Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Crafting a Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Contributed by: Marisella Rodriguez and Stacy Wittstock

Writing a statement of teaching philosophy is a difficult, yet manageable, task. The difficulty largely lies in one question; do I even have a teaching philosophy? Even if the answer is a resounding yes, how do I communicate my entire philosophy in less than two pages? Despite these barriers, Montell (2003) offers several tips to completing this (oftentimes) necessary component of a job packet. In this week’s GTC meeting, we discussed three main points from Montell (2003) and outlined a statement of teaching philosophy as a group.

The first tip Montell (2003) provides readers with is how to get started. Montell suggests avoiding the big “what” question (what is my philosophy?!) and starting with smaller, more feasible questions, such as, what do you believe about teaching and learning? For further reflection, consider your experience as a student: what worked or did not work for your learning? Working with the components of your teaching philosophy will help you effectively communicate your experiences in the classroom.

The second tip we discussed in last week’s meeting is to research the institution beforehand. Montell (2003) encourages applicants to research the institution’s mission statement and community values in order to highlight specific teaching skills that are particularly valuable to your audience. For example, an applicant may want to highlight lesson plans or activities implementing universal design for learning if the institution prioritizes classroom inclusivity. Therefore “if you’re applying to various types of institutions – evangelical colleges, community colleges, liberal-arts colleges, and state universities – you may need to write several different statements” (Montell 2003, 3).

The last tip we discussed, offered by Cynthia Petrites at the University of Chicago, is to “present a picture of yourself in the classroom” (Montell 2003, 6). This piece of advice, we concluded at the meeting, is perhaps the most difficult to achieve because it demands specific examples of our experience in the classroom. Moreover, the experience must include a clear description of our behavior as well as the students’ behavior. Montell (2003) repeatedly reminds the reader that teaching is about the students; therefore our statements must also include descriptions regarding student development and student responses to our work in the classroom.

To encourage the GTC group to think about our own statements, we completed a statement of teaching philosophy worksheet as a group (see image below). The worksheet disaggregates the statement to five elements: overarching theme, classroom objectives, classroom activities, examples of assessments, and personal growth. The activity helped us reflect on how we implement our classroom values, as well as consider specific instances in our teaching careers of when we were successful (or unsuccessful) in meeting our classroom objectives.


Montell, Gabriela. 2003. “How to Write a Statement of Teaching Philosophy.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 1-8.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The What, Why, and How of Academic Dishonesty

Contributed by: Johnny Campbell and Lisa Kresge

According to the Washington post, more than 75% of college students cheat in some way during their undergraduate careers. While this number may be surprising, there are important questions to ask regarding academic dishonesty, such as what exactly is it, why does it matter, and if anything, what should be done about it?

First, the general types of academic dishonesty include:
  • cheating on coursework, quizzes, or exams
  • fabrication and falsification,
  • coursework resubmission,
  • misuse of academic materials (sabotaging other students)
  • and complicity with others’ dishonesty.

Studies show that the causes and prevalence of academic dishonesty are vast. Several reasons for increased academic dishonesty are purported. To begin, the internet is known be linked to be widely linked to academic dishonesty. Some of the common online resource students use for cheating are:
  • Social networking and content sharing
  • Homework and academic support sites
  • News and other traditional media online
  • Paper mill and cheat sites
  • Online encyclopedias – i.e. Wikipedia

Although the internet is commonly used for cheating, many students do not actually know they are doing so.  In this regard, it is common that students do not have an awareness of what does constitute academic dishonesty. In addition to a lack of understanding, there are numerous student rationalizations, such as the fact that cheating is common and thus necessary to compete with other students. In addition, a sort of laissez-faire approach of professors, who do not consider it a problem or address it.

It is important to look at why students cheat. When asked why students cheat, some common responses include:
  • “The professor is too demanding and unreasonable; therefore, it is okay for me to make things easier on myself.
  • I have too many competing demands on myself, so I have to cut some corners in order to survive.
  • Everyone else is doing it, and I cannot let someone else gain advantage over me by having stricter standards of honesty.
  • No one would ever know, so what does it matter?”

If academic dishonesty is considered a problem, there are a number techniques that instructors and institutions may use, such as:
  • Deterrence - i.e. proctoring
  • Honor codes
  • Cheating detection – i.e. Turnitin.com
  • Increasing clarity in what constitutes dishonesty.
  • “to convey reasons to students why they should not cheat…greater dialogue on campuses (including workshops) may reduce the level of cheating somewhat, and make honest performance not just a matter of avoiding deterrence but also of internalized values” (Reifman, 2012).

