Two faculty from the University of North Georgia (UNG) participated in the selective 2016-2017 cohort of the Governor’s Teaching Fellows (GTF) Program, a statewide initiative advancing instructional excellence in Georgia’s colleges and universities. Michallene McDaniel, Associate Professor of Sociology, is part of the 2016-2017 cohort, and David Smith, Associate Professor of Media Studies, completed the summer 2016 program.
“Although I have been in teaching for almost 20 years, I believe there is always something new to learn about this profession,” said McDaniel. “I view my participation in the Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program as an opportunity to brush up on changes in technology that benefit teaching, and to become familiar with the latest findings on effective teaching methods that lead to better student learning.”
Established in 1995 by Zell Miller, governor of Georgia (1991-1999), GTF provides Georgia’s higher education faculty with expanded opportunities for in-depth study of research-based pedagogies. The program is offered through the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia (UGA). More than 75 different disciplines, professions, and teaching areas have been represented, and they have come from over 45 institutions statewide: large and small, public and private, everywhere from the northern mountains to the Florida state line and between the Atlantic coast and the Alabama border. To date, 32 Fellows have represented UNG in the GTF Program.
“I was introduced to new ideas and tools like Nearpod, which I found to be interesting and helpful. Throughout this semester during my Film Appreciation courses, I will be putting into practice the ideas I developed during GTF,” Smith said.
According to the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education’s website, a candidate’s selection is based upon “the basis of their teaching experience, their interest in continuing instructional and professional development, their ability to make positive impact on their own campus, and a strong commitment by their home institution.”
“I consider myself to be very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in GTF this academic year, and lucky to work at an institution and for a department that supports professional development opportunities for educators,” said McDaniel.
Other recent UNG fellows in the program have been Rosaria Meek, Assistant Professor of Spanish; Laura Ng, Associate Profesor of English; and, Jennifer Graff, Associate Department Head and Assistant Professor of Visual Arts.
Applications for the UNG GTF 2017 Summer Symposia and 2017-2018 Academic Year Symposia is now open. For more information, please visit the CTLL GTF webpage.
This article is the fifth part of a series by UNG Libraries covering some of the newest and most exciting additions to our GALILEO Database collections. Please note: login required for off-campus access to some links.
The Compendium of Renaissance Drama (CORD)
UNG Libraries is proud to announce the launch of a new open access database created and edited by Dr. Brian Jay Corrigan, a Professor of Renaissance Literature at UNG. The database, the Compendium of Renaissance Drama (CORD) contains over five-million words and covers four complete dictionaries (including a complete Character Prosopography and Topographical Dictionary featuring every place mentioned in the period drama), actor lists, playhouses, timelines, images, interactive animations, and complete synoptic treatments of every extant play written for performance on the English stage between 1485 and 1642.
CORD in the classroom
CORD allows an interactive experience for users both in and out of the classroom. Instructors can walk a class through many aspects of Renaissance plays within the database. Each play has a link to the full text version, notes about revised versions of the play, a brief biography of playwright, character synopses, and information about the companies performing the plays and the playhouse where it was performed. The character prosopography lists and describes nearly every character who appeared on the English stage. For characters who appeared in several plays, the prosopography describes each of their incarnations.
The compendium moves beyond the plays themselves to examine historical context, locations, and connects the history with modern day London. Instructors can walk students through timelines that show what was happening in London at of the play including changes in the British monarchy and periods of plague. One of the most fascinating aspects of the database is the interactive maps. CORD highlights the locations of playhouses in London using a series of maps that show the shift in playhouses based on the years. An interactive version of Agas Map from the mid-16th century shows the location of each playhouse with links to individual listings of each playhouse. The individual pages contain information on the playhouse, sketches or photographs of the playhouse, and, in some cases, a photograph of the location in modern London.
The image section of the database contains views of London then and now, as well as presentations on related topics. To give users the complete experience, the “Learn the Distances between Theatres during the Renaissance” shows a marked map and lists the number of miles between theatres, the amount of time it takes to walk the distance, and the number of strides taken. This portion also contains photographs of Renaissance landmarks in current day London.
