Category Archives: Teaching Ideas

An Ounce of Prevention to Stop Cheating

studentcheatingCheating and plagiarism are common and unfortunately prevalent parts of the academic environment. Some data suggests that 60-70% of undergraduate students admit to cheating on written work or tests. Cheating is not limited to a certain type of student, and data supports that academically high-achieving students and low-achieving students cheat at the same amount (Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology, 2008). Research has varied about if age, marital status, or other demographics are correlated with cheating. One area where there does appear to be a correlation is with interest in the subject and cheating. If a student isn’t interested in the subject, then they are more likely to cheat (Anderman & Murdock, 2007). With limited data it is very difficult to accurately predict the “type” of student that will cheat. Instead of trying to identify who might cheat, let’s focus on how we might prevent cheating. Cizek (1999) did considerable research on strategies to prevent cheating. Beyond the specifics of better proctoring tests, Cizek felt that, “Communication about honest and dishonest behavior is surely critical to deterring cheating” (p. 187). Cizek cautioned that focusing on individual test takers and test givers is not as effective as “…heightening general awareness about the problem, implementing systemic changes, infusing the educational environment with a concern for integrity, and construing responsibility for integrity as the province of everyone in the learning community” (p. 188). According to Cizek, the best strategy to prevent cheating is to make it as clear as possible, what is considered cheating. Faculty can’t just leave this to a statement in the syllabus that they assume students will read. A recent study in Australia found that only 50% of student read the academic honesty policy when it was left up to them (Gullifer & Tyson, 2013). It is important to provide this information and read it with students so we can explain and clarify what is meant by this policy. Institutions can also clearly inform students of their expectations. Institutions with an honor code that defines expected behavior found cheating decreased by more than 50% (McCabe & Trevino, 1993). Being reminded of the honor code before a test or completion of a paper can also make the agreement more salient and further discourage cheating. Maricopa has a student conduct code and clear information regarding academic misconduct, but an honor code that students sign at the course level may be an additional benefit. Maryellen Weimer, who writes the Teaching Professor blog, addressed this issue and provided three suggestions for what faculty could do to help prevent cheating. These items were talking more about personal integrity, discussing the bigger implications of academic dishonesty on our society, and to demonstrate integrity by following our stated policies like grading timelines and attendance at office hours (Weimer, 2015). These ideas make integrity and dishonesty a part of the fabric of a course as faculty discuss and demonstrate these ideas. While we may not feel we have many tools to stop cheating, clearly stating what cheating means in our class, building expectations into an honor code, and ongoing discussions about integrity can help to curb some of the cheating. This ounce of prevention can also be a lot easier than trying to catch and prove that cheating occurred.
  References and further reading: Anderman, E. M., & Murdock, T. B. (2007). Psychology of academic cheating. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Academic Press. Cizek, G. J. (1999). Cheating on tests: How to do it, detect it, and prevent it. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology (2008). Cheating. Retrieved January 3, 2016 from Gullifer, J. M., and Tyson, G. A., (2013). Who has read the policy on plagiarism? Unpacking students’ understanding of plagiarism. Studies in Higher Education, 39 (7), 1202-1218. McCabe, D. L., & Trevinko, L. K. (1993). Academic dishonesty: Honor codes and other contextual influences. Journal of Higher Education, 64(5), 522-538. Miller, A. D., Murdock, T. B., Anderman, E. M., & Poindexter, A. L. (2007). Who are all these cheaters? Characteristic of academically dishonest students. In E. M. Anderman & T. B. Murdock (Eds.), Psychology of Academic Cheating (pp. 9-32). Burlington, MA: Elsevier Academic Press. Weimer, M. (2015). Promoting academic integrity: Are we doing enough? Retrieved on December 22 from
Whitley, B. E., Jr. (1998). Factors associated with cheating among college students: A review. Research in Higher Education, 39 (3), 235–274.
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Appreciations – Driven Home by a Sixth Grader

To the logical, pragmatic, no-nonsense, Type-A personality that I am, the concept of appreciations in storytelling (or teaching) was initially lost on me. It felt like a “nicey-nicey-fluff-give-them-positive-first-but-doesn’t-help-teach-them-or-move-them-to-change” process. Why not just tell them what they need to change? Enough of the touchy-feely stuff. Give them meat to chew on.

My first formal storytelling teacher kept giving people appreciations in class, no suggestions or critiques, just appreciations. And he really meant it too. It wasn’t just lip service. I thought this was OK for the first few weeks of class, but when was he going to get to “telling people how they need to change and improve”? As the weeks went on, I began to try to follow his lead. I was quite surprised to find that it was easy to find something to appreciate about every telling.

Then I attended a workshop with long-time teller and storytelling coach. He spoke of how his father gave him constant praise, even for the smallest things, from birth, and throughout his life. It made me think of my own father who could pick out the one mistake I made and focus on that negative aspect of my effort. It made me think about my eighth-grade teacher who embarrassed me in front of the whole class with his condemning critique of a book report I had written. It made me think of how I critique both others, and myself.

A small part of me, the therapist and a mediator, began to understand appreciations, at least on a psychological level. Reinforcing positive behavior helps people repeat that positive behavior. I began to make a change. I tried to “give praise” wherever I could. I was conscious of really looking for the positive aspects of what I saw, and letting people know what I appreciated about what they had done.

