Iowa Nice, “Civil Attention,” and Student Engagement

Recently, I was talking with a colleague at another institution about the phenomenon known around here as “Iowa nice.” Neither of us is native to Iowa, so we were both told about the “Iowa nice” mindset when we began our positions in Iowa colleges. The phenomenon actually has its own Wikipedia page, where it’s defined as “a cultural label used to describe the stereotypical attitudes and behaviors of residents within the U.S. state of Iowa, particularly in terms of the friendly agreeableness and emotional trust shown by individuals who are otherwise strangers.” In general, Iowa Nice is a good thing. It’s nice to live in a place with the idea that one should observe basic niceties and be courteous with strangers, or the general expectation that one is expected to help one’s neighbors in need. Continue reading “Iowa Nice, “Civil Attention,” and Student Engagement”

Obstacles to Student Learning

I’ve always thought that the principal goal of teaching–successful student learning–is a deceptively simple one. When one gets into the research about such topics as motivation, attention, cognitive load, and the like, it becomes painfully clear that successful student learning is actually a process with a lot of moving parts. Quite honestly, I get sometimes get intimidated when I think of how many different things have to go right in order for a class to be successful.  Continue reading “Obstacles to Student Learning”

Resources from the CETL Teaching and Learning Library

This week’s post is the first in what will be a series of intermittent posts highlighting some of the new and interesting resources available in CETL’s Teaching and Learning Library. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is a remarkably diverse field, from qualitative studies of subjects like class climate and student motivation, to quantitative research informed by findings from cognitive psychology, and seemingly everything between. As our resources allow, we try to ensure that a good range of this scholarship, in all of its varieties, is available for you to consult and utilize. Continue reading “Resources from the CETL Teaching and Learning Library”

Balancing Quality and Time in Grading Student Work

Now that we’ve passed the one-quarter mark of the semester, chances are you’ve been accumulating a stacks of student work to grade, and have been doing so for the last couple of weeks. At this point in the term, it’s easy to have a backlog of student work to be graded, which if left unchecked can be a source of stress and frustration–for both us and our students. We know that “giving prompt feedback” is one of the “Seven Principes of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” according to the famous Chickering and Gamson article of the same name. But that knowledge doesn’t help us get through that stack of assignments any quicker. Continue reading “Balancing Quality and Time in Grading Student Work”

Grit, Growth Mindsets, and Simple Solutions for Complex Problems

Two of the most influential concepts shaping the current discourse about teaching, learning, and student success are the ideas of “growth mindset” and “grit.” Their popularity stems from two major factors, I think. First, they’re both easy to summarize in a sentence or two, which always helps ideas spread rapidly throughout the national conversation. Second, they seem to just, well…ring true for a lot of us.  Continue reading “Grit, Growth Mindsets, and Simple Solutions for Complex Problems”

Low-Stakes Writing for Student Success

Now that the dust has settled from the first couple weeks of the semester, we’re happy to return to our regular posting schedule for the CETL blog. We hope your semester has gotten off to a good start!

As we enter week three, chances are you’ve had the chance to take the temperature of your classes and see where your students are in terms of willingness and preparation to discuss the material, as well as their level of comfort and familiarity with academic writing. If your experience is anything like mine, it’s likely that there is some work to do in both of these areas. How do we create the space for class discussions that invite all of our students to participate? How do we give our students enough opportunities to develop their writing without overwhelming them with a slew of essay assignments?

There are some techniques we can use to address both of these areas. For discussions, having students free-write on a particular question for a couple of minutes before launching into the actual discussion often leads to more thoughtful responses from a wider range of participants. Students who don’t feel confident enough verbally to respond immediately to a question are now given the time to articulate their points, plan their response, and are thus more likely to participate in the ensuing conversation. Moreover, mixing in brief writing prompts with in-class activities provides students with ample opportunities to practice the type of writing skills we want to help them develop. These discussion prompts, as well as other types of low-stakes writing opportunities, are a great way to improve student writing. If we interleave low-stakes writing among our more formal, higher-stakes writing assignments, students will have the chance to practice certain skills, as well as receive feedback, before completing taks that are attached to a larger portion of their grade.

So how would one go about working these types of low-stakes writing assignments into their practice? There are a nunber of ways to go about doing so, but it’s best to begin with deciding exactly what you want them to accomplish. Are you going to use them to spark discussions? To assess students’ understanding of key concepts? Develop specific writing “moves?” The answers to this type of question will help you discern, for example, how and whether to grade these assignments, or what other uses you might find for them. There are a number of ways that brief, easy-to-incorporate low-stakes writing assignments can work for you. An excellent example comes from Grand View’s own Mike LaGier, who uses assignments called LOPs to help students master specific course concepts.  The Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo maintains a page that has both an excellent list of different low-stakes writing activities (adaptable across disciplines) and methods of assessing them, should you choose to do so. Another excellent resource is the venerable collection put together by Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, Classroom Assessment Techniques(If you’re interested, we have two copies in the CETL Library!)

Other items of interest for the week:

As I shared briefly at our opening meetings, CETL will be facilitating a Faculty Learning Community this year on Inclusive Pedagogy. Watch your inbox for more information and a call for participants this week. Several folks asked where they could find the book I referenced about student “bandwidth”; you can find it at this link, and we’ll also be ordering a copy for the CETL Library.

CETL is also hosting several workshops on specific topics related to inclusive teaching. The first of these–an interactive workshop on “handling difficult discussions”–is this Thursday, September 13, at 4:00 PM in Rasmussen 217. We’ll look at strategies you can use to foster inclusive and constructive discussions, especially when it comes to difficult or controversial topics.

As we enter a season where our problematic political climate will likely become even more so, information literacy remains pivotally important for us and our students. This summer, David Gooblar wrote an excellent piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education that not only makes the case for teaching it, but offers useful suggestions on how to begin doing so.

Finally, many instructors will be receiving an email regarding student progress reports this week. If you teach any of the courses where a progress report is requested, completing those reports will go a long way towards helping connect our students with the resources they need to succeed, especially if those students are struggling right now.


Have a question? Looking for resources or information? Want to take advantage of the services CETL offers? Contact us by clicking here, emailing kgannon@grandview.edu or calling Kevin at 263-6102.

Find out about all our programming, including when and where sessions will be held, by visiting the Calendar page of our site.

With all of the things on the docket this semester, it will be important to remember to make time for yourself and relax. Let this very chill dog be your reminder/inspiration (turn up the sound).