Back To School

I went back to school — as a student — at the National Effective Teaching Institute (NETI). Here are seven key takeaways.

The course I attended was the workshop on Course Design and Student Engagement, aka NETI-1. It was held at the University of San Diego and taught by Susan Lord (USD), Matt Ohland (Purdue), and Mike Prince (Bucknell). There were sessions on motivating student learning, course planning, active learning, inductive teaching, DEI, early-career teaching success, and assessment.

1. It was worthwhile. I recommend NETI-1 to any of my colleagues, regardless of their amount of teaching experience. Not only can you learn more about teaching, you can also experience what it’s like to be a student in a classroom again.

2. Student motivation. Motivation affects college achievement and career goals; it varies on a continuum from extrinsic to intrinsic. Some psychological needs affect it:

  • Competence: having the knowledge, skills, and abilities to succeed; and having confidence in that competence.
  • Autonomy: being allowed to make choices and feeling that it’s okay to do so.
  • Relatedness: connecting with others; learning from and teaching them; knowing that what you do affects others.

Faculty can encourage or discourage those needs, thus impacting motivation and learning. I need to think about how many of my own assignments and assessments negatively affect feelings of competence.

3. Active-learning advocacy. Faculty don’t really make instructional decisions based on educational research data. Change is an emotional process. So don’t be an advocate by telling faculty they need to use active learning because “research says so.” Instead, find out what they want to change in their own course, then suggest active-learning techniques that will help.

4. Formative assessment. It’s the #1 thing faculty can actually control related to learning. Hattie (2009) synthesized 800+ meta-analyses of student achievement at all levels of education. Out of 138 factors, formative assessment was the third most effective for promoting student achievement. The top two (1: student expectations; 2: a specific kind of primary-school education) are not under college faculty control. Formative assessment means providing practice to students and feedback from experts in a context where it’s okay to fail — e.g., not in an exam. Possibilities include homework (if frequent, graded, and promptly returned), preliminary deliverables on larger projects, student self-assessments discussed with an instructor, and in-class polling. I need to think about more ways to provide formative assessment in a large course.

5. A big-picture framework for instructional design:

  • Motivation: How will you motivate students to stay engaged with the course? (What is your own motivation?)
  • Objectives: What will students be able to do (not just know) as a result of the course?
  • Methodology: What will you do in the course to achieve the above?
  • Assessment: How will you determine whether you and the students have achieved the above?
  • Risk management: What could go wrong, and how will you address it?

6. The best piece of wisdom I heard: “I teach for free; they pay me to grade.”

7. Weather. Four out of the five days, San Diego was rainy, cloudy, and “cold” (which locals seem to define as “below 60ºF”). Conclusion: San Diego in January is not so much better than Ithaca.