EDvice Exchange

EDvice Exchange is the Center for the Advancement of Teaching‘s blog. It serves instructors in the Temple community and other institutions of higher education. This resource provides effective, research-based teaching practices for your consideration and the comments forum will enable you to engage with CAT staff and other participants.

New websites or applications often become successful in part because their user interfaces need no explanation: A user can visit the website and use it for its intended purpose without needing much assistance. However, if that experience is difficult, it can lead to a lot of frustration, and the user might give up on what they were trying to do in the first place.


It is easy to forget that setting up a course on a learning management system (LMS) is essentially creating a website for students, and that is an important component of creating a student-centered learning experience. Research shows that student-centered teaching, in which an instructor seeks to understand the students and shape the learning experience based on their needs, leads to higher student performance. To that end, a well-structured LMS course designed with students in mind can help students stay on track of their tasks, engage with the course material, communicate with other students and the instructor, and receive timely, helpful feedback. However, an LMS course has just as much potential to hurt student performance as it does to help it. For example, if students need to spend more time trying to figure out where materials are located in the course or what their required tasks are for the week, it wastes precious time that they could otherwise be dedicating to learning. Additionally, instructors may need to devote a significant amount of time responding to frantic emails from students who do not know what to do.

 

I am rather inclined to silence – Abraham Lincoln

 

We take it for granted that our students can speak. They have successfully enrolled in an institution of higher learning and presumably have talked to a few people along the way. Some speak more and some less; some dazzle with their rhetoric; others lull you into a soporific daze as you wait for the pause and some need to be cajoled into a one-word answer as reluctant to speak as if they had been asked to turn over a treasure map or their puppy. But regardless of their proclivity, all speak. And so, we, as educators, ask them to speak and answer and we may include oral communication as a goal in our syllabus, or we might expect that students can articulate course concepts - but do we do anything to make that speaking productive? Are we the quintessential diplomat, knowing when to speak, when to listen, how to advance our goals – or are we mere messengers, transmitting, and hoping for reception?

 

As a language teacher, I am always maneuvering, steering and compelling speech. We know that there is difference between receptive proficiency (reading and listening) and productive proficiency (speaking and writing). I also know that when I speak, my students do not.  And thus, I can’t gauge their understanding, so I’m rather inclined to silence.

So, why try silence?  

If you teach at one of the many universities that are switching from one Learning Management System (LMS) to another or are simply pushing faculty to explore more fully what they can do with their LMS, you may be saying, “Why all the fuss?” Instructors do not need an LMS to be effective, so why bother with all of the work needed to get a good course site on the LMS up and running? Perhaps you see its usefulness as a repository of documents, but all of those other LMS features seem to be more trouble than they’re worth. Or, you see the necessity of an LMS for online courses, but you teach in a bricks-and-mortar environment, so the LMS is not crucial to the work you do with students. I get it. I’ve been teaching since the dawn of time (well, not exactly, but close) and I think I was a pretty great teacher without an LMS at my disposal. I led class discussions without a discussion board, assigned papers without a plagiarism detection tool, gave paper and pencil quizzes, and assigned group projects to students, fully expecting them to figure out how to collaborate outside of class on the project’s completion.

When I talk about my teaching, there are certain stories that I like to tell. One of my favorites is the story of two of my male students in Italian III who decided for their presentation to demonstrate how to make homemade pasta and sauce (with instructions narrated completely in Italian, of course) and then serve the completed dish to the class. By the time we had finished eating, they had received at least three offers of marriage from the women in the room. I also tell the story of the student in my Readings in Italian class who read 700+ page Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in Italian for her required free-reading when she could have chosen shorter, less complicated books. I would see her at all hours of the day with her nose in that book, just drinking in the sense of accomplishment she gained from reading it. On the other hand, I tell the story of the student who, after completing the written draft for his oral presentation, announced to me matter-of-factly that he would not be doing the actual presentation. He had done the math and figured out that he didn’t have to complete this assignment in order to pass. I was taken aback by his hubris, and his actions made me change my course policies to prevent this kind of shenanigans in the future.

Like many instructors, I’ve always included a plagiarism policy on my syllabus. For years, this was my approach to plagiarism prevention. When plagiarism detection software such as SafeAssign came along, I began to incorporate it into my assignments and often shared reports with students as a way to increase their awareness of plagiarism and hopefully further prevent it. However, not long after I began using this tool, an incident occurred that helped me realize this approach was lacking. A student submitted a 15-page final research paper, which SafeAssign identified as over 85% plagiarized. I had never experienced this extreme case of plagiarism. I was livid. After a review of the students’ plagiarism report, it was clear to me that large portions of text were copied from other sources and throughout the paper she had simply gone in and replaced individual words or portions of sentences.

I immediately called the student in for an individual meeting to discuss the paper. Together we looked at the report and I asked, “do you have any explanation for this?” The student did not. I continued to probe her, but it wasn’t until I used the term “plagiarism” that she exclaimed, “I was paraphrasing—that’s okay to do!” After we talked some more, I came to realize that this was her understanding of paraphrasing. She had always been told that paraphrasing was putting someone else’s ideas into her own words and that’s what she thought she had done. At that moment, I realized that I had had been shortsighted. While I had spent almost an entire class session reviewing MLA guidelines for in-text citations, references, and format, I had never explained the differences between paraphrasing, quoting, and plagiarism or provided examples of each. At that point, I helped the student rework a few sentences in her paper. Then, I asked her to rewrite the rest of it on her own and submit it back to me the following week.

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