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As a recent graduate, I remember all too well the shivers we would get as students when professors muttered the word “test” or “quiz”. If you wanted to hear a symphony of groans, add in the word now and a sea of furrowed brows and hand slams would fill the room.


Tests get a bad rap in the academic world nowadays. With test anxiety being shed to light, academia has become aware of the negative effects it can have on students. Some students dislike testing because it makes them question their intelligence with every wrong answer. Others get stage fright, and can’t perform under the pressure, time constraint, etc.


Not everyone’s IQ is defined by a mere test by any means, and some professors have shied away from administering them. For some students, an examination apocalypse would be a dream, but what if I told you that testing could actually be a good thing?


It’s all about the execution.


According to the Scientific American article Researchers Find That Frequent Tests Can Boost Learning  through the psychological process of retrieval practice, the repetitious nature of test taking actually aids students in retaining knowledge longer term as opposed to traditional teaching methods (Paul). Retrieval practice, formally known as “the testing effect” argues against the “reading the material and being tested on it later” method, but rather encourages students  to learn through frequent state of testing. Now while consistent testing sounds intense, many do not realize the brain empowered blessings this poses. Studies have shown that when testing a student on material even before they have had their lecture can improve knowledge retention rates even beyond the final exam.


Learning Curve and iClicker are excellent examples of just that. Learning Curve allows students to answer multiple choice and short answer questions before the actual lecture, making students read the material and answer basic questions on what they read. To continue the testing repetition, using iClicker’s REEF Polling can continue the testing habit in a group setting. If more students get in the habit of answering questions based on the material, when it is time to take the official exam, they are more likely to excel and score higher.



Paul, Annie Murphy. "Researchers Find That Frequent Tests Can Boost Learning." Scientific American. N.p., 08 July 2015. Web. 24 May 2017.

Many instructors have adopted online discussion boards as a tool to encourage students to communicate with each other, share ideas, and participate in peer review. It’s also one of the few ways to check in on students to make sure they are actually reading their assigned texts (though the effectiveness of this is debatable).


Plenty of students will admit that participating in discussion boards is pretty low on their priorities when juggling multiple courses, campus life, eating, and maybe getting a wink of sleep every now and then. In my experience, these discussions counted for a fairly minute portion of my grade, which translated to me posting first on these discussion boards in order to write something that was articulate but not exactly insightful.


Genuine, thoughtful discussion can be beneficial to developing critical thinking skills and challenging students to question both their knowledge and their patterns of thought. This, however, is not something that can be forced. 


Creating dynamic discussion online is not an easy task, but if done correctly these discussion boards can become an invaluable resource for students to become both better thinkers and writers. 


So this question remains: How can instructors make online discussion more than a perfunctory task?


  1. Use Small Groups
    In some of my best classes, splitting the class into groups of four to six students eliminated the anonymity of posting. With the knowledge that my posts would have a specific audience, I was more likely to actually put effort into my responses and try to give helpful feedback to my peers.
  2. Ask Thoughtful Questions                                                                                                                                       This may sound obvious, but I challenge you to examine the prompts that you are giving your students. Are you challenging them to think or guiding them toward a specific response? 
  3. Relate Their Coursework to Their Real Lives                                                                                                           Students are more likely to actively engage with a text if they believe that the topics and themes are relevant to their lives on a personal, professional, or political level. If you find that students do not engage with specific texts it may be time to reevaluate what you are using in class.


Like anything else, discussion boards can be incredibly effective when used well. Make sure you are reading your students’ posts and starting good discussions yourself. Consider doing the discussions within the e-Book itself to further foster reading and critical thinking. Bring up interesting topics in class to prove that you have read the discussions, and that will likely prompt students to be more thoughtful in their responses. And think about making the discussion boards worth more of students' grades if they are helping you achieve your goals.


Let us know if you have other ideas to make discussions even better!

I’ve taken a fair amount of classes.

By the time I crawled across the finish line most people refer to as “graduation,” I had earned enough credits for a double major in English and Linguistics (and just short of a triple major in Speech Pathology).


I thought I was going to be an Audiologist. Funny how life turns out.


The average class I’ve taken has become a vague memory only to be recalled upon reviewing my transcript, but the ones that stick out (for both positive and negative reasons) have shaped me deeply as both a writer and a generally intellectually curious person.


One class that I took close to my degree completion was a course called Hearing Science. This course was one of the core requirements for Linguistics majors at my college and combined anatomy and physiology, audiology, and just a bit of physics to really simplify things. Although the course was a requirement for my major, it wasn’t offered every semester, and since I was a senior I was advised to take it as soon as it was offered. But when it came time for me to register it was only offered as an online class.


Despite how daunting it felt to be taking a difficult course fully online, initially the idea of an online class appealed to me. I was working part time, writing my senior thesis, and participating in club activities. Being able to work on my own schedule was something I really needed.


But what I hadn’t anticipated was that this particular instructor seemed to believe that “online course” meant “teach yourself.”


She uploaded her PowerPoints onto BlackBoard for the entire semester. She had a section for quizzes that would come up bi-weekly. She had a section for the midterm and final exams. That was it. Those PowerPoints and my textbook were the only means of instruction, and the only time I interacted with that instructor that fall was to tell her that BlackBoard had incorrectly marked me wrong on a quiz.


This created endless stress and anxiety for me that semester. There are people who are completely capable of teaching themselves how to cook, play guitar, or change a tire. I am not one of those people. I learn by hearing and asking questions. I am one of those annoying students who asks questions she already knows the answers to in class. Somehow hearing things over and over again helps them click in my head. There was no way I was going to perform well in this class if reading was the only way I could learn.


So I improvised.


I created my own audiobooks by recording myself reading chapters from my textbook. Then when it was time to study I would listen to those tapes religiously. It worked, and I did very well in that class, but this required me putting in time and effort that I didn’t have at the time.


I know that this is not the way most instructors teach online, and my experience is just an outlier from the norm. With all the digital technology and online homework systems available there’s really no excuse not to make online learning as effective as possible. Trust me, your students will thank you for it.

Let’s Play a Game: How does your college match up?

By this time of year, high school seniors have received their acceptance letters and have either made their decision of where to attend or will be doing so very soon. It’s also the time of year that colleges shine up their halls to make both their academic and campus life as appealing as possible to visiting students. When making the big decision of where to attend college, most will check various college rankings. U.S. News has been doing an annual ranking of colleges since Sam Adams matriculated at Harvard. They are generally a trusted source of this sort of information, and one of their most popular rankings is their list of the top 50 schools. However in our digital world there are many competing sources. An interesting one is the list on Rate My Professor. It takes into account data on both campus life (school reputation, clubs, and even the food in the cafeteria) and combines it with student feedback on their instructors. One can assume that some of the criteria used by U.S. News factors into this student list, but certainly not all of it.


With that in mind we pose these simple questions which we challenge you to answer! We of course will share the answers in a later post. (No Cheating!)
1) How many schools appear on the Top 25 Universities on both the Rate my Professor list and the U.S. News list?
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 8


2)  Which one of these schools appear on both lists?

  • Harvard
  • Louisiana State University
  • New York University
  • Washington University in Saint Louis
  • Princeton
  • Dartmouth

Bonus: What were the #1 Universities on both lists? (Hint: They are not the same)


Submit Your Responses Here!