealth of resources offered by and for K-12 practitioners in the area of teaching and learning, from simple teaching tips to whole movements, such as backward design. Last year, the keynote speaker at Fall Teaching & Learning Day was Ron Ritchhart of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, whose work on Thinking Routines in K-12 has tremendous applicability to college teaching in relation to critical thinking, peer learning, and classroom assessment.

A resource that I’ve been following this semester is a series of webinars on classroom climate put out by Teaching Tolerance, from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The session for this week is “Responding to Incidents of Hate and Bias,” and the webinars are archived for individuals who want to access the resources but cannot participate in the live sessions. I’ll be using a tool from a previous webinar, “Let’s Talk: Discussing Race, Racism, and Other Difficult Topics,” in an upcoming roundtable at UB’s Fall Teaching & Learning Day. My goal is to talk with faculty about their skill building needs in relation to classroom climate, in order to help shape future programming. I look forward to the conversation that ensues.

What the plagiarism detection software isn’t detecting

image of cheat sheet cupped in a hand

wikimedia commons – labeled for reuse

Our University is revising an outdated Plagiarism Awareness Tutorial that does little to prevent plagiarism but does provide the “we told you so” necessary when a student actually gets caught. Like many universities, we are users of originality detection software that can review word use, phrasing, and citation with an immense database of journals, internet sources, and previously submitted work.

What these tools are missing is the student who uses a piece of work not for lifting text but for copying structure. If I want to make a case for electric cars and find a great article that lays out an ideal argument and then use the organization of that article to write my piece, I have plagiarized.

Thomas J. Tobin, at Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, recently co-authored “Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices.” Last year Tobin wrote a piece in Faculty Focus that explored originality on three levels – content, design, and method. Including structure in a university definition of academic honesty and showing students how to avoid this aspect of plagiarism is as vital as any tool. Tobin encourages the use of originality software but also encourages faculty to get to know their students, to discuss issues among faculty, and to model processes and content for students.



My father worked in a steel mill most of his life, did a tour in the Army, and was raised on a farm in western Ireland. Brilliant mind in a tough-guy wrapper. Much to our surprise growing up, my siblings and I learned he didn’t do well with the sight of blood. I am not sure if it was related to a particular incident in his past but it was a trigger that left him squeamish and light headed.

Image showing a small drop of blood on a fingertip Image labeled for Reuse

There is discussion in Higher Ed about whether it is good practice to give our students a heads-up about the content of our coursework that may trigger in them a negative or even a traumatic response.

In one of my recent classes I asked how many students had heard gunfire in the last month. I also asked how many knew someone who’d been shot. To both questions I was surprised by the high number of hands in the air.

Can reading the books and articles in my class elicit a PTSD response? Should I be censoring or providing an alert prior to showing my students certain movies or images? What if the image isn’t related to violence but affronts a student’s values instead, where is the line? There are many who’d consider any trigger warning requirement a challenge to academic freedom. A recent American Association of University Professors (AAUP) report by a committee looking at  academic freedom and tenure included, “The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.”

Each professor will have to decide what stance they wish to take on providing guidance or warnings associated with their materials. Professor Ari Kohen, University of Nebraska in Lincoln, was quoted on WNYC Radio and Public Radio International (source) to say that “In my human rights classes, I’ve always told students from the first one that the material is potentially very upsetting because we’re dealing with torture, genocide, and sexual violence. The potential there, I think, is quite real to be not simply disturbing.” Kohen went on to provide a few tips for how students should approach difficult material (note – “approach” not avoid) so that they’d be prepared to come to class ready to discuss the material.

Improving Teaching Online – Comparing Apples and Oranges?

Creative Commons image of apples and oranges from

Creative Commons image

Is there a fundamental difference between how a liberal-arts course is presented online and how online courses from other majors/programs or from research institutions are constructed or evaluated?

In a recent post on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog, Jeffrey Young shared information on a new consortium of liberal-arts colleges looking at pooling resources in support of online offerings. This consortium has membership overlap with edX, the  MOOC provider.

I recognize that there is a difference in teaching style between colleges and that that style translates to differences online particularly when it comes to specific tool usage and approaches within an LMS. I also see that goals for moving online at all may be different between liberal-arts and research institutions. I question, however, whether that difference is big enough to warrant a consortium that in its structure may miss the opportunity to see how other institutions and programs are utilizing tools and methods for student success online.

While a driver here is not reinventing the wheel (of support and resources) for consortial members, I wonder if there isn’t already a wheel in place – or a tire store. OLC (formerly Sloan-C), Quality Matters, and Educause all have a wealth of resources targeting online course support. Liberal-arts schools may have lagged behind in moving online but why would liberal-arts schools, who embrace learning across the curriculum as a part of their nature, want to form a club that could potentially exclude lessons learned from the last two decades?

Redefining Faculty


simpsons professors

A number of years back when I left academia to return to industry, I had one condition for my soon-to-be partners: under no circumstances would I manage other people. I’d be willing to do just about anything for the new company – in a startup, that’s the very definition of “employment”—but when it came to management, in the immortal words of Meatloaf, “I won’t do that.” ( )

I’d spent 12 years running a digital agency and almost 3 years as serving as the founding Dean of a school of design and media at a small university in Philadelphia, I knew that while I could muddle through reasonably well, “manager” wasn’t in the top 5 (maybe not even the top 10!) of my “things I do well” list. I’d grown to understand that while I was pretty good at coming up with creative ideas, interacting with clients, and selling the company’s services to prospective clients I just didn’t have the detail-oriented temperament and organizational skills it took to really excel at managing people. And I was OK with that as were my partners who were more than willing to take me on so that I could contribute using the skills where I did excel.

