Safety: Do you have a plan?

Practical ProfessorsYou walk into the classroom one day and there is a student under a desk clenching his backpack. What do you do? How do you handle the situation? How do you ensure the safety of other students in the room while addressing this situation?  Similar scenarios have been in training seminars at campuses across the country. I’ve thought about this scenario. Have you?

Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you teach at institutions where students would never engage in this type of behavior  or maybe you’ve told yourself that dangerous situations, like a school shooting, don’t happen where you teach.

This week, I finished reading Think No Evil, a book that summarizes the events of the Amish school shooting in 2006. I am 100% sure that the Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA were convinced that school shootings would not impact their lives. However, a school shooter entered a small, one room school house and shot 10 girls before killing himself.

Tragic events like this can happen! To you, to me, to any of us! So what’s your plan?

My Department or School Hasn’t Trained Me

I have talked to faculty across the nation, both full time and adjunct, who have report that their college or university has not developed an official plan or have not formally communicated the plan for an active shooter or threat to campus. Every person I’ve ever talked to finds this problematic and a major concern. I agree! In fact, I think every department and school should take the time to discuss this issue. We are well-educated and capable people, who care about our own safety and our students’ safety. So don’t wait for your campus, if they have not release an official plan, develop one for yourself!

In some cases, training may be a one time push, so ask your department chair or human resources department if there is an official policy or training program offered. If there is then take advantage of it, because it can be a wonderful learning opportunity. If there is not a program and you are passionate about this topic, you can ask your human resources department if there is an opportunity to collaborate to create a safety plan for the campus as well as a training opportunity for those who work on the campus. Students should also be informed and taught what they should do.

Make a Plan

Planning for the Unexpected_ Safety PlanningOne day over lunch, a colleague and I discussed our plans, how we would help to increase student safety in the event of an emergency on campus, where we would meet, etc. If you haven’t had this conversation yet…you need to! Even if you only teach one class, you should know what you would do in case of an emergency. If it’s not a life-threatening emergency you should have an idea of how you might handle the situation. There are several websites that can help you think about the steps you might take! Before writing this post I Googled “plan for active shooter” and there are a lot of helpful websites including the Department of Homeland Security. Google this for yourself and consider your campus layout. Where can you and your students go?

It is important to consider a variety of situations that you may encounter. There may be a fire. You may have a student who is threatening to harm him/herself. You may have a hostile student in your classroom that does not have a weapon but is being a disruption. You may have a student who threatens you, due to a grade he/she received. Or The student in the example above may be suffering from mental illness or he may be protecting an illegal substance, or hiding a gun or another weapon. Preparation is the key. Just like you would not enter the classroom unprepared to teach, you should not enter the classroom unprepared to deal with situations that may arise.

Emergency Contact NumbersPlanning for the Unexpected_ Safety Planning-2

Before the semester begins, obtain phone numbers for public safety as well as the counseling center. Store these numbers in your cell phone so that they are easy to access if an emergency occurs. You may find that you never need to use them, but in the event you do, it is better to be prepared.

Mandated Reporter

If you are concerned about a student, how can you go about reporting the concern? Who do you report them to? What is the protocol on your campus?

You are a mandated reporter. If a student appears to be in distress, report! If a student shares information with you that you find concerning, report! If a student threatens to harm him/herself, report! If a student threatens to harm someone else, report! It is better to err on the side of caution. A student’s safety is your top priority; therefore, nothing should prevent you from reporting concerning behavior. In order to report, you must know who to report to and how to go about doing so. Therefore, it is important to ask how to file this type of concern. You may ask a faculty mentor, an administrator, or contact the health center or counseling center to find out.

Preparation is the Key!

So, again I ask, what would you do if face with the scenario above? Would you leave student inside while you left the classroom to call for help? Would you try to evacuate the other students? Would you just simply leave…every man/woman for themselves?

Making a plan prior to an incident allows you to think more critically about how you would handle the situation. Most likely, you will be highly impacted by the stressfulness of the situation. This may impair your ability to think clearly which is obviously necessary in this type of situation. The way that  you respond will make all the difference. So develop your plan now!