The Compendium of Renaissance Drama is a vast and detailed resource for British drama between 1485 and 1642. The interactive compendium is accessible for students and researchers at every stage of their educational journey.
This article is the fourth part of a series by UNG Libraries covering some of the newest and most exciting additions to our GALILEO Database collections. A new post will appear on the last Monday of every month of Academic year 2015-2016. Please note: login required for off-campus access to some links.
Information created by the United States federal government seems appealingly useful because it is authoritative and much of it seems reliable; finding the government information you need, however, isn’t always easy. Sure, you can do a Google search or you can search USA.gov (the official web portal of the United States government), but you may have to sift through many – even hundreds of thousands – of results to find a particular document or information resource. Even after you’ve drilled through all the results, you still may come up empty-handed. Fortunately, there are some governmental databases that are especially useful for locating U.S. government information.
Catalog of U.S. Government Publications
One of the most user-friendly federal government databases is the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP). Sponsored by the Government Publishing Office (GPO), the CGP creates records of print and digitized government information that is distributed through the Federal Depository Library Program. Users can choose from basic, advanced, and expert search options—although most people start with the basic search and type one or two keywords in the search box. Recent government publications are often fully digitized and the CGP provides links that will connect the user to digitized information resources.(figure 1)
In addition to the CGP, the Government Publishing Office created MetaLib, a search engine that searches over 60 governmental resources. MetaLib allow users to select and search up to ten databases at once. These include “catalogs, reference databases, digital repositories or subject-based Web gateways.” Once the results are generated, then the search can be narrowed by clicking on one of the facets (e.g. topics, dates, authors, etc.) on the right side of the search results page (see figure 2 below). People accustomed to getting search results at the speed of a Google search may become frustrated using MetaLib. Users may have to perform multiple searches to locate the desired information resources and that can get to be a bit tedious. As is true with all database searches–the better your search terms, the better your results.
Federal Digital System (FDsys)
Another tool from the Government Publishing Office is the Federal Digital System, or FDsys. The emphasis of FDsys is on “authentic government information.” Because digital text and images can be manipulated, it isn’t always easy to determine if the information presented is both original and legitimate. FDsys provides authentic, verified, and digitally signed PDF documents that mitigate those concerns. In addition, the GPO guarantees “permanent public access to all FDsys resources.” FDsys include around 50 collections from the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Federal Government.
Google: Effective .gov Searches
The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications, MetaLib, and FDsys are important tools for discovering government information. These tools work well for researchers and advanced students. But some students are going perform a Google search, almost by instinct. For these students – and anyone else seeking government information – there’s a way to search Google more effectively. One can limit the domains that Google searches by typing the word site followed by a colon and then dot gov. (In other words, type: site:.gov,) followed by your specific search terms. Google will only search website with a .gov domain (see figure 3).
These searches will also pull in government information authored by the state legislatures, departments, agencies, and so on. If you want to limit your search to just information from Georgia state governmental and regulatory bodies, simply type site:.ga.gov followed by your search terms (see figure 4).
If you have any questions about finding government information, please ask the UNG librarians. We’d love to help you.
Too often, we look at diversity with a superficial mindset or view it as a panacea. We talk of “tolerance” and think that we have contributed meaningfully to a conversation, yet we do not act. Tolerance is not enough – it is too passive. The word itself implies distaste for something, yet not a strong enough emotion to take action. We must move to a culture of accepting, embracing, and empowering our students and each other. I want to take a moment to ask you to reflect on who you are and how you reached this point in your lives. Did you have assistance? Was your achievement based solely on your individual talents and aspirations? I challenge you to think critically about these questions and reflect for a moment on what a diverse environment is to you.
