My semester is now officially over. I have from now until September off, and then I will be teaching six courses in the Fall 2011 semester (my complete Fall schedule is linked here). I got to thinking about the last year, and how it has changed me as a professor. Here are some of the things I learned this year.
- Teaching less classes yields better results. I have in the past had a tendency to take on a very heavy load, and only teaching two courses a semester has left me with more energy to get in to the classroom.
- There is a better way to teach application software. This was inspired by one of my students in INF 101, Kevin. Teaching application software in introductory computing classes is difficult, because of the different levels of students. I've tried to teach this a number of ways. First I would lecture and leave the computers open, which led to people not paying attention. I feel like my job is to structure a lesson to promote the maximum possible learning, so I did not like that. I then tried using hardware to lock the computers and offer class time to work on things, but as soon as I stop lecturing students seem to disappear. I then moved to a model where I first demonstrate the software (with the computers locked), and use ungraded groupwork to practice (with two students sharing one machine to prevent drifting), and then assign an individual case problem to students. This seems to work well, but in the CIS 101/INF 101 courses, there is never enough time to leave for that groupwork. Kevin inspired me to try something different, so I combined groupwork and lecture for Access and PowerPoint this semester. I would lecture and demonstrate, and the groups would follow along. It gives the advanced students a chance to teach, and what better way to reinforce skills than by teaching? It gives less advanced students more individualized attention, since they are more likely to ask a peer a question. Finally, it keeps everyone focused on the work. I really liked how this turned out and I will use it in the future in certain classes.
- Electronic tests have many advantages. At PCCC, I never really investigated giving tests on hte computer. We have a campus portal (which allows students to submit assignments, allows faculty to share files, etc.). This portal does not allow students to take tests online. We also have WebCT, which is primarily used for online classes at PCCC, but is available for regular classes. I may continue to use the portal for assignments, and use WebCT for tests. It's convenient, ends up with less mistakes (and no true/false answers that look like a combination of the letter T and F), and saves me from reading handwriting for essays. Bergen has a software tool called Respondus LockDown browser, which allows me to prevent students from using the Internet and other electronic files. This tool works both in WebCT (which we used this year) and Moodle (which we are moving to). At PCCC, I don't think we will have the software, but I can use the monitoring software we have in our classrooms in Hamilton Hall.
- Open book tests work. I always was sort of against open book tests, but I tried it this year, and I see similar results to non-open book tests. The trick I never caught on to is a time limit of 45 seconds to one minute per multiple choice/true false/completion question. With a strict time limit, looking up every answer is near impossible, and students still need to prepare for the tests. Even better, if they know it is open notes, they may take the time to really organize their notes. Organizing notes requires students to re-read the notes, review them, and even look up things they are not familiar with. This is a good thing. I found the standard deviation and average for the open book tests were similar to tests I've given in the past. Anecdotally, I feel like this gives students with a good work ethic an advantage over students who come in to the class with some knowledge.
- I can kill less trees. I generally would create and print assignment sheets for every assignment I give out, and run off copies. I would also make those descriptions available electronically. I did everything electronically this year in my INF 163 course, and it went well. I figure students can print things manually if they would like a copy.
- Doing textbook supplement authoring is kind of fun. Since I had so much time on my hands, I did some freelance textbook supplement authoring. I've done test banks, PowerPoint presentations, scorecards (rubrics), lesson plans, and book reviews. I've actually had some fun doing this, and I may pick up a small project or two.
- Sign language interpreters have a tough job. I had one deaf student each semester, and in a technical course, it becomes difficult for the interpreters to keep up. I have a tendency to throw out all sorts of technical terms and abbreviations, and interpreters are experts in translation, not in technology. In addition, there are many technical terms that need to be fingerspelled (in which the interpreter spells it one letter at a time). Bergen actually had a grant to provide signers for students, so they sent a team of two signers to every class, and paid a student notetaker. Even with that, there were challenges. For example, Bergen's INF 101 course has podcast and video assignments, and the publisher hadn't made accommodations for deaf students. The college allowed the interpreters to work with the student in an open lab, and the publisher did eventually provide transcripts and captioning. It was a learning experience for me, to be certain.