When I started teaching, family and friends asked me if I was afraid. I had no idea what they were talking about! But from their perspectives, teaching had become a field where faculty, students, and staff could be at risk of attack. I rarely think about what could happen, but I do have a personal plan, in addition to the plan offered by my university. So I encourage you to think about and talk about what you would do! Ask other faculty and staff that you know if they have a plan. Talk to people outside of higher education, who have experience in these situations. They are trained to think about these scenarios and may have some sound advice to provide. Or conduct your own research to learn more.

Practical Tips for Creating Effective Announcements

Creating EffectiveAnnouncements can be extremely beneficial in an online classroom setting. They communicate weekly expectations, information that students need to be aware of, or even act as extensions of the syllabus. This is a way to share content that is pertinent to the course or the topics that will be covered in the upcoming week.

It is important to consider how you will use announcements and when you will use announcements. If they are used too often and the information is not meaningful or helpful, students will begin to overlook them or tune them out. I post announcements at other times during the duration of the class, but I do this mid week as this ensures that announcements are not being overlooked due to students being inundated with them. 

Weekly Announcement

Each week, I like to begin with a detailed announcements that highlights weekly expectations. I begin with a brief paragraph summarizing main points that will be covered during the week. I use course objectives to develop this introduction to the week. I let student know what we will be covering and what they can look forward to learning about. Then I add a section that describe how the student should prepare for the week. I include readings and resources that they will need to read and review to be prepared. I list this first in the announcement, because students need to complete the weekly readings before they begin participating in the weekly discussions or begin the assignment. Then I provide a section that lists assignments that need to be completed within the week. In this section, I include assignment requirements, tips for completing the assignment, and sometimes I mention resources that can be used to complete the assignment – these I attach at the bottom of the announcement. Finally, a section on the discussion forum requirements is posted. I am sure to include deadlines and necessary requirements to earn full credit in the forum for the week.

Discussion Forum Requirements: Posting an announcement that clearly states the requirements that must be met when engaging in the forums for the week. This includes when to post, what to post, how much to post, etc. Posting a clear announcement that outlines the requirements can help to reduce the number of questions that are asked. It can also be used as a reference when students ask questions or dispute a grade that is associated with the forums. I find that by clearly posting the participation requirements on the first day of class, students are informed, know the expectations, and are set up for success from the start.
Tip: You may consider asking students to read the announcement and respond. You can have them respond with “I understand” or you can direct them to ask clarifying questions so that you can address them in the beginning. This also helps to reduce confusion and ensures that students have seen and hopefully read the announcement.

Important Dates: Sharing important dates, such as days that class is not in session due to holidays can help to ensure that everyone is informed. This will reduce frustration if a student asks a question and does not get an immediate response. In addition, posting the class start date (prior to the class beginning), the course ending date (the week before class ends) or dates when assignments, such as papers that require a bit more planning or group projects that require collaboration are due, can help students with proper planning and time management.

Resources: An announcement can be used to direct students to resources that will help them complete assignments or be successful in the class. You may share information about tutoring services, the library, the writing center, or career services. It is important to consider which services student may find helpful as they progress through the course. Timing is important. Post the information within the week that the resource will be the most helpful.

Effective Announcement Include_If students do not look in the syllabus regularly, then they are still able to access information that they need to be successful. I also provide links to resources, websites, readings, tools, videos, etc. that will enhance their learning experience for the week. Remind can also help to reiterate information shared in the course syllabus and in the announcements.

Related Posts: Online Teaching TipsCreating and Using Grading Rubrics

Tips for Preventing Academic Dishonesty

Tips for Reducing Academic DishonestyStudents report cheating in many ways. And technology is making it easier and easier to do so. The Open Education Data Base ( cited a survey that included 30,000 students; 60% reported cheating while in college. It was also reported that cheaters have higher grade point averages than peers who do not cheat. Popular paper mill websites report receiving about 8,000 hits per day. Roughly 75-98% of students who are cheating in college were also cheating in high school. 85% of students reported that cheating is essential to their academic success.