Critically analyze how you have benefited from your position in society, or conversely, how you have experienced minoritization within society. To experience the benefits of the privileged group, you do not have to be actively oppressing another element of society; this distinction is important to remember. That is the tricky thing about power and privilege – you benefit because they exist, not because you actively engage in detrimental behaviors towards others. As a woman of Caucasian background and middle class upbringing, I am in both the dominant group (middle class and Caucasian) as well as the minoritized groups (female). Many of us will find that we have overlapping roles (intersectionality) where we enjoy some benefits of privilege while also experiencing some of the effects of oppression. For an interesting perspective on privilege to share with students (and to examine for yourself), watch this video by BuzzFeed Yellow. (also linked here.)
Power as Privilege
Why focus on power and privilege, rather than race, ethnicity or religion, the excellent sub categories that seem to have devoured television news as of late? Because decisions are made by those who hold power, those who are privileged. These power groups are the gatekeepers of our society. They determine the opportunities that arise through industry, curriculum in P-12 schools, and even the type and quality of healthcare to which we have access. Power and privilege are the forces that drive our experiences within the larger society. The PBS Newshour clip, linked here, demonstrates just how easy it is to fall into a mindset of priviledge. The clip is alarming in many ways, but primarliy how easily the “privileged” group changed. Just because we do not perpetuate acts of racism or oppression, does not mean that we do not benefit from systemic and institutional mechanisms that govern the behaviors and attitudes of our society. We cannot rest, thinking that because we do not spread hate, we have no action to take or responsibility to bear. We, as a society, must engage in a dialogue that deconstructs what we think we know and reframes concepts of equality and equity.
Equality, the state of being equal – especially in rights, status and opportunities — would be the ideal state of a culture, in that all members of the society have the same opportunity. Equity, the quality of being fair and impartial, is simply an extension of the concept, whereby all members of the society have access to an equal opportunity.
Ultimately, we must help our students understand what it means to live and work in a diverse society. We must provide opportunities for them, through the curriculum to build on their experience base and learn to navigate a world that is wonderfully rich and brimming with colors, flavors and ideas that may be different than their own. In my own classes I require students to spend 10 hours in a setting that is dynamically different than their own cultural background. Students must keep field notes (this also reinforces research practices) related to their experience and file their field notes with me. Students must spread their hours over a minimum of three visits. This is orchestrated to provide multiple views into the same setting, as well as give the students the opportunity to interact with participants. Experiences can include religious services (the Baptist to Methodist conversion doesn’t count – it must be DYNAMICALLY different), service opportunities that benefit the homeless or less fortunate, elder care settings, ethnically diverse settings like the Chinese Cultural Center in Atlanta, etc. The options are endless and all experiences are guaranteed to engage and enlighten. You are not going to convert someone that refuses to be enlightened, but you are going to give them the ability to learn to interact with others in a respectful way and to reflect on the experience with a critical, and more informed, eye. You may even impart the lesson that we are all more similar than we are different. Ultimately, the goal of this activity is to teach students respect for self and others, not to create activists.
Gatekeepers of the Future
We as a college community have a rare opportunity to chart our own course, determine the values that we want to exhibit, and embrace all students who share their time and talents with us: to create a community of acceptance. We are the gatekeepers to our future world. I encourage you to empower your students to value this by teaching them what it means to be caring, empathetic humans who are also successful professionals – educate the whole student. Teach them to be scholars, to be critical thinkers who have the ability to use our lessons and interactions as the building blocks to a better world. Model for them what it means to be educators who are inclusive of all backgrounds and persuasions in your classes. I challenge you to explore your own biases (everyone has them, and it is normal) and work to mitigate them. We have the ability to transform our campus community and contribute to the communities that surround each of our campuses in a very significant way. Promote acceptance, as tolerance is the way of the past.
This article is the third part of a series by UNG Libraries covering some of the newest and most exciting additions to our GALILEO Database collections. A new post will appear on the last Monday of every month of Academic year 2015-2016. Please note: login required for off-campus access to some links
Pictorial Quilt; Harriet Powers (1837-1910); United States; 1895-98; Textiles: Cotton plain weave, pieced, appliqued, embroidered, and quilted; 175 x 266.7 cm (68 7/8 x 105 in.) This image was provided by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All rights reserved. (see footnote)
“One picture is worth ten thousand words.
