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Articles: Teaching & Learning

Bill Path is president of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology

Despite its sometimes rigid conventions and customs, higher education is still very good at finding innovative solutions to problems that face students. Today’s college graduates are struggling. They need the technical skills to enter the modern workforce and the ability to advance their careers—not one or the other.

With only 775 students, the need for a dedicated AV department was low at Martin Luther College, a teacher and pastor training institution in southwest Minnesota. The IT department handled the installation and wiring of emergency broadcast systems and of classroom AV technology, including projectors.

But as the school’s music program grew, an AV division created itself within the IT department.

“We always recorded concerts, but then five years ago, the desire arose to live-stream concerts and recitals,” says James Rathje, director of instructional technology.

Students at Connecticut College can access its student information system via mobile or desktop.

In today’s world of vast networks and complex data analysis, the student information system is becoming a powerful tool to track—and influence—student success. By looking at the big picture of data generated across an institution’s enterprise resource planning software, universities can begin to forecast student outcomes.

“Look for a system that is very easy to use and easily adopted. I would want to make sure the new SIS could be easily connected to the fundraising system, housing system and admission system. I’d look for the SIS to become the core of our operation and make sure everything can easily be integrated with it.”

—Jack Chen, CIO, Adelphi University

The University of Maryland’s open source textbook initiative, known as “MOST,” has guided faculty through more than 50 OER adoptions. The program helps instructors assemble resources to significantly keep down the cost of course materials.

Open educational resources have grown over the last few years from one-off oddities in single courses to the basis of entire degree programs. Cutting out textbook costs for students tops the list of reasons administrators encourage faculty to develop and adopt these free—or very inexpensive—resources, also known as OER.

Equipped for Response—In 2015, more than 600 instructors and 20,000 students used clickers at  The University of Arizona. The Office of Instruction and Assessment’s resources page offers a primer with clicker best practices and strategies, including tips on writing good questions.  Photo: Thomas Veneklasen Photography/Arizona Board of Regents

Colleges and universities have used student response systems for years to take attendance, administer pop quizzes and register informal polls in larger classes where verbal discussions are limited. But as technology improves, student response systems are becoming more versatile than ever—and instructors are increasingly creative in using them.

“I know the idea of bringing your own device is becoming more prominent, but I still think pulling out a phone, tablet or laptop is distracting. You always lose students for a measurable amount of time, and that’s the primary concern.”

Dwight Farris, instructional technologist, The University of Arizona

Achieving smooth deployment of a new student success system can be challenging, say administrators who have tackled the challenge. (Gettyimages.com: Godruma • Nidwlw • Aarrows)

Early alert systems. Transfer credit assessment tools. Adaptive technologies. Apps to push student reminders. Career assessment software. Colleges and universities nationwide use these and many other success technologies to help students improve grades, increase involvement and persist to graduation with as little debt as possible.

What do you see as the biggest mistake colleges and universities make when implementing student success technology?

“Retention technology can identify potential at-risk students, but then you need success coaches in place to effectively engage students. Helping coaches understand data and apply it proactively instead of reactively will empower them to reach out long before red flags surface.”

—Steve Pappageorge, chief product officer and senior vice president, Helix Education

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Faculty Excellence has experimented with alternative classroom designs that make it easier for instructors to use interactive learning methods—including in lecture hall-sized spaces.

Students enrolled in media ethics at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall walked into a lecture hall that looked radically different than two years ago. Gone is the stadium-style seating. Now the room, used for a wide range of courses, has 100 rolling swivel chairs with adjustable tables and nine mounted video screens.

High-capacity classrooms: The collaborative BioSciences West classroom at The University of Arizona holds up to 112 students.

Active learning should allow students in traditional lecture halls to work in small groups solving problem sets or developing presentations. That can be accomplished without renovating the space, but the layout does present challenges.

Lecture courses can be made more interactive by breaking up class time with small-group activities.

The tiered education department classroom at McGill University in Montreal can accommodate up to 96 students.

What would you say to someone who needs convincing that lecture halls and other large spaces can also be active learning environments?

“Large, active learning classrooms support the largest number of students efficiently. The classroom can also be used outside classroom hours for collaborative activities. You’re really increasing the use and efficiency of the real estate.” —Andrew Kim, manager, WorkSpace Futures, Steelcase

La Verne University’s Wilson Library wanted to develop a digital display to make students aware of library resources, as well as post information on school clubs and community events. Because other universities have found digital signage as an effective medium for communicating with their respective university communities, Amy Jiang, Associate Professor and Librarian contacted other schools to see what had been purchased for similar purposes on other campuses.  

Today, the mastery of writing is critical for success in school, college, and in the vocational, business, and professional workplace. Teachers in K-12 schools across the nation hear their students express fear and loathing of writing – overwhelmed by the writing process and not knowing where to get started.  

Research has shown that active learning—asking students to engage in class with each other and their instructor—is more effective than traditional lecturing.

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