This information as well as some experiences we had in our classes last year, lead to a discussion with colleagues about academic dishonesty. We questioned ways in which we could work to reduce this problem. Additionally, what more could and should we be doing if students are reporting cheating is essential to academic success?

What are we talking about?

When we are talking about academic dishonesty, we are focusing mainly on plagiarism and cheating on assessments, exams and quizzes, in the traditional classroom setting as well as in the online learning environment.

Do students know they are cheating?

As part of the discussion, we questioned, “do student always know they are cheating?”. This specifically applies to plagiarism. For example, when they are writing papers, do they know that they have plagiarized when they present a summary of an article, and they do not cite the source in-text. It is not simply just copying and pasting something that someone else wrote, which is what many students believe. Perhaps, being more intentional about not only teaching students what plagiarism is, but also exactly what they can do to avoid it is necessary.

How do we know?

So…how would we know if a student is cheating? For example, how do we know if a student bought a paper from an online site, especially if they are in an online setting. How can we be sure that they are buying a paper and not receiving help from the tutoring center at the school? Building relationships is one way to help to identify cheating. The more interactions we have with students in the discussion forums and through face to face conversations or conversations by phone, the better equip we are to determine if the work being submitted is similar to other interactions we are having with the student.

Technology and Cheating

Wearables have become more popular and prevalent in recent years. They are another tool that students are using to cheating. This came to our attention at the end of the semester when a student was caught using a wearable to access study material during an exam. It appeared that a resource that was given in class was on a student’s wearable and that it was being used during an assessment. After addressing the student regarding the situation, it was clear that bans on wearables would now also need to be addressed in course policies. Prior to this incident, things like cell phones, other technology, and resources were banned, but we had not specifically included wearables.

PoliciesReducing Academic Dishonesty

In some academic institutions, academic policies have not been updated in a decade or more. Therefore, there are not bans put into place or consequences written to address academic dishonesty that can occur using technology, such as wearables. As academics, we are responsible to ensure that documents that are relevant to our classes are updated regularly. If new technological advances have not been considered and included in Course Policies, we would like to encourage you to meet wth your colleagues as you prepare for the semester and revise the policies used.


Academics also report that they do not feel the consequences for academic dishonesty always fit the offense. Academics need to ensure that they are involved in writing policies that are put into place to reduce academic dishonesty and address it when it occurs. If students know that they will only receiving a warning, they are not as worried about cheating than if they hear they will receive a 0, get kicked out of class, or get kicked out of school. While we are not saying that kicking students out of school is the best answer, it is important that students understand the severity of cheating and that consequences deter students from participating.

Additionally, students do not feel the consequences for academic dishonesty are harsh enough. Students get really upset when they are aware that a classmate is cheating without consequence. Students, who are working hard to earn their grades, find this to be unfair, unethical, and want the peer who is cheating to be punished. They look to the professor to address the behavior and report it.


Is the process for reporting academic dishonesty at your institution easy to access and use? Faculty may feel that reporting cheating is too tedious and too time consuming. In addition speculation is often not enough to report a situation. If they instructor does not have “hard evidence”, they may be unable to report the situation that took place. Therefore, the incident goes unreported and the student may be cheating in multiple classes without consequence.

Students are becoming more creative in the methods they use to cheat in classes. Therefore, we must also become more creative in the ways in which we work to maintain the integrity of the course content and materials used to assess students. They must learn the material in our courses as they will be our colleagues in the field one day.



Check out our Facebook live session as we discuss Academic Dishonesty.

Tips for Preparing to Teach a New Class

How do you keep you head above water when you are teaching a class for the first time?

Planning to teach a new class can be extremely time consuming, a bit overwhelming, stressful…..need we go on? But does it have to be? Are there ways to create lessons that are effective, in a timely manner, with reduced stress?

YES! Let us share some ideas that may reduce stress and make preparing to teach a new class a bit easier.