~ Chinese proverb
Images are powerful communication tools and the UNG Libraries subscribe to a fabulous collection, Artstor Digital Library. Artstor Digital Library shares almost 2 million images in the arts, architecture, humanities, and sciences from museums, photo archives, photographers, scholars, and artists for teaching and educational use. Any UNG student, faculty, or staff member can immediately start searching and using images through the Libraries’ link to Artstor on campus. You can also opt to create an account to save and organize images into collections and write personal annotations. Faculty and staff may also request “instructor privileges” that allow additional folder rights and the ability to upload your personal images (Login, click My Profile, then click Instructor Privileges tab). The tools within Artstor allow you to easily export images directly into PowerPoint or use their offline presentation tool (OIV) to zoom in to see minute details of a work for presentations.
Apples; Thomas Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910); United States; 1867; Oil on canvas; 38.73 x 30.8 cm (15 1/4 x 12 1/8 in.) This image was provided by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All rights reserved. (see footnote).
Looking for ideas on how to integrate images in your teaching? This collection is more than “fine art” to be used to teach Art History. Check out Artstor’s case studies and curriculum guides! You can find them at the Teaching Resourceslink under the Browse section in the Digital Library homepage. (If you’re visiting Artstor on your phone or tablet, you’ll find the case studies under Global Folders.) Artstor’s curriculum guides are broken down into topics or themes, each composed of approximately ten images that illustrate or support the subject. Artstor’s case studies describe the innovative ways subscribers in a variety of disciplines are using the Artstor Digital Library in their teaching, research, and scholarship.
Looking for images for your own publications? Select images in Artstor are part of the Images for Academic Publishing (IAP) program. Initiated by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007 to help address the challenges of scholarly publishing in the digital age by providing free images for academic publications through an automated Web-based service, the Images for Academic Publishing (IAP) program makes available publication-quality images for use in scholarly publications free of charge. All IAP contributors are Artstor image contributors and you can use Artstor to search for IAP eligible images.
Login to Artstor with your username and password
Use the Keyword Search and add IAP to your search criteria.
Click (the IAP icon) to download a high resolution file for publication. A new window will open explaining the process. If you are eligible for the program, click Proceed. In the next window, click Download.
In the next window, review the IAP Terms and Conditions of Use. You may also print this window for reference with the print link at the end of the document. Check the box indicating that you have read and accept these terms before clicking Continue.
Provide the information requested in the space provided. Click Download.
Two windows will open. One warns this download will take some time. The other shows your computer’s directory, where you can choose a place to save this file and continue to download as usual.
Scholar Viewing a Waterfall; Guanpu tu; Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279); late 12th-early 13th century; Album leaf; ink and color on silk This image was provided by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved. (see footnote)
Want to learn more about Artstor? Artstor offers a webinar series that cover both the general usage and Artstor tools as well as subject specific sessions such as “More than Just Art: Image of Psychology” and “The Do’s and Don’ts of Image Copyright and Image Use”. Also, their support center has a wealth of learning aids in a variety of formats for just in time learning.
*All images provided are available for uses permitted under the ARTstor Terms and Conditions of Use, such as teaching and study, as well as for scholarly publications, through the Images for Academic Publishing (IAP) initiative. Please review the IAP Terms and Conditions of Use.
In 2013, the English Learning Support department at UNG was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of the “Adaptive Learning Market Acceleration Program” (ALMAP) grant, several learning support English professors – myself, Ashley Armour, Kelly Dahlin, Dr. Shannon Gilstrap, and Dr. Matthew Horton – took on the task of incorporating adaptive technologies into our courses. We decided to use the McGraw-Hill LearnSmart program, which uses an algorithm to constantly update each student’s learning challenges and successes in order to offer a so-called “personal learning plan.” For three semesters, we incorporated the technology into our pedagogy and into our assessments, and, for three semesters, we gathered data on the students. Were they successful in completing the “learning plan”? How did their work with the technology affect their success in the course? How did using the technology impact our teaching?
