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6 posts from December 2009


Thoughts on student group work

People who employ our graduates consistently tell us that the ability to work effectively in groups is a necessary skill to succeed in their jobs.  For this and many other good reasons more faculty are incorporating small group work into courses.  It is important to use the groups appropriately for effective learning.  Here are some guidelines supported by research to consider for group work:

  • The faculty member should assign groups in beginning level classes on the basis of previous performance (divide the class into upper and lower half) and randomly assign students to groups within the top half and separately within the bottom half) and also checking to see that diversity is spread among the groups, but avoid groups that have only one person of color or non-traditional student, if possible.
  • Allowing students to make their own groups often results in like minded and like motivated people to work together
  • Create some accountability for individual’s work within the group.  This often involves peer assessment of effort, ability to work with others, meeting others expectations, etc.  These peer assessments should impact on any group or final grades.
  • Spend time on group process.  Ask the groups to develop their own expectations of each other, even creating a group contract.
  • Tell the students that they should try to resolve differences among themselves, but that the instructor is available if necessary. 
  • Ground rules can include the ability of the instructor to fire a student from a group given sufficient cause, and the instructor can also reorganize groups if necessary.


Melanie Oates uses the following approach for graduate/professional level classes to allow groups to self select in upper level courses.  However, the selection becomes a mock job interview process.  Every student presents their qualifications to the class.  The Project Managers then submit closed bids for the students that they wish to “hire”.  Eventually, all of the students are placed in “jobs”.


Tis the Season of Overindulgence

Ahh.. the holidays...cookies, eggnog, all those holiday parties with yummy finger food.  Celebrate in moderation with these easy tips & keep your waistline in check:

Use smaller plates - gives the illusion of more food

Always hold a glass in one hand (can even be water) when standing & eating from your plate -  this slows down the consumption of food

Survey the buffet FIRST before loading up on everythingthat looks good - savor a few bites of the MOST tempting pieces

WALK, WALK, WALK! If you cannot keep up with your regular exercise routine at least walk everywhere.

Park far away from the door, take the stairs, malls open up early - go for a walk indoors & window shop.  Go see the twinkling lights at night. Just keep moving!

Think of how wonderful you'll feel in the New Year with a smaller waistline & new energy for your goals!


Reflecting on your teaching

As you hand in final grades and organize your materials to save from each course, spend a little time reflecting on how well you taught your courses.  Think about and write down what you think and what others including students have told you went well or could be improved.  General areas to consider in your reflection are:

o        Course planning and how the content was covered and used

o        Organization

o        Pedagogy

o        Student engagement with the material to promote learning and motivation to learn

o        Development of the students’ ability to continue to learn and to self-assess

o        Providing constructive feedback to students in a timely way



Short term help; negative consequences

Sometimes we do things which we think will benefit the students, but may not be advantageous in the long run.  For example, if students request your complete lecture notes or presentation slides, you may be hel


them master the material for your course.  However, by giving them your complete slide set and notes, you may be denying your students the opportunity to organize and integrate the content.  They not be practicing note taking skills. Worse, they may see no benefit of coming to class.  The biggest consequences are the students might not engage in the material and they are allowing you the teacher to take more responsibility for their learning.  This can lead to students who cannot learn material on their own once they leave school.   Instead give out the complicated figures as handouts and headings for your lecture.  Let the students be active listeners when they come to class. 


PA EMR Exchange: A Step in the Right Direction

Dr. Richard Stefanacci, Director of the Institute for Geriatric Studies at University of the Sciences, submitted the following post in reaction to the Philly.com story "Pennsylvania crafts a health information exchange plan" posted on Dec. 1, 2009.
"What will it take to realize the long held vision of easy wide spread access of individual comprehensive health records? Well, while the State of Pennsyvania is moving all players in the right direction, unfortunately much more is needed.

"Having had the opportunity to be involved personally in a dozen parties over the last 10 years, I can tell you that the four practices that utilized electronic health records shared the common financial model of being responsible for the efficient and effective use of resources. Those practices where electronic systems are not being utilized would actually be hurt financially if they were to utilize EHRs. So, while PA and the federal stimulus funds will help, they will fall short of the vision which is only possible through providers being held responsible for improving health outcomes through the efficient use of resources."

Collisions with the Future

The Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle-smasher, is now up and running.  Here's a link to an opinion piece I wrote about it that has recently been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Collisions with the Future

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