The syllabus is your roadmap!

rawpixel-com-211022As instructors, we harp on students to read the syllabus. This is their guide to the elements and expectations of the course. If a syllabus is provided as part of a centralized curriculum, then just as we instruct students to do, start your preparation by reading the syllabus! Before you begin planning a lecture and putting together powerpoints, it is important to review the syllabus. Many colleges and universities are moving toward a centralized curriculum for accreditation purposes, which means you will not be expected to write your own syllabus. The syllabus will detail course objectives, the required readings, and assignment guidelines. Reviewing the syllabus will help you to prepare your lectures and powerpoints. So, this should be your starting point.

Course Objectives, Readings and Assignments

Course objectives are statements that clearly detail what students will learn by the end of the course. Review the course objectives and focus on creating lectures that include and expand on the course objectives. As you create your lectures, it is also important to cover required readings as this will help you to prepare for class and answer questions that student might ask. Review assignment requirements. Determine if there is information that you will need to present in class to ensure students are prepared to complete assignments.tom-hermans-264015

Active Learning

Consider if the topics can be covered by participating in activities.  When students can apply the information they are learning, rather than passively listening to it being presented in a lecture format, this will increase the chances they they learn and remember the information. For example, have students come up with examples to illustrate definitions rather than simply just writing definitions to terms. They can share their examples in class. This activity breaks up lecturing, gets students involved, and helps them to apply the terms/definitions they are learning. This is also a great way to complement powerpoint slides, if terms are included and they are a bit dry (like they may be the first time you teach a class).

Students Prepare and Teach Lessons

You may also consider how students can contribute to the planning of the class. You are the instructor. You are paid to be the content expert, but that doesn’t mean that students can’t prepare and present information on topics. Are there topics that students would benefit from researching and presenting to their peers? This should not replace you planning, but rather should complement it. You will be responsible to add or clarify information as students share their presentations.

Students are creative and can come up with some very interesting presentations, activities, etc. when they are challenged with this task. As long as they are learning the material, and you are guiding the process, you have done your job. Have them help with the planning!

For example, I teach a capstone class for senior students. While I could stand and talk to them about preparation for job interviews, I find it more effective to break students into pairs and have them research small topics that are related to interviewing (ex. interview questions and answers, phone interviewing tips, how to dress professionally, business casual versus business attire, how to write an post-interview thank you note or email). Each pair is asked to put together a 3-5 minute presentation on the topic. They also have to include one deliverable – a sheet with some tips, a power point presentation, a resource that their peers can refer back to.

This activity is one that students enjoy – they like to hear from their peers. And….they are gaining the necessary information on their topic as well. This also generates some really good discussions. Finally, they are practicing their public speaking and presenting skills. Being an effective communicator is important regardless of your major.

5 Tips for Accepting and Planning to Teach A Class for the First TimeIMG_1389

  1. Do not accept contracts for classes that you are not qualified to teach. You are the content expert paid to present the material. If your educational training and experience have not prepared you to teach the content, then do not accept the contract.
  2. Review the textbook and assigned readings before you begin planning. Being familiar with what the students are reading will assist you preparing class lecture and experiences for students. It will also help to prepare you to answer questions that students ask.
  3. Use the publisher resources. Most publishers will provide resources through a website. You may have to request access to the publisher resources. You can send an email request to the publisher and ask for access to be granted. Publisher resources often include powerpoints, test banks, and activities.
    Please note: you may need to adjust and adapt these resources. For example, you may need to revise powerpoints to make them a bit more interesting or interactive. 
  4. Locate and incorporate videos, such as TED talks.
  5. Implement activities! Activities help to reinforce information that they have reviewed in their weekly reading or that you have presented in class during lecture. When they are engaged and actively participating, they are learning!

Would students benefit from a technology ban in class?

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 2.40.04 PMShould I implement a technology ban in my classroom? Would students benefit from this? Would it impede their learning? Can this be done? These are questions we have been considering for several months. We have discussed the idea of a “tech free” with colleagues and have received mixed opinions. We even share our thoughts about this on a recent Facebook Live session. Check it out:

 What’s in the research?