The answer, right now, is that the verdict is still out, at least empirically speaking. We do see some correlation between course completion rates and learning plan completion, but we’ll need to look a bit closer to determine whether it’s causative or simply correlative, as the plans were also a percentage of the course grade. We did decide, nearly unanimously, that the program gave us room; we had more space in our classroom lessons to address more holistic issues, such as paragraphing, organization, and critical thinking. We spent less time lecturing about grammar, and we spent more time teaching, and practicing, revision and editing strategies. In other words: we could workshop student papers. Students could collaborate in peer review sessions, feeling more confident about their foundational knowledge.
It was this pedagogical freedom that we focused on in our poster presentation at the Teachning Professor Technology Conference in New Orleans. Our eposter, “Space to Teach: Adaptive Technology in the Developmental English Classroom” (watch it here) drew a bit of attention, as we fancied it up with a Google Slides presentation. The most interesting conversation was with a faculty member from a large university. She was not only skeptical of the technology; she simply refused to believe that we had time to “workshop” and to “work with students” in a writing classroom. We insisted that, as long as the instructor scaffolds the lesson appropriately, with specific tasks and expectations, peer reviewing and student-teaching interaction can work quite well in our courses. Despite our clear experience with this format, the faculty member remained doubtful, and she walked away with a firm shake of her head and a dismissive comment, “I don’t believe that’s possible, what you’re saying. There’s no way to work with individual students to that degree.”
For us, her doubt was suprising, since our student-centered pedagogy has served us so well for so long. We weren’t, however, bothered overmuch by her disregard of our approach. In fact, the exchange reaffirmed the unique beauty of what we’ve been able to accomplish with a focus on teaching and learning at UNG. The adaptive technology, for us, simply allows us more space to do what we want: teach every student how to communicate effectively and confidently, in any context.
This article is the second part of a series by UNG Libraries covering some of the newest and most exciting additions to our GALILEO Database collections. A new post will appear on the last Monday of every month of Academic year 2015-2016. Please note: login required for off-campus access to some links.
The ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times™ database offers researchers full coverage of the New York Times from 1851 to the recent past*. This invaluable resource provides a record of over 160 years of significant historical events. It also gives students and researchers a glimpse into changing social perspectives and values over the decades.
Teaching with this Database
The ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times™(listed in GALILEO as: Historical New York Times (via ProQuest)) database is a fantastic resource for primary sources in history. In addition to articles by staff writers, this database includes documents like satirical cartoons, letters to the editor, classifieds, and advertisements. History classes could read feature articles about significant historical events, then look at related cartoons, editorials, and letters to the editor to examine the social response to the historical event.
Sociology classes might use ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times™ to compare current and historical attitudes toward groups of people. For example, this 1904 classified ad page features job applicants openly discussing their own religion, ethnicity, physical appearance, and disabilities. This could spark a class discussion about whether these attributes are a factor in modern-day employment.
Political science classes might use this database to examine the evolution of current hot-button political topics. The immigration debate didn’t originate with the 2016 Presidential election, after all! Students can search for “immigration” or “immigrant” within an assigned decade, then compare and contrast the issues discussed in historical articles versus current articles.
In the field of journalismand media studies, students might analyze how newspaper layouts have changed over the course of time. The “Browse this issue” feature shows an entire original page at a glance, including advertisements and images, and allows navigation to other pages within the issue. This retains all the original context and allows users to experience the newspaper much as the original reader would have.
Searching and Navigating
Like many databases, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times™ can search through articles’ full text by keyword and narrow by publication date. Search refinements allow users to search for terms specifically within articles’ title, author, dateline, section, and more. Users can also search for a term anywhere outside of the article full text, which is helpful for common terms that appear frequently in irrelevant articles.
