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Welcome to Teaching, a free weekly newsletter from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This week:

The latest student survey from Educause highlights frustrations they encounter in class. How can professors make exams less stressful? A physics professor shares his strategies. Are you attending the POD Network conference? Following along from home? Here’s a reminder that Beth will be there and would love to connect with you.

Student Frustrations

One of the coolest parts of writing this newsletter is talking with professors who are dedicated to the craft of teaching. They’re up to speed on the latest research about learning, they feel a responsibility to help students succeed, and they’re always working to improve their approach. But not everyone who’s out there teaching college students shares those orientations.
I was reminded of this as I read through the latest “2019 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology,” released last week by Educause.
The report, based on a survey of more than 40,000 students, gives a portrait of students’ classroom-technology preferences. It finds, for instance, that 70 percent of respondents prefer instruction that’s all or mostly face to face, but that their responses on that question vary quite a bit when results are broken down by demographic categories like age and hours worked.
It also makes a number of recommendations. For example, colleges should set up a committee dedicated to accessibility concerns.
I was most struck, however, by some of the student comments included in the report. Especially this one:
“I want my professors to stop reading PowerPoint slides word for word off of a screen, and to start using the technology at hand to create a different kind of lecture that will engage their students in the learning process.”
And this one:
“Many instructors oppose using laptops in class. This is very troublesome for me because most of my textbooks are digital. They effectively prohibit me from using my textbook in class.”
The report uses these and similar student comments to illustrate some of its key points: That students want a lecture to be engaging and that, as digital textbooks become more common, students have additional reason to want access to their devices in class.
For me, at least, there’s another takeaway here. For all the discussion around student-centered education in higher ed, students are sometimes left feeling like passive recipients of content who can’t be trusted to crack a laptop during class. (I know that classroom policies on electronics use are hotly debated. I’ve written about it here and here.)
The report made me wonder: What mechanisms does your college or department use to take students’ temperature on what they experience in the classroom (beyond administering course evaluations)? What avenues do you use to figure out how your students feel about your own teaching approach and classroom policies? Have your approaches to classroom technology changed recently, and if so, why? And what do you do when students dislike a practice or policy that you still think is in their best interest? Tell me about it at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com, and your comments may be included in a future newsletter.

Less-Scary Exams

Earlier this fall, I asked how you help students navigate midterm exams and their implications. Matthew J. Wright, an associate professor and chair of the physics department at Adelphi University, wrote in to share some of the ways he makes exams less intimidating for his students.
Wright finds alternative times to give students the exam — often one early in the morning and one in the evening — so that he can give them unlimited time. While Wright doesn’t allow the use of calculators, students can bring in an equation sheet. At the start of the first exam, Wright usually has students put their pencils down and gives them five minutes to silently look over the test. Then he gives them 10 to15 minutes to work in groups, again without pencils.
I found that last point especially intriguing, and asked Wright where the idea came from and what it accomplishes. He wrote back to say that he first learned of it at a physics-education conference, and that the method allows students to do meaningful group work, reduces stress, and makes it less likely that they’ll misunderstand the problem when it’s time to work it out on their own. He has written more about it in this blog post.
“Adelphi is known for its diversity,” Wright wrote to me, “and I have found this method allows every student in my classroom to do their best work. In fact, my class stood and cheered for me the first time I used this testing method. We physics professors don’t often get this kind of applause!”

See You at POD?

Later this month, Beth is going to the annual POD Networkconference, in Pittsburgh. This will be her first time there, and Beth hopes to take the opportunity to meet some of you in person and hear what’s on your minds. If you have suggestions on panels to attend or want to meet up, drop her a line at beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.
Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us: dan.berrett@chronicle.com, beckie.supiano@chronicle.com, or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.
— Beckie