CTLT Dialogues

The Blog of the Center for Teaching & Learning with Technology

Maximizing Deep Learning – Classroom Techniques

Posted by Cathy Kelley on January 25, 2008

I am (almost) live blogging from the AAC&U conference and want to report on some of the wonderful sessions I am attending here. I attended a presentation yesterday by Barbara Millis, a noted expert in teaching strategies in higher education. Having participated in this session I can confirm that she is truly a master teacher. But she would argue that anybody can learn the techniques and tricks that she uses to help students stay engaged in her classes, and learn her course material (which is English Literature and Composition) as deeply as possible.

Dr. Millis demonstrated a few techniques that work in a variety of disciplines. For example, she asked how many of us are familiar with the Cross and Angelo book on classroom assessment techniques.1 She asked us to raise three fingers if we had an in-depth familiarity with the book, two fingers if we knew what it was and/or had skimmed it, and one finger if we had never heard of it before. She was able to look quickly around the class and determine at what level to “pitch” her presentation.

She also demonstrated an in-class brainstorming technique. We created groups of four or five, and answered this question – “What environmental factors affect how I will teach my class?” Then each group passed around a single piece of paper. Each group member QUICKLY said out loud the first answer that came into their mind, wrote it down, and passed it on to the next member. Our group identified twelve factors in about two minutes. (student preparation, nature of the discipline, number of students in the course, student interest, student motivation, expectations of administration, available technology, number of hours in classroom, diversity of student group, physical design of the classroom, mode of delivery, and texts & resources available. And I was NOT the person who mentioned technology! The Provost of Adelphi University, who was seated next to me, mentioned technology and mode of delivery!) Then the entire “class” reported back – simply by raising hands and/or shouting out responses. This technique was very engaging to the group and stimulated some excellent discussion.

She also described techniques that can be used to ensure that students complete homework. For example, a very quick assessment at the beginning of class identifies who has and has not done the homework. Then the students who HAVE done the homework are paired off to do an exercise that relies upon having completed the homework. Those who have not are sent to the back of the room to work quietly on their own. Her point is that they are still doing work, so are not unfairly penalized (e.g. by being thrown out of class). However there is a subtle social pressure to be one of the “cool kids” who gets to work in the more interesting paired activity.

You can find more resources at the website for Dr. Millis’s group at the University of Nevada at Reno – http://teaching.unr.edu/etp/ . If you click on the link for “workshops” you will find a number of recorded workshops that may be of interest to many of you. You may also want to check out Dr. Millis’s classic book, The Course Syllabus, due to be re-released in March of this year. (she did not mention this book during her talk. I found it via an Amazon search.)

1 Angelo, T.A. & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (This is a classic text and if you aren’t familiar with it, you should be. We don’t have it at our library but it is available at the College of St. Elizabeth’s library.)


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