It's August! Time to Share New Academic Year Tips & Ideas

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Even after teaching college students for twenty-plus years, I'm still searching every summer for tips and tricks to make the upcoming year's courses more meaningful for both myself and my students. This summer I was fortunate to participate in an assessment workshop at my college to evaluate our student learning outcomes (SLOs). Faculty from nearly every academic department worked in small mixed-discipline groups to consider necessary changes to our SLOs and discuss implementation of changes during the upcoming academic year. At the conclusion of the workshop each group shared observations for their assigned SLO in a seminar-wide discussion. 


The strongest take-away for me from this workshop was the importance of helping students to understand the “why” in my assignments. From the simple (“why are we reading these textbook chapters?”) to the more complex (“why can’t we use unvetted web sites in our history research projects?”) it was demonstrated to me time and again as I listened to the challenges colleagues face in their classrooms that we as faculty need our students to buy-in to our assignments. They must see the value in completing the work as a component of their personal success rather than simply checking a box. 


I’ve blogged before about the challenge of convincing students to engage with  assigned readings. Reality is that if students believe they can complete a course without reading the text, they will do so. My students are assigned various types of quizzes (Summative Chapter or Learning Curve) available with Achieve to prepare for class. While I can’t be certain that they have read every word of the chapter, I can generally see from their quiz grade whether the student has engaged even minimally with the material before coming to class. Having those quizzes combine to equal one exam grade gives some weight to the reading as well and undoubtedly increased the quality of class participation and discussion.


While many Macmillan Community members may already be familiar with the so-called TILT framework for creating course assignments, I am sharing the link this week because until this summer’s faculty seminar, TILT was a foreign concept to me. A research project originally begun at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, TILT provides a framework for transparency in student assignments. The web site linked in this blog provides an explanation of the framework as well as opportunities for faculty to participate in on-going research studies of student assignments. In our faculty seminar we shared assignments from previous semesters and made suggestions to each other, using the TILT concepts, for how our goals for SLOs could be better conveyed to students through our instructions. The experience was incredibly valuable! As you prepare for the semester ahead, TILT is just one more resource to consider adding to your academic tool box.


Tips for the new school year? Please share!


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About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.