The Big Picture: How & Where Does My Class Fit?

When I first started teaching I only thought about my class. I thought about what my students needed to know and what theories or skills they needed to master to do well on assignments specific to the course I was teaching. Years later as a program chair and a member of the general education committee, I realized how important it was to consider how the courses I taught fit into a students’ program of study and future vocation.

The Big PictureHowDoes Your Class Fit-

No matter what course you are teaching, it is important to remember that it is just a piece of the overall puzzle. It is part of a students’ program. Regardless of whether it is a general education course or a course specific to the major, every course should be created with the intention to prepare students for the workforce and life beyond college. What skills can you teach in addition to the course content that will serve this purpose?

Don’t Take It Personally

When teaching courses that are a part of the general education curriculum, it is easy to become discouraged. Students enrolled in these courses may be from a variety of different majors and may not share your passion for subject matter. For example, you may be teaching an economics course, which is slated as part of the general education curriculum, which means many of your students are pursuing different majors. In order to be effective and reach all of your students, consider using a variety of examples related to different industries. Also remember critical thinking and effective communication essential skills that should be promoted in every class across all majors.

Once, a pre-med student that told me my class was irrelevant to her field of study. She considered taking my class a waste of time. This comment could have upset me, but I decided to accept the challenge, and I intentionally began to share more real-world application that was cross discipline. Examples help students to see how general education curriculum applies in their personal and professional lives. At the end of the seamster, I received a beautifully written Christmas card thanking me and sharing how she believed the information she obtained in the course would help in her future role as a doctor.

Consider Degree Progression

If you are teaching a class in your major, it is essential that you prepare the them for courses they will take later in the degree progression. Looking at the course catalog can help you to gain an understanding of what courses your students took prior to your course and what they will likely take next. I have a wonderful colleague that really works with students to improve their writing and thinking; I can always tell when students have had his class. When I hear students have had his class, I am confident that they learned essential writing skills but also were presented essential information necessary to be successful in the course I am teaching. Be the instructor that has a positive reputation for genuinely teaching the course material and preparing students for success in their classes and as a future professional in the field.

Application, Application, Application!

I am terrible at math! And when I was a college student, I believed I would never use the math skills I was being taught. I realize math is important and there are countless applications of math. I only began to see the application for math when I took college algebra (for the second time) from an instructor who made real life applications. She made math relevant, and I began to see how it applied to my life. For the first time in my life, math made sense. wall street

Many of the skills and theories students learn while they are in college will inform their future either personally or professionally, even if it’s not a part of their major. For example, a public speaking course will teach students how to effectively communicate their ideas to an audience. While the applications of your discipline may seem obvious to you, it may not be as obvious to an adolescent. The relevance and application may be unclear; therefore, it is your responsibility to share the relevance and application. Discuss this often throughout the semester!

Teach Transferable Skills

It is also important to consider how assignments can include real world relevance and application.  For example, rather than requiring that students write a paper, perhaps you modify the delivery and have students create and deliver a presentation. Obtaining numerous skills including written as well as verbal communication skills are necessary across a variety of disciplines. In my experience, students like working on projects that have real world applications because they perceive these assignments as valuable to their future. It is important to remember that you are preparing students to be productive members of society. You are preparing them to be professionals in their field, but also well-rounded individuals whose skill set is diverse. Consider ways in which you can do that while teaching them the material specific to your class.


Photo Credit: Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash  &Photo by Rick Tap on Unsplash


7 Practical Tips for Providing Meaningful Feedback

Seven Essential Grading TipsGrading should not be a random act. Points should not be arbitrarily assigned or deducted from students’ papers. There must be an equitable way to add or deduct points from a paper. The expectations must be expressed in the assignment directions as well as in the grading rubric. This makes grading easier, because just as students need guidance, a road map, so to speak, so do we, the instructors grading the work.

Use a Grading Rubric

The grading rubric alerts the students and the instructor to the important points a paper should contain. This is where you should focus your attention when grading; it explain how to spend your time, and how to spend it wisely, when grading.

Not too little, not too much…

Too often, I see new instructors provide WAY too much feedback or just the opposite – no feedback at all. There must be a balance. Students need feedback. This helps them to identify why they received the grade they earned. It also gives them guidance for improving future work. However, too much red on a paper can be just as unhelpful as a paper returned without any feedback. Overwhelming! Confusing!

Be Intentional

It is unnecessary and unproductive, as well as time consuming, to correct every spelling, grammatical, conventional, and mechanical error on a student’s paper. Instead, it is more constructive to select on page of the paper (usually in the middle of the paper works best), and highlight errors. Then instruct students to look for similar errors in the remainder of the paper.

Work Smarter Not Harder

Because I tend to see the same mistakes over and over again when grading, I have generated lists of general comments that I use when grading papers. This helps to save time and ensures that every student is receiving quality feedback. If you are working with a graduate assistant or grading assistant, this also help to ensure consistency of feedback being provided.

In addition to general comments that relate to formatting, organization, and mechanics, I have several comments for each assignment that specifically relate to the content for the assignment. You can quickly develop these as you grade your first few papers. Or you can use the grading rubric and develop content specific comments. I like to use Excel to store my comments. I create a new tab for each assignment for a class as well as a tab for General Comments. You can add or revise comments, over time, just like you modify and revise lesson plans, activities, and assignments.

