Back in September, we hosted a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) talk by Mary Murphy (Psychological and Brain Sciences) on her work on stereotype threat and student success. That concept is based on the idea that students can struggle when they don’t feel like they belong—e.g., they are a first-generation college student, don’t see people like themselves in their classes or professions, or are told women cannot succeed in the sciences. Confronting and overcoming these stereotypes can lead to anxiety and reduced performance.
One of the challenges Murphy noted for students from underrepresented groups is their inexperience—both personal and familial—within higher education and/or particular disciplines. That can run from navigating our complex enrollment systems to understanding how assignments and course structures work. Struggling with these barriers not only takes away mental energy from learning, but it also impacts the sense of belonging that is important to student success and retention.
Following up on Murphy’s research, we are working to help IUB instructors reduce these barriers to student success by adding clarity to their assignments and course structures. Later this week, we are offering two workshops that seek to make our teaching more transparent and understandable to students.
The first event is “Designing Transparent Assignments that Promote Student Learning” (Thursday, 11/30, 10:00-11:30). This workshop introduces a model for creating more understandable assignment descriptions by establishing clear purpose, tasks, and criteria for success. This approach has been shown to have significant impact on students’ confidence, sense of belonging, and retention… all with minimal effort on the instructor’s part. If you join us in the workshop, you’ll leave with at least one rewritten assignment, ready to implement in your spring courses. If you want to learn more about the model, watch an interview with its creator, Mary-Ann Winkelmes (UNLV), in the Teaching.IU Great Conversations video series.
The second event, “Creating a Graphic Syllabus” (Friday, 12/1, 2:30-4:30), explores how to organize a syllabus to be more approachable by students. Because we know our topics well, we see the interconnections in a syllabus that tie a course together, but these documents can get long and disjointed, making it hard for students to see those broader connections between course concepts and assignments. This workshop will help you turn your syllabus into both a learning tool and an organizational tool, making the course clearer to students and likely reducing the amount of questions you receive.
Both of these approaches are relatively simple to implement, and they can go a long way to helping reduce the “cognitive overhead” that can be a barrier to student learning. While they have particular benefits for students from underrepresented groups, they are proven to increase the success of all students in our courses, making them an easy win all around.
We hope you can join us for one or both of these workshops, doing a little preparation for the spring semester that is just around the corner.