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Seven Characteristics of Good Learners | Faculty Focus January 22, 2014

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Seven Characteristics of Good Learners | Faculty Focus.

I’ve seen lots of lists that identify the characteristics of good teachers. I haven’t seen many corresponding lists that identify the characteristics of good learners. “

If you’re trying to make your classroom learner centered, it’s probably a good idea to figure out what makes a good learner, and what you can do to nurture those traits.  Maryellen Weimer’s list looks like an awfully good starting point for figuring out what makes a good learner.

Now to figure out how to encourage those traits in  board, discouraged, frustrated, or distracted students…

With departments under threat for few majors, physicists say value isnt reflected in numbers | Inside Higher Ed October 16, 2013

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, teaching.
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With departments under threat for few majors, physicists say value isnt reflected in numbers | Inside Higher Ed.


If you needed an argument for why learner centered science education is important, this is it. Universities, (yes, universities) are closing physics departments due to low numbers of majors. So, how do physics departments ensure they have enough majors to stay open?

According to Carl Weiman, the SPIN-UP study he worked on showed that successful departments have faculty who take personal responsibility for recruiting and mentoring majors, and “use engaging teaching methods that inspire students to continue on to upper-level courses”.

So flip that boring old lecture you had planned! It might just save your job!

ePortfolios – an introduction August 26, 2013

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Earlier this month, I attended a workshop on ePortfolios. They seem like a great tool that can serve many purposes. Here is my brief introduction to them.

What is an ePortfolio?

An ePortfolio is just like a regular portfolio, but in digital format. It is a repository for organizing and showcasing work, and presenting a cohesive narrative. If that sounds a bit vague, well, it is. ePortfolios serve many different purposes, and the purpose partially determines what the portfolio is.

What would I want to use an ePortfolio for (purpose/goal)?

An ePortfolio can do a lot of different things. It can simply be a convenient way to organize classwork. It can be a resume or CV. It can be a way to assess whether students are achieving program goals, AND whether classes are fulfilling the expected program goals.

You might create your own ePortfolio to:

  •      track progress in a class
  •      track progress in a program
  •      plan for employment or advancement
  •      demonstrate advancement
  •      enhance collaboration with peers.

You might require a portfolio of your students to:

  •      track progress in a class
  •      track progress in a program
  •      evaluate the value of your class to a program, and determine if it is fulfilling the program requirements you think it is fulfilling
  •      make assessment of progress or advancement more uniform
  •      enhance collaboration among students
  •      help students recognize the connections between in-class work, out-of-class work, and life experience.


Why would I want to use an ePortfolio?

The MPortfolio team evaluated classes that used portfolios, and found that the classes that used portfolios had higher levels of engagement and students showed greater gains in knowledge and abilities. The gains were independent of gender, race, or ethnicity. Gains were achieved with minimal use, though the greatest gains were seen in classes that used the portfolios consistently throughout the semester, and classes that used peer facilitators to help students with the portfolios. Portfolios normally require reflection, which in turn make the students more mindful of their goals, and their advancement.

How do I get started? (this is aimed at faculty considering portfolios in class)

Visit the MPortfolio site for ideas http://www.mportfolio.umich.edu/

Decide what the scope of the portfolio will be. Is this for a single class? A whole program? Should it span semesters Should it accommodate previous classes and experience?

Decide what the goal of the portfolio will be. Is it primarily for assessment of the student’s work in a class, or in a program? Is it for assessment of the program, or of the class? Is it meant to illustrate development or progress? Is it a tool to make connections across classes or with life outside of class? Should it increase peer interaction? Should it be the start of a resume or CV? If you have multiple goals, it may help you keep on track if you prioritize them.

Based on the goal and scope, determine who the audience will be. Just you and the student author? The whole class? The world at large? A mix? (e.g. you want to include a blog that the world can read, but also homework problems only you and the student can see.) Your answer to this question will help determine which tool(s) to use. For example, pages in Google Sites can be granted on a page by page basis, but WordPress may be easier for the student to maintain after graduation.

You don’t want the portfolio to become an added burden to the students, so take a look at the assignments you have given in the past or were planning to give. Are they appropriate for inclusion in a portfolio?  Are they easily adapted to include a reflection component? Do they build on one another? Is there an alternative that would fulfill both the goals of the portfolio and the learning objectives of the original assignment? This is a great place to get help from instructors who have used portfolios, or from the student mentors.

Flashcard for low-tech peer instruction August 22, 2013

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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I wanted a simple, highly visible flashcard, like Ed Prather and Gina Brissenden use (see http://blog.peerinstruction.net/2012/04/06/can-you-flip-large-classes/). One that wouldn’t be any more difficult for a colorblind student to see in a large lecture hall. After about 15 minutes, I realized it would be a lot faster if I just made my own.

If anyone else needs one, here it is.



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