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times™ can also search according to document type. Since this database offers full coverage, search results cover far more than just feature stories. Users can search for specific item types like advertisements, birth notices, classified ads, real estate transactions, obituaries, fire losses, soldier lists, and many more.
Some item types, including advertisements and comics, lack descriptive labels that would allow users to search for specific topics. Instead of keywords, you can select “advertisement” as the document type, select a date range of interest, and leave the keyword search box empty. This will bring back all advertisements from the specified date range.
Users can browse entire issues and experience them in their original layout. If you’re already reading an item in this database, click “Browse this issue” at the top or at the right of your page. If you’re starting from the Advanced Search page, click “Publications” and navigate to your desired issue based on its publication date.
For more tips on searching within this database, see this guide from ProQuest.
Expanding Beyond ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times™
This article is the first part of a series by UNG Libraries covering some of the newest and most exciting additions to our GALILEO Database collections. A new post will appear on the last Monday of every month of Academic year 2015-2016.
A comprehensive and multi-faceted history database, History Reference Center® is an essential student resource for historical research with full-text journals, reference tools, and primary resources, all in one search.
History Reference Center® offers the full text of more than 2000 reference books, encyclopedias and non-fiction books from leading history publishers, and includes full text for articles from more than 150 leading history journals and periodicals combined with thousands of primary research documents.
Excellent as a “first stop” research tool for most topics in history, History Reference Center® results display basic overview sources alongside the texts of research documents. The Browse by Topic feature lets students browse, refine and explore selected topics in either U.S. History or World History. For many topics, the database includes related videos and images: over 80 hours of historical videos and 40,000 historical maps and images.
Using History Reference Center® in the Classroom
Like other EBSCO databases, History Reference Center® offers all the basic features of an EBSCO resource including emailing, printing, citing, or saving, but there are still other features which help students explore and use content.
For instance, students may create a personal My EBSCOhost account which allows them to create customized folders to which they may permanently save their search results. EBSCO’s folder feature allows students to collect results from different searches, store them in the session folder, and manage the folder contents — printing, emailing, or saving them. Folders created in one EBSCO database are visible in all EBSCO databases and remain accessible to the user indefinitely.
Additionally, the “shared folder” feature in the History Reference Center® database allows students and instructors to create and share their custom folders with others. Shared folders make it is easy for students to share materials within the database for classroom projects and support the collaborative process as students work together in groups to search, review and save journal articles, reference materials and primary resources. For more about using folders for any of the EBSCO databases, select the Help link at the top of the page of the database and search for “folders”.
As it has for many of its databases, EBSCO has created and offers to users a student “Scavenger Hunt” activity for the History Reference Center®. By using the “Scavenger Hunt” for History Reference Center® instructors help their students become familiar with the topics and content covered in the database, explore database features and create effective search strategies.
Creating Search Alerts
Instructors can keep the most up-to-date materials and resources for their classes handy by setting up an EBSCO search alert in the History Reference Center® database. Search alerts locate relevant materials based on a prescribed topic without having to craft the search string over and over again. Once instructors set up a search alert, they will receive automatic notification by email whenever new search results become available. Instructors can also retrieve those alerts and search immediately, instead of waiting for the alert to run. In the same way search alerts work, journal alerts can be set up to provide automatic email notifications whenever a new issue of a particular journal becomes available in the EBSCO database. For more information about setting up journal or search alerts for any of the EBSCO databases, select the Help link at the top of the page of the database and search for “search alerts”.
For more information about History Reference Center® or any of the EBSCO databases in UNG Libraries’ collection, please call us at Gainesville, x3915, Dahlonega, x1889, Oconee, x6238, or Cumming x3840, or email UNG Libraries at email@example.com. Students — and faculty — may also find the “Ask a Librarian” chat window on the UNG Libraries home page a useful tool for assistance finding resources and working through searches.
