Practical things to try
Structure can be found throughout a course in course design and interactions inside and outside the classroom.
Click here to view the video transcript
So let’s think about a couple of different things that educators do in designing their courses. One is to think about the course itself and how it’s structured and the other are the interactions that we have with students. Focusing first on the course, one thing that we do early is to communicate through the syllabus how the course is designed. This is a place where we could examine how much structure we’re providing for students. Our class syllabus is often the first place that students understand the structure of our course. So this is a place where we would encourage you to look at the checklist we provided to see how much structure you’re providing. We are classifying things as low, medium and high structure. And wherever you are, we would encourage you to think about adding more structure. And that might include additional assessments either graded or ungraded that would help you and the student understand if they are meeting the learning objectives for your course.
Another idea to consider is collecting micro feedback from students. These are short ways that you can assess from students if they’re getting material at the pace that feels comfortable for them or if assignments are taking too long. This stems from one of the activities I did early with my students when I was lecturing and I wondered if the pace was too fast for students. So I stopped and pulled the class and told them to tell me if it seemed just right, too fast or too slow. What I like about this approach and using it often is that it helps me make adjustments that are helpful to students. But it also conveys to students that it’s important to me that they’re getting the pace that is comfortable to them.
You might consider doing this for assignments as well asking the question at the end of an assignment “How long did this assignment take?” This will help you gauge how long things are taking because as experts we sometimes misunderstand the amount of time it takes to complete work. I encourage you to do this often to understand what our students are doing in our courses and how long it’s taking them to navigate the material. We encourage you to think about many different ways you could assess how students are doing with material. It could include a no tech option, which is just in class to pause and ask to give the thumbs up if the pace seems okay or a thumbs down if not. There are many tools you can use besides taking polls. You could use a Google form or even just assess through email how things are going with students.
Look at your syllabus to determine if you have a low/moderate/high structure course according to the table below. Reflection questions: If your course is low structure, what kinds of practice can you introduce? If your course has a lot of structure, does the practice align to the kinds of higher stakes assessments and course learning outcomes?
|Required pre-class assignment||Active learning (Students doing rather than instructor lecturing)||Required post-class assignment|
|Low||None or < 1 per week||< 15% of class time||None or < 1 per week|
|Moderate||1 per week||15-40% of class time||1 per week|
|High||>/= 1 per week||> 40% of class time||>/= 1 per week|
Think about the practice you assign to students before class and whether it is appropriate for your students. You could offer strategies to collect data about timing/difficulty/confidence/understanding through CRS (Classroom Response Systems), Google forms, Zoom poll, thumbs up, or quiz. Discuss options for how to use the data to adjust or proceed.
Interactions with students
Click here to view the video transcript
Now let’s think about how we might incorporate structure in our interactions with students. Think about a common technique many of us use the Think-Pair-Share. How can we add structure to the Think-Pair-Share? The first part of a Think-Pair-Share is the thinking. So one thing you could do is to set a timer. Use your phone or your watch to say I’ll give students one minute of time to think individually or to write their responses to a question. And then ask students to pair and share. That thinking time is really important and it will allow students to formulate their own ideas before sharing with one another. You might also consider varying how you share out. It may be that only some individuals share out or the sharing could happen non-verbally, so they could use a polling system to share their responses and anonymous note card. There are variety of ways to consider sharing out as this resource will show you.
So we provided a table that offers some different approaches to sharing out. You can consider how you might change up the way you share out so that we hear from more students in the classroom. So in the table, you’ll see different ways in which you could share out some of them require saying the responses out loud or identifying individual reporters who might share. And others rely on nonverbal forms of sharing.
Another aspect of our teaching that could benefit from more structure is our office hours. I’d encourage you to think about the ways in which you structure your office hours to support students visiting. One of the things that I learned early on in chatting with my students was that not all students feel comfortable coming to office hours. When I asked them why they shared a variety of reasons and it allowed me to think about how I might design my office hours to invite more students in. You’ll see in the resource below the way that I’ve structured my office hours. So I like to include opportunities for students to meet with me one-on-one in short meetings, five minute meetings is what I call them, as a quick way to get to know one another and there’s no expectation that will actually talk about the material or that they’ll have questions for me.