When it comes to formatting errors, general comments about errors relating to formatting can be generated. Consider comments that you might make on the title page, reference page, headings, or in-text citation and reference formatting as you generate the list. You may also create and save comments that you frequently use.

Set Clear Expectations

One way to reduce errors is to teach or review concepts, even if you think the students were previously taught the information. Reinforcement can help to clarify expectations and reduce errors that are made.

For example: It may be helpful to introduce and teach one specific skill related to formatting each week. Then you can focus feedback on the skills you introduced.  You might begin by teaching the correct formatting of a running head and page numbers. On the assignment, students should have this part of the paper properly formatted. If they do not, make comments and deduct points from the formatting section of the grading rubric. Throughout the semester, continue to instruct on different formatting components until students have been instructed on all formatting guidelines. They should have a perfectly formatted paper by the end of the semester. This also reduces the likelihood that students will complain they were never taught proper formatting.

Provide Quality Feedback

When you deduct points from a student’s paper, it is good practice to ensure a comment was also included to help the student make corrections to future assignments. The quality of the comment can make all the difference.

Example 1


You are missing a comma.


No Comma

Better: You are missing a comma. Here is a weblink to assist you in reviewing the rules of comma use:

Remember, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when helping students make improvements. There are a lot of great resources on the web that you can provide to students. Purdue Owl is one of my favorites!

Example 2

Comment: Missing a thesis statement

Better: You are missing a thesis statement. The thesis statement guides your paper development by providing a purpose and main points that will be covered. Here is a link to help with thesis statement development:

Consider Using a Grading Tool

There are grading tools such as Type It In and Grademark to help make grading faster and more streamlined. Comments can be added into these programs to make grading more efficient. Your university may offer access to a program like this. It might be a good idea to ask other instructors to see if they use any of these programs.

7 Practical Tips for Providing Meaningful FeedbackGood feedback does not have to be time consuming. But it should be specific and provide feedback that guides corrections in future papers. You do not need to point out every error. The feedback provided and the grading rubric should complement each other and should provide students with a clear picture of why and how points were deducted.

3 Practical Tips for Creating Effective Visual Aids

3 Practical Tips for Creating Effective Visual AidsOne of our pet peeves is bad visual aids! When we go into a class and observe an instructor who is using a power point or Prezi that is comprised entirely of text, it makes us extremely sad! This is so disappointing, because it’s a missed opportunity to effectively present information to students. Visual aids present content, offer demonstration, enhance credibility, illustrate content with examples, and increase retention, but only if they are visual in nature.

The learning pyramid  is one theory that suggests audiovisuals, such as Powerpoints, assist with 20% of average student retention rates. However, this is only true if the visual aid is effectively created and presented. Instructors, who copy and paste large amount of text on powerpoint slides and then read the information to students, are not being effective. How does this differ from the information that a student could read from his/her textbook? The visual aid should add substance to the topic that the instruct is lecturing on.

jeremy-yap-160713So ask your self these very hard questions and be honest! Are your visual aids effective? Have you balanced text and pictures? Are you adequately using contrast to focus student’s attention?

You are the presenter! You are the content expert! You are the person bringing the information to life. Your visual aid should enhance your lecture not be a word for word transcription of what you’re going to say on a screen beside you. Below are some practical tips to improve your visual aid effectiveness.

1. No Sentences! Limit Text.

Picture, pictures and more pictures. Your visual aid should not include complete sentences. Students can read the textbook; therefore, the visual aid should not include information copied and pasted directly from the textbook. It should include key words or phrase that help stimulate your memory, so you can effectively explain and discuss concepts. By limiting your text, it also ensure that you won’t read your power points to your audience. This enhances your credibility and allows you to demonstrate your content expertise.

2. Personalize

Effective visual aids are also personalized. Publisher’s power points can be a wonderful starting point, but if you use them, you should personalize them to fit your style and the concepts being presented. Consider imbedding videos, inserting relevant pictures, and breaking up the lecture slides with some active learning activities that simulate thought or assess learning. Personalizing your visual aid can also help to streamline your lectures. For example, you can include the instructions for an activity at the exact point in lecture when you want students engaged, rather than searching YouTube or printing directions and handing out copies to every student.

3. Death By Power Point 

This is an amazing TED talk that changed the way we present information to students! Colleagues that we have shared this with find it extremely helpful, so we are SUPER excited to share it with you. David Phillips, the owner of and leading figure on making effective presentations, talks about how to create more effective and visually appealing presentations based on his book “How To Avoid Death By PowerPoint”. His TED talk will change your entire approach to creating visual aids! To summarize the main points, David Phillips suggests only presenting one message per slide, using contrast and size to direct focus, not using complete sentences on slides, using dark backgrounds, and never including more than six points per slide. You can watch the entire video on YouTube here:

The slide below demonstrates the type of balance that is ideal. Notice how this slide focuses on a singular message, has a limited amount of text and a photo that relates to the topic of the slide.