As an instructor, my philosophy has always been to treat college students as adults. This philosophy generated from both my own experiences as a student and also the fact that additional freedom and responsibility will help students develop the habits they need to be successful during their academic and professional careers. As a USG colleague states in his class introduction, shared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “…nor will I penalize you for being late to class once in a while, or even being absent… Unlike some of your other professors, I will not withdraw you from the class for excessive absences. If you want to withdraw, you’ll have to do it yourself before the deadline. Otherwise, if you simply stop coming, you’ll wind up with an F in the course.” This truly seems like the best way to manage a course and interact with our students who are – or should certainly aspire to be – adult learners.
As an economist, nevertheless, I must also acknowledge the importance of incentives, a core principle in any introductory economics class. Incentives effectively have an impact on every aspect of human activity ranging from the habits of bus drivers in Chile to birth rates in Estonia. The popular booksFreakonomics and Superfreakonomics, and the New York Times Freakonomics column featured entertaining analyses of the application and misapplication of incentives to a diverse range of topics including education, sumo wrestling, drug dealing, and the operation of day care centers.
As such, I face the philosophical dilemma of balancing my own instincts as an instructor with the importance of incentives central to my discipline. Along the same lines, this internal debate may well be rendered mute bythe specific requirements and goals of the University System of Georgia‘s Complete College Georgia program. In particular, this program calls for an increase in the number of undergraduate degrees awarded by USG institutions and an increase in the number of degrees that are earned “on time.” Given these prescriptions, faculty at USG institutions have little choice but to take any reasonable action possible to promote student learning, including the use of incentives wherever and whenever possible and prudent.
It is in this light that I made a major change in one of my important classroom policies. I previously created a total of 27 interactive problem sets for critical topics in macroeconomics and macroeconomics. These problem sets featured graphs, formulas, equations, and – most importantly – feedback on the specific solutions for all questions. Based on the instincts that I mentioned above, the problem sets were completely optional;completing these assessments had no direct impact on a student’s grade. Given that these problem sets were accessible to students in WebCT and later in D2L for zero cost, we might assume that the majority of students who are adult learners would take advantage of these resources which would so clearly help them better prepare for ECON tests and exams.
We would be wrong.
When these problem sets were optional, only 62% of my students completed them and the average score on each assessment was 33%. In an effort to promote success through incentives, I changed my policy making these assessments required with an initial minimum score of at least 25% on each assessment. This relatively low requirement was a compromise of sorts. The requirement would create an incentive but allow students to engage in these activities without undue anxiety. As a result of the requirement, the completion percentage increased substantially to 92% and the average score increased to 63%. These results were quite encouraging. My ultimate goal, however, was to improve student learning, with the gauge being students’ final exam scores. In that area, this experiment was not successful. The impact of the change from “optional” to “required” was not statistically significant.
Yet I was able to draw some conclusions on incentives. The analysis of the results did indicate that those students with scores over 50% on the problems sets did have significantly higher success rates in the course as measured by their final exam scores. While there is an issue of differentiating causation from correlation within these results, the significant relationship between success rates on the problem sets and success in the course as a whole at least suggests the potential for a benefit to students of incentivized participation, provided that the incentives and requirements offer sufficient rigor. Much in the same way that a lack of incentives can lead to less than optimal results, incentives based on standards that are too undemanding may not provide true challenges for our students and therefore not provide true opportunities for growth and success.
In my seven years of tutoring STEM courses, I have witnessed every type of student imaginable – the smart, the go-getter, the “do enough to get by,” the last-minute, the “I just want answers,” and the downright lazy. The one thing these students have in common is that they all realize, sometimes a little too late, they need extra academic help, and that’s when the Tutoring Services (TS) staff members put on their superhero thinking cap(e)s, swoop in with their pens and pencils, and save them (well, most of them) from drowning in a sea of F’s, D’s, and WF’s. Realistically speaking, given the high tutor-to-student ratio, one can only imagine that there are academic casualties in this line of work. The casualties are usually those students who lack the determination to seek tutoring help, those who wait until the hours before an exam to request a lesson in weeks worth of material, and others who just simply choose not do the work. This landscape of motivational challenges is the honest reality that my tutoring heroes and I have come — however uncomfortably — to accept.
