Week 2: Response to What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

I appreciate the list from Ken Bain’s book.  Given my experience teaching community college writing online in a really diverse community here in Hawai’i, I think he hit the nail on the head.  The Canadian h.s. survey, however, included some suggestions and teaching practices that worry me a bit.  I understand the survey focused on adolescents who may need a different online experience than adults, but I question suggestions like — ie., be willing to allow as many resubmissions of work as students need and engage socially (to the extent where you may become a counselor, it seems to imply). This goes hand-in-hand with some comments in this MOOC that students need to know we’re available 24-7 online. Hmmm…

As a recovering workaholic (ha!), I’ve been talking lately with another dedicated writing teacher about how to make our jobs sustainable.  We’ve also been talking about how to make students more accountable for problem-solving, using the resources we provide (“Did you read the assigned sample essays and analyze them as we asked?”), and not blaming the instructor as a first reaction.  Comments made in this MOOC in the webinars and readings acknowledge that teaching online requires an enormous amount of time and personal investment.  That’s both wonderful and challenging.  But, I do think we need to train students to understand there is a balance… We are there to support them in a genuine, connected manner, but we also have to find ways to make this work sustainable.  For example, for me, this semester, it means I cannot read every draft of every paper my students write and allow repeated graded revisions. There are too many of them, too few hours in a day, week, semester.

I am reminded of readings I’ve encountered about the “milleniums” — this generation of students who have been described as highly distracted, multi-taskers who want things to be spoon-fed (ideally through multi-media), etc.  They want what they want –now! I don‘t agree with a lot of the negative descriptions, but the conversations that arise out of trying to define this generations’ qualities do make me question: How far do online instructors work within a culture of “give me what I need now”?  Can instructors really keep up and provide these students with the “quick hits” (quick responses, immediate feedback) that social media, etc., sets as the norm?  Just thinking…

Last thought:  In the community college setting where adjunct faculty are underpaid and where full-time faculty are saddled with committee work, etc., how do instructors commit to the level of involvement needed for a successful online class?  More and more, we’re asked to think about “engagement” as an answer to curing the horribly low graduation rates and swelling numbers of developmental students.  Cracking the code to “engagement” is hugely important, and I do agree that small efforts can have great benefits.  Ex: I’m try to show my personality, add humor, motivate with cool quotes and images, respond immediately to questions/concerns, grade work quickly, post announcements and reminders, use voice memos, pick up the phone to call struggling students, and generally cheer on students daily.  That’s all do-able. And, I love it actually.  I really do.  Compared to the 1.5 hours/2x/week that I get with my f2f students, I do enjoy the on-going rapport with my online students tremendously.

But, over- individualizing instruction or extending ourselves too far in an effort to engage students who come to online education without really understanding their role or without the necessary skills can drown us and make us feel like we’re bending over backwards in a setting that doesn’t necessarily support us.  (Examples:  A college allowing students to register and begin an online class 3 weeks into the semester.  Or, a student who wants feedback on every draft every step of the way and thinks nothing of messaging me 3-4 times a day. ) That’s a recipe for burnout.

  To an extent, the learners need to find it in themselves to show and do the work and take charge of their educational experience.  So, that brings me back to Ken Bain’s last point: “Understand your students’ ambitions.”   I’d add “Help your students define their own ambitions and help them seek the many resources that can assist them (not just you).

In What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain (2004) discusses some of the major ways that teachers can connect with students through the practices of effective teaching. Below is a list of suggestions to help you connect with your students.

  • Spend time online with students to nurture their learning.
  • Invest in your students by not fostering a feeling of power over them.
  • Have the attitude that, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”
  • Create an online environment where everyone can contribute and each contribution is unique.
  • Foster the feeling that teachers are fellow students and human beings struggling with mysteries of the universe.
  • Provide task praise (you did that well) and avoid person praise (you are so smart.)
  • Give students as much control as possible over their learning.
  • Provide lots of non-judgmental feedback.
  • Encourage collaboration and cooperation.
  • Provide many opportunities to revise and improve work.
  • Avoid language of demands and promises.
  • Make a promise to your students that you will try to help each one achieve as much as possible.
  • Understand your students’ ambitions.

7 thoughts on “Week 2: Response to What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

  1. I totally agree with what you write about doing our utmost (but definitely not 24/7) to support and encourage students to progress. And, like you, Dean, I feel there are limits to what we can/should be doing which students have to respect and usually don’t have a problem with. Respect works two-ways, I feel. I check forums once every 1-2 days during online phases (I teach blended learning EFL courses that last a semester), and if I can’t do this for some reason (holiday, conference, sick etc), then I tell my students. To date, this has never been a problem. I believe strongly in helping students to become autonomous learners, and encourage them to help each other out i.e. by reponding to each other’s forum queries for example about where course materials are, deadlines, language problems, etc. What I don’t like/want is when students become lazy and rather than thinking/looking, they send me an email – anyway, I only answers emails if the issue is very personal. Otherwise, I tell students to post on the Help forum where everyone else can see (and benefit from) their question – it also makes them think twice about asking redundant questions! Basically, it boils down to developing a sense of community, of us being in this together, of becoming a community of practice. And communicate, communicate, communicate 😊Enough for now!