An important question discuss is ‘why does academic integrity matter?’ According to the UC Regents, academic integrity matters because:
  • “The esteem of others”
  • “Self-confidence”
  • “Better skills”
  • “A more accurate sense of where your strengths and deficiencies lie”
  • “A Diploma that has value in the marketplace”
  • “But what is most important is the self-respect that comes from knowing you’re doing your part to create the kind of world that you want to live in: a world where people are honest and the playing field is fair”

An important consideration in this discussion is what instructors can do to prevent academic dishonesty by supporting students, rather instilling fear of consequences of cheating. The follow are a few examples of how students can supported and thus hopefully not need to resort to dishonesty.
  • Make expectations clear for students so they are not overwhelmed or surprised by coursework.
  • Be available, accommodating and encouraging with regard to office hours
  • Inform students of where to find academic support such as study skills workshops and tutors
  • Make sure students know about the disability resources department on campus

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How to Write Effective Multiple Choice Test Questions

Contributed by: M. Rossi

This week we welcomed Barbara Mills from the Center for Education Effectiveness. She facilitated a workshop on “How to Write Effective Multiple Choice Test Questions.” The initial implication is that questions CAN be poorly written. With question validity in mind, there are some common things to consider when crafting effective questions – those questions that truly measure what they are intended to measure.

Test questions (and other assessments more broadly) should be linked to instruction and learning objectives. An ideal blueprint for test design will include questions that test understanding of learning objectives at multiple levels of thinking (i.e., Bloom’s Taxonomy). Attention should be given to both the “stem” of the question AND the “alternatives/distractors/responses.” Tips for designing question stems include removing barriers (i.e., idioms, grammatical errors, excessive reading), removing clues, and highlighting critical words (in caps, italics, or bold).

Barbara also suggests that alternatives be limited to three or four per question stem. When designing alternatives, consideration should be given so responses have similar lengths, parallel language, and are mutually exclusive.

Once tests are created, a critical step often missed is editing and piloting the test.

Finally, asking a colleague to look over the exam can assist with detecting any errors and with considering how much time will be required from students. Eliminating potential problems prior to administration helps to ensure that exams are useful and valid instruments for measuring student learning.

More information can be found through the Center for Educational Effectiveness and Barbara can be contacted at:

Barbara Mills
Testing Specialist
Phone: (530) 752-7995
Email: bjmills@ucdavis.edu

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Addressing Controversial Topics in the Classroom

Contributed by: Sean Arseo

Throughout the duration of the last president’s terms in office and most recent American election, the country has seemed more politicized and divided than ever. In turn, even the most seemingly mundane aspects of social and scientific life can take on a controversial character.  The many varied positions that any one person can hold on a given question and the force with which they might defend said position means that we as teachers must be prepared to facilitate (or divert from, if necessary) these controversial topics in our lecture halls and discussion classrooms. Today’s discussion centered upon developing a skillset to better prepare us to enter into these conversations.

The first part of understanding our role as facilitators requires us to develop our pedagogical outlook during these discussions. Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning provides three ideal typical approaches that any one instructor can take. Liberation pedagogy derives from Brazilian critical educational scholar Paolo Freire’s work, centering student’s critical development of their surroundings as the guiding point for discussions. A civic humanist approach centers instructors’ work as preparing students for future political engagement: the goal is to develop formal debating and argumentation skills while maintaining democratic decorum. Finally, instructors may view their role as academically detached in which they function as a neutral vessel through which objective facts flow. These three ideal types are not mutually exclusive, and in fact we may want to function as all three in any one given discussion.

Next we reviewed University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching guidelines for facilitating controversial discussions and participants offered ways in which they could modify the steps to better smooth the engagement. The steps are as followed:
  1. Identify a purpose of the discussion
  2. Develop ground rules, guidelines and expectations 
  3. Requiring students and instructors to develop individual compacts as working agreements holds everyone to certain agreed upon standards and helps to encourage “buy in” from all parties.
  4. Establish a “common basis for understanding”
  5. Require everyone to read a short passage to establish a common thread from to which students can refer back, and on which individuals can bring their own knowledge
  6. Maintain a focused and flowing framework
  7. Our role is to facilitate. While we may have skin in the game, we should be mindful that we have an added responsibility of keeping the discussion on track.
  8. Be inclusive
  9. Every person may not want to voice their position or opinion to a large room. Designating time for small group or pair-and-share may coax discussion from students reticent to speak.
  10. Actively facilitate
  11. Pay close attention to participants’ words and be prepared to reword their questions, correct misinformation, provide reading or content references, and any other problem that may arise.
Finally, one participant invoked Kenneth Burke’s parlor room metaphor to remind us that these discussions are but one in a long line of others that preceded and more that will follow. Here is that metaphor in full.

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.