In the end, it worked out pretty well. One of the founders, it turned out, was pretty good at managing people and he and I worked out a mutually-beneficial symbiotic relationship that accentuated our individual strengths and compensated for our individual weaknesses. He did what he was good at, I did what I was good at, and everyone was happy (and successful).

I thought about all this recently when I read this article ( on Inside Higher Education about a new report ( (PDF download) from The Delphi Project at the University of Southern California Earl and Pauline Pullias Center for Higher Education. The report, entitled “Adapting by Design” looks at the current state of faculty roles and faculty work in higher education in America and how those roles and work will play out in the future of higher ed.

While the report examines a number of issues beyond the “adjunct/non-tenure-track faculty vs. tenure track faculty” debate, much of its focus is on this issue. But rather than delve into ground that’s already been covered in many other places (e.g. the value of tenure or the exploitation of adjuncts), Delphi’s effort is focused on the problems of where we are today in order to offer potential solutions for where higher education needs to go tomorrow.

The core of their argument is that the notion of what faculty should do – while once fairly well defined and respected—has devolved into a conflicting mish-mash of roles and responsibilities that serve no one – students, institutions, and the faculty members themselves—well. The result is the current situation of inequitable compensation, over-reliance on poorly paid itinerant adjuncts, financial mismanagement, organizational malaise, teaching that often doesn’t meet the needs of today’s students, and increasing difficulties in producing high-quality scholarship.

The end-game, the report asserts, is that by having to meet an ever-widening sphere or institutional demands, faculty “ will either sustain the gradual decline of [their] profession, or [they] will invite frustrated policymakers and outsiders, who lack the appropriate perspective to effectively direct change, to recreate faculty careers and roles.” In other words, things are going to change one way or another, and faculty either need to take charge of the situation or risk having the situation take charge of their futures.

While the report doesn’t offer a singular answer, it does suggest a number of intriguing models for reforming the system that seems to be broken (or in the process of breaking) in Chapter 7 of the report. But rather than go into detail on each one here, I do think it’s important to draw out the one element that they all have in common: we (and by “we” I mean the “collective we” of faculty, administrators, and other stakeholders) need to be willing to take a hard look at the University model in the light of today’s economic, societal, educational, and professional realities and be willing to ask one very hard question: what should faculty really be doing…and is there a single answer to that question?

Ernest Boyer identified four key aspects of faculty roles: discovery, integration, application, and teaching. Right now, faculty are expected to engage in all four. But what if the definition of “faculty” didn’t involve integrating all these activities into one job? What if faculty could move back and forth between these four roles every few years? What if some faculty were able to engage in one (or some) of these four roles every few years but were considered equal to other faculty? What if teaching involved a combination of faculty from different disciplines who combined forces to bring one or more aspects of the faculty role together to teach a single subject? What if it were OK to turn to others (in particular non-faculty “paraprofessional” specialists) to assist with one or more of these aspects in the course of doing one’s job? What if faculty weren’t expected to be good at everything at once?

I think that few would argue that today’s faculty are under an enormous amount of pressure from the pile of mounting responsibilities they’re asked to tackle. And few would argue, I believe, that it doesn’t seem that the pace of change – and the need to respond to that change—isn’t slowing down. Shifting demographics, economic pressures, technological developments, and the challenges of educating students with a variety of developmental needs are all combining to make the job faculty members face harder every day. It seems that unless we’re willing to take a hard look at ourselves and our professions, we’re not going to be able to face the challenges of today or the unknown challenges facing us in the future. The answer may not reside in this new report from Delphi, but it’s definitely worth the read for anyone who’s interested in asking the hard questions as we continue the conversation about the future of higher education.

Service-Learning & Civic Engagement Proposal Deadline


Save The Date

The Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Conference examines the latest thinking about how colleges and universities interpret and advance their civic missions and how service-learning and civic engagement can strengthen the capacity of Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. campuses to create and sustain community partnerships.

Friday, February 6 – Service-Learning & Civic Engagement 2015 workshop proposals are due. The conference will feature concurrent workshops led by faculty, staff, students, and/or community organization representatives. Find out more and submit a proposal Contact: Corinne DeRoberts (

Friday, February 6 – Service-Learning & Civic Engagement 2015 award nominations are due. Know a community service superstar? Have a favorite CBO? Submit an award nomination. Contact:

Are Baltimore City Schools At Risk?


This January 28th Baltimore Sun editorial states that Baltimore City schools are expected to lose millions in state aid. “That’s not a reduction in the expected increase, it’s an actual honest-to-God cut, and it is in dollar terms more than six times greater than what any other jurisdiction is experiencing.”

The proposed fiscal cut to public education is multifaceted and we don’t have a crystal ball to see the consequences, if fully executed. But one could infer that laying off teachers, increasing the student to teacher ratio, and slowing school construction may result. Baltimore’s four-year graduation rate is now nearly 70 percent (still not on par with the national average, but a steady improvement over the past decade), according to the Maryland State Department of Education. Do these proposed cuts make sense just as Baltimore City schools are finally starting to rebound? What could the impact be on academic innovation, student success, and educational access?

What do you think?