For many of our students, even the “downright lazy” and the “I just want answers,” if they come in early enough to get help and we can identify into which of those groups they fall, we can usually help them improve their scores. Sometimes, this improvement reaches as high as a full letter grade. How early ,then, should a student come in for help in order to fully benefit from the sessions? In the Spring semester of 2014, the Gainesville Campus (GC) tutoring staff collected first and second test grades from a number of GC math sections and cross-referenced them with the data obtained from the login computers in the tutoring labs. The results of the research showed many differences between the two groups across all math sections: Lab students and non-Lab students. Lab students are those who showed up for tutoring help, and non-Lab students are those did not. Let’s look at the results for the first and second Math1111 (College Algebra) test grades for the two groups (figure 1).
Figure 1: Test 1 and Test 2 grades for Spring14. Sample size (N) = 244 for Test 1 and 214 for Test 2.
According to the results, the Lab students scored higher than the non-Lab students on both tests – an average of a 6.9-point difference on the first test and a 10.8-point difference on the second test. In addition, the Lab students had a 5.7-point improvement (76.2 to 81.9) between the first and second tests, while the non-Lab students scored only a 1.8-point improvement (69.3 to 71.1). Obviously, one reasonable explanation for the grade improvements in both groups after the first test might include a realization on the students’ parts that they needed to study more for the second test. The Lab students, however, improved their grades significantly more than the non-Lab students.
What could account for this major improvement in this group? One observation that I have made during my time working in the labs is that, once a student gets the courage to seek tutoring help and has a positive experience with it, s/he is more likely to return. My staff and I make a concerted effort at the beginning of each semester to explain to all new lab students the importance of staying on top of their math assignments and the vital importance of seeking help early. The sooner a student comes in and seeks tutoring help, the more likely s/he is going to improve his/her grade. Of course, we would like for students to come in as soon as the semester starts, but that is not a realistic expectation for our wide range of students. Based on the results of our small study, we should intervene as soon as the first tests are given and graded in order to obtain favorable grade improvement outcomes and decrease the D/W/F rate in Math1111. The findings call for an intervention program to be put in place to help our students, and future discussions regarding such a program need to take place between departments and administrators.
Along the spectrum of student types, the last-minute and the “I just want answers” are the students who contribute most to the D/W/F rates, and they are the most interesting. They often come in just hours before a scheduled test and expect undivided attention and one-on-one tutoring. They seem to want tutors to use magic USB cables that transfer information from tutor brains to theirs. Or, at the very least, they expect to quickly input the information for quicky output on a single test, rather than understanding that true, deep learning comes from the scaffolded and practical instruction in the classroom. My tutors are patient with these students, encouraging them to make more frequent and early visits to the labs for tutoring help for the next test. Some of the students seem to change their ways, but most do not show up for help until, one again, just hours before their tests. Tutoring sessions with these students are usually ineffective, and, for the student, quite frustrating. My tutors understand that explaining the purposes and strategies of tutoring and of learning is a crucial component of the their interactions with all students; if the students can grasp how and why they’re learning the material, they may be more likely to seek assistance in their areas of struggle.
In addition to being tutors, TS staff members also serve as counselors and advisors. Over a period of weeks of obtaining tutoring help, many students often become more comfortable around specific tutors, and they begin to create preferences. Building a great rapport between students and tutors through sharing personal math experiences is fundamental in Lab-student retention. I believe that my tutoring staff is incredibly attentive to each student’s needs and learning style. The tutors do really care about how much the tutees actually get out of the tutoring sessions. As a tutor, it is an amazingly satisfying feeling when a student returns and tells you that s/he did well on a test because you had helped him/her to prepare. Moments like that are what make a tutoring job unbelievably fulfilling.