Another form of meeting is to have what we call a typical meeting where they might have questions and I would work with them to answer those questions and they know that they could also come with peers and that we can work together as a group. And lastly I have what are called co-working hours where students may or may not work on our material, but we spend time together and they know that I’m a resource available to them if they need anything.
I encourage you to think about the ways in which you work with your students and see what barriers might exist for them using office hours and how you might be able to overcome those barriers. We know that attending office hours is really important for students success. So one of the things that we want to encourage you to think about is how you are teaching students about using office hours and providing transparency in that.
There are a number of ways we can help our students understand how to do college and understanding how office hours works and encouraging them to visit is one of those ways. I encourage you to check out the infographic below to see how I’ve structured office hours and adapt it for your own use in working with your students and what they need for their office hours.
Firstly, let’s consider interactions that happen in the classroom and in particular the Think-Pair-Share strategy. The purpose of it is to get every student involved in discussion in a safe way by allowing them to think or write their response down, then pairing them with peers to discuss and sharing their insights with the class as a whole. There are different ways you could add structure to this classroom activity. For example, you could moderate the silence of the think part with a timer. You could also vary the sharing part by only inviting certain students to share or using an anonymous polling system via a Classroom response systems (CRS) (Hogan and Sathy, 2018). The table below offers more ideas of alternatives to the share part of the Think-Pair-Share (Cooper, Schinske and Tanner, 2021).
|Alternatives to the share||Description of the alternative||Benefit of the alternative|
|Modifying the share|
|Optional consent to share||During the pair, the instructor privately asks individual students if they would be willing to share their ideas with the whole class before calling on them.||It provides students more time to prepare to speak in front of the whole class.It gives students a chance to opt out if they do not feel comfortable sharing.|
|Local share||Students exchange ideas beyond their pairs (e.g., with another pair of students or with their table mates), but the discussion is not opened up to the whole class.||It provides students with practice articulating their thoughts in front of a larger group without being intimidated by the possibility of being asked to share in front of the whole class.|
|Go-around||The instructor poses a question with many possible ways to answer and then goes around the class so that each student can contribute an idea to the discussion.||Every student’s voice is heard.It may reduce students’ fear of negative evaluation.|
|Real-time synthesis of student ideas|
|Classroom polling||Instructors collect and respond to evidence gathered from polling systems (e.g., clickers) immediately following a pair discussion.||Every student can contribute to the poll.Anonymous polling can reduce students’ anxiety associated with sharing their ideas.|
|Listening in||During a pair discussion, an instructor can walk around and listen to students’ conversations to gain insight into students’ ideas.||It likely offers the instructor richer insight into students’ thinking, compared with hearing from only a few students.|
|Assigning competence||Instructors summarize pair discussions and strategically bring attention to the contributions of certain students.||It increases the students’ expectations for themselves as well as the class’s expectations for those students.|
|Asynchronous synthesis of student ideas|
|Index cards||Instructors ask students to record their ideas on a note card following pair discussions. Instructors can review all cards or a subsample of the cards after class.||Instructor has access to all student ideas.Instructor has more time to review students’ responses for common themes or misconceptions.|
|Electronic posts||Students contribute their ideas via an electronic platform (e.g., discussion board, online survey) following a pair discussion.||Students may be more comfortable sharing their thoughts via an electronic platform.It gives the instructor more time to review and synthesize all student responses.|
|Eliminate the share|
|Eliminate the share||Students’ thoughts and ideas are not shared with the instructor or the class after a pair discussion.||Instructors may be able to meet all their learning goals using only the think and pair.It allows for more time for other in-class activities while reducing student anxiety about speaking out in front of the whole class.|
Now let’s consider the interactions outside the classroom: How do you describe office hours? Can students sign up? Is it clear what can be discussed there? The infographic below offers suggestions on how to add structure to your office hours to improve student engagement.
Hogan, K. and Sathy, V. (2018) How Faculty Can ‘Click’ Their Way to a More Inclusive Classroom. EdSurge.