Welcome to our continuing series of conversations with Rutgers Camden faculty on teaching and learning. This month, TMAC sat down with James Genone, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, to discuss the value of taking the pulse of student learning mid-semester.
James: In the past, students in my classes would report that they didn’t know where they stood with respect to participation and overall performance. Initially, I responded by giving mid-semester participation grades, but some claimed they didn’t understand why grades were low, even though expectations were outlined on the syllabus and discussed in class. To prompt greater reflection, I have instituted a mid-semester self-evaluation in which students report how much time and effort they are putting into class and rate themselves on participation (whose criteria were reproduced on the self-evaluation sheet). Now, I return this evaluation with feedback, particularly if I disagree with their assessment. However, I find most students are fairly realistic about their performance.
TMAC: And what would you say is the most tangible benefit to this self-evaluation exercise?
James: I notice that this self-assessment stimulates considerably more improvement in participation than if I just provide feedback myself. In the past few years, since incorporating learning goals in my syllabi, I ask students to assess their progress with respect to each goal both mid-semester and again at the end of the semester. Most report significant progress, and I think that the exercise has helped them keep in mind the goals of the course at times when the material can be very abstract.
Because James had recently returned from a conference, we asked about “Schools for Tomorrow,” (sponsored by the New York Times) and what he took away from this gathering of educators, consultants, and corporate sponsors.
James: Though many issues were addressed at “Schools for Tomorrow” [see the agenda], I took away two main points from the conference: first, that mentoring is a highly effective intervention when it comes to student retention; and second, that how you implement new technology and technologically enhanced pedagogy matters more than hardware. On the first point, I was very impressed by several presentations suggesting that having students check in regularly with mentors–not academic advisors or counselors–provides strong retention outcomes, particularly if mentors are well trained. One strategy, since faculty have limited time and availability, is peer mentoring, where experienced students from similar backgrounds (veterans, disabled students, parents, working students, etc.) offer advice and strategies to incoming transfer or four-year students during regularly scheduled meetings or in support groups. Students who come through these effective and low-cost alternative programs often volunteer to serve as mentors later on.
TMAC: As you know, Rutgers is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of all facets of instructional technology–an outcome of the strategic plan completed last year. What did you learn about technology at this conference that all Rutgers faculty should know?
James: That nearly all college and universities are making significant investments in technology, but many are not considering how resources can be most effectively allocated. Large hardware infrastructure expenditures are not effective unless they are accompanied by appropriate training. I spoke with a higher ed. consultant about technology training and implementation strategies that promote coordination between different campus constituencies and provide incentives for a strong culture of best practices among faculty. I tend to be skeptical of consultants, but I was impressed by the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of their approach.
TMAC: Anything you can share with colleagues?
James: Yes, two videos: “Who Finishes College” and “The State of the Online University.” The last video, in particular, discusses competency based education (in contrast to the current, long-standing Carnegie credit hour model).
TMAC: We’d like to follow up sometime on this growing trend of corporate sponsorship of educational innovation by the Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and others.
A summary of the conference James attended last month can be found at Eduventures.