  2. Excellent post – thoughtful and well written. You raise some really good points about just how realistic is the level of involvement required from instructors to teach an online course. I don’t know the answer, that’s for sure, but I do think that individualized learning experiences are the way of the future. Again, I don’t know what that means – in fact, I doubt there are very many people who can outline a realistic plan for that type of scenario. I would hope that there will be advances in online teaching tools – predictive modeling, perhaps – but you are right, as single human beings we are not infinitely scalable. We need technology to do the scalability for us.

    • Scalability! That’s an interesting term. When I ask other writing instructors how they manage the load, it’s like there’s an unspoken pact to agree to not openly speak about the “cutting of corners.” But, if you listen closely, you hear about things like cut-n-paste comments, not reading drafts, etc and other practices that diminish the students’ experiences. Cutting corners vs. finding sustainable ways to remain involved in meaningful ways — I’m interested on working on the latter rather than the former.

      • Love the term scalability in this context, Tanya, and like you, I’m also keen on finding sustainable ways to keep learners involved. I get students to peer review each other’s work using a rubric – I give them marks for doing this well, an added incentive (unfortunately?). And I also have some cut-and-paste comments at hand which I usually adapt slightly to make them more personal e.g. I add the student’s name etc, – this saves time and achieves the same results i.e. providing feedback. Let’s see if we can come up with some more ideas on being efficient and affective whilst not overburdening ourselves with work 😊

  3. I say get rid of grades period. You do the work until you get it right. Mediocre work in the real world will not get you very far. Grades just categorize people just like we do when we label people. Personally I try to stay away from categorizing and judging. It’s hard to make a conscious effort to practice non judgment. We need to learn through practice. Ok, it’s not going to happen. I’ll get back to reality.

    I think we need to re-think the way we teach. It’s not all about the teacher. For example, here is an article on teaching using a “peer-instruction” approach. Rather than teaching by telling, you teacher by questioning.http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/tomorrows-college/lectures/rethinking-teaching.html

    I believe good teachers are not afraid to take on the responsibility of trying new things and pushing the limit. Our future depends on it.

    Emily Hanford, in the article Inventing a New Kind of College, sums it up nicely,
    “The key to motivating students is to help them make connections between what they’re learning and what they already know and are interested in.”


    • Thanks, Greg, for these links. How I wish we could scrap grades!
      A lot of this peer-to-peer learning and teacher as co-investigator and facilitator and flipping classes, etc… It’s very much in line with what we do in a writing workshop atmosphere in English classes. It IS amazing, though, how certain constraints affect the learning and teaching, like classroom set-up, grading criteria set by the dept and college, textbooks chosen by the dept., lack of access to reliable technology, etc. The article about inventing the new college touches on things like classroom design, etc., that all matter. I find myself greatly affected by things out of my control (scheduling, technology access, classroom space, etc.) In a way, that’s why online teaching is fun — I’m constantly learning about new tools that can help me re-design the experience and encourage students to find their own motivation to work hard. There’s so much to learn about this.

  4. I hear you. Teaching and learning is an equal partnership and students need to be equally vested. Your list of tips is great in that it suggests we support and care for our students so that they take charge of their own learning and ambitions.

    Just like how you feel about not having enough time to give feedback to multiple drafts, I feel similarly in this MOOC being that there are hundreds of blog posts everyday. As a facilitator, I have to find a balance too. What is really great about this MOOC, though, is that I don’t need to read and comment on everything. The whole concept of a MOOC is to get people who are interested in this subject to come together, share, and interact with each other, so that they are engaging with each other and learning from each other, not just from the facilitators. We are just like any other person with our own opinions. The beauty of the MOOC is being able to see multiple perspectives, share our experiences and learn from each other, and to increase our own awareness and scope. That is what I am learning in this MOOC and it’s wonderful that I have so many wonderful people to learn from and share with. 🙂

    Similarly, in a class, if students engage with each other to peer review each other’s drafts, they can learn a lot from each others’ experiences, writing style, etc. Having the students use a rubric can help to focus what is important in the feedback they give to each other. Peer review also helps them to develop critical thinking skills while being able to get feedback to each student in their drafts so you, as a teacher, won’t have to be overloaded. I also think that having a rubric or something for students to self-assess their drafts before it gets feedback from peers or the teacher will help to get the drafts in good shape from the beginning so unnecessary time doesn’t have to be spent reviewing the drafts.

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