While technology definitely has a place in the classroom, it may not be appropriate for taking notes during lecture. The research on this topic is undeniable; students who take notes by hand rather than typing notes retain more information that is presented in class. They learn to listen to what is being presented and summarize the information into their own words, because they do not have time to write everything word for word. They are digesting what is said rather than simply mindless typing what the instructor is saying. They do not take as many notes, because they are not copying word for word, but the notes they take are more meaningful because of the attention given to what was being written down.

Students Weigh In


In addition to the research on the use of technology for note taking, students honestly report that they use technology for academic and non-academic purposes in the classroom. They report laptops are used for note taking, conducing research, accessing academic resources that are related to the course, for participating in activities and completing assignments. However, they also note that they access email, social media, and i-chat using their computers. They also can access Internet sites and review information that is not related to courts content. They also report that technological devices, mainly their cell phones, are used in class for non-academic purposes. They candidly share that cell phones are accessed for personal use, so perhaps, just banning cell phones in the classroom would help to reduce distractions.

More Questions…

The more research we did, the more questions that surfaced. Should we prohibit the use of technology during instruction? Will students stop attending class if technology is limited? How will students react?

Banning Technology

I have banned cell phone use in my classroom every semester since I started teaching. I do not use my cell phone in class, and therefore, I do not permit my students to use their cell phones. However, this has not curbed the problem of inappropriate use of technology or helped to reduce the distraction that some devices are leading to in the classroom. Even when I have classroom assistants monitor the use, students are sneaky and learn to flip from screen to screen so that it appears that they are paying attention. They effort that they expend hiding their inappropriate use of technology is a distraction to the student and also to students around them who have reported in recent semesters that their peers in appropriate use of technology is a distraction to them. For this reason, it was time that I addressed it more forcefully in my classes. But how?

We have some colleagues that have implemented a technology free classroom. They force students to put cell phones, computers, and tablets away at the beginning of class. Students are forced to use pencil and paper to take notes. We also have some colleagues who do not have polices regarding the use of technology and students are free to use devices as they please in class. There are different reasons given for both, such as students are more engage in discussions when they are not distracted by technology to they are adults who pay for the class and therefore technology use is not limited or prohibited in the classroom.

How does technology impact the classroom environment?

But, this begs the question, how does the use of technology impact the classroom environment? Does it have a negative impact on discussion, participation, and retention of information? Is it distracting to other learners? Is there experience in the classroom being impacted by those who are using their devices excessively and for reasons that are not related to the educational experience in the classroom?


Cyberslacking is defined as “employees’ use of their employers’ web access during work hours for non-work-related purposes.” However, this can also be applied to the field of education. Students who are using university resources, such as WiFi access, for non-school related purposes during classroom instruction, could be deemed cyberslacking. And while the students is not an employee of the university when attending class, their actions may interfere with others in the classroom.

In order to raise awareness, instructors who decide to implement technology free classes or restrictions on technology in the classroom should explain cyberslacking, the myths about multitasking, and how the use of technology also infringes upon the rights of other students in the class. Due to this being a distraction to others, it is unfair. Instructors are to create and maintain an environment conducive to learning. Everyone must work together to create a productive learning environment.

Classroom Polices

crew-22248As an instructor, there have been numerous times that I have asked a question in class only to be met with blank stares. The student who is eventually called upon, at random, asks for the question to be repeated, due to not being aware of what was asked. While this is not always caused by technology distraction, it is happening more often as the use of different types of technology enter the classroom. Computers, tablets, phones, and wearables provide students with constant connection to the world wide web and the world taking place outside of the four classroom walls. So, this semester, we will be putting more restrictions on the use of technology in class. For example, technology will be limited during instruction but permitted during in class activities and group work. We hope that this will help to increase participation and reduce redundant questions. We also hope that students will recognize the benefits, because they will become better note takers and retain more information/content that is presented in class, thus they will spend more time studying and will earn higher grades.