Then I met Anthony. Anthony was a cherub-faced sixth grader at a school I visited to tell stories and talk about storytelling. The students had already done some storytelling and the teacher wanted the class to demonstrate to me what they had learned. Anthony eagerly raised his hand and volunteered to be the first to tell his story.

He stood before the class and began. He was a little nervous, but told a good story. Oh, he paced back and forth and didn’t always face forward and look at his audience. And as he was telling, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Anthony was me!

Yes, I did see myself in that eleven year-old boy; eager, creative, excited, longing for acknowledgment and praise. I thought, how can I say anything negative about his telling? What good would that accomplish? I felt that even one tiny “constructive suggestion” might bruise his young ego and only send him into a labyrinth of self-doubt. And then the second wave came over me. Are our adult egos any less fragile than Anthony’s? I think not.

It was then that I began to understand appreciations on an emotional level. There have been adult students and colleagues who have said, “Just tell me the bad things.” I, myself have even said that in the past. And yet, behind the bravado that purports to be strong and only wants a critique, stands a delicate ego, deeply longing for praise and acceptance. And it is the praise and acceptance that supports their growth and learning.

So the next time that you hear someone tell a story, have a student give an answer, have a student try, I hope you see Anthony…
and then, perhaps, yourself… and then give an appreciation.


Believe You Can Float!

As a Storyteller, I go to as many workshops and conferences as I am able. Learning more about my craft is an ongoing quest. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an all-day workshop with international Storyteller and Mime, Antonio Rocha (pronounced “hosha”), originally from Brazil. Antonio is an incredible performer. I swear that I have seen him “float”!

At the beginning of the workshop, Antonio asked each participant to voice what they hoped to get out of the day. In addition to some specifics, I said, “Oh yeah, and I want to learn how to float!” Antonio’s response set the tone for the whole day: “The first step is to believe you can float!”

There were many things that I learned and gleaned from the workshop, but one of the most important, and most revealing was the actual “coaching” that several people got from Antonio. As each person told their story, I had my own ideas about how they were doing, and what might be helpful. It was quite amazing when Antonio’s suggestions affirmed my own thoughts. To be “in sync” with a master that I admire confirmed for me that I was “on the right track” with my own assessments.

Then came my turn to be coached by Antonio. Try as I did to affect what I had already learned from the workshop, I was not completely successful. Antonio was gentle and affirming in his suggestions for me, “You can do this. Believe you can!” It was in the “doing” and putting myself out there that I learned the most.

My advice to all who wish to improve themselves, in whatever endeavor: study, learn from the masters, get coaching from a trusted and admired mentor/colleague.

The first step is to believe you can!


Professional Development: What have you learned lately?

One of my best sources for professional development is peeking over the shoulders of my colleagues.  No, I’m not a stalker.  Specifically, I

  1. Sub for absent colleagues. I can really see how their courses connect with mine.  For example, today I was with a RDG091 class.  I can see what I should be doing in RDG081 to prep my students as well as see how their work leads up to CRE101.  I can also see different ways of delivering the content, whether it be in class or through Canvas.
  2. Tutor in the Writing Center. I am able to experience a wide range of writing expectations across our campus, and I always get good ideas about assignments and rubrics used by my colleagues.  I also stay in practice with having to explain things in a new and different way.
  3. Review online courses using the Gold Standards. Some of my best “ah-has” have come when I look at the modules or feedback strategies or resources contained in my colleagues’ awesome courses.  What good ideas we have here!  It really stretches me when I go outside of reading or education to see the way others view the world of Canvas.

I get so many good ideas every week that I’ve had to create Google docs and Google mail labels to capture everything.

My greatest personal growth lesson recently has been to implement just one or two things at a time.  Once I’m comfortable, I go to my files and find something else to add.


An Unexpected Turn Of Events

An Unexpected Turn Of Events
Prompts An Unexpected Change In The Way I Will Teach.

Over the six semesters I have been teaching the Art of Storytelling, I have had three classes with deaf students. I sign a little, but thankfully the college provided two interpreters for each class. They were all wonderful as they interpreted for the deaf students, and also voiced for them when they performed a story.

So it was only natural that when I got a case of laryngitis that I thought, “No problem, I will just get an interpreter to come in and ‘voice’ for me.” I E-mailed the disabilities department and asked how much lead time they needed. Unfortunately, the supervisor wrote back that they only provided interpreters for the students, and I would have to contact HR. So I did.

The HR Department wrote back that laryngitis does not comply with the definition of an ADA disability and that if I were sick, I needed to contact my department head and arrange for a sub. I replied that I was disappointed and that, “I’m not ill. I don’t need a sub, just a voice.”

Step two: time to get creative!

I wondered what I could do. I have a small P.A. system and tested it out. I whispered into the mike, and it seemed that the amplification would work.

Now the lesson plan… Continue reading An Unexpected Turn Of Events


Life is Not a Multiple Choice Test

… well I suppose it can be, if you know what the choices are. In many cases, however, the available choices are not fed to you. There is no bubble sheet to fill in. It’s up to you to figure it out with no hints from a prompt.

Many of our younger students have been tested to death. One thing is for certain, they are comfortable with multiple choice options.

Last semester, I told my students that I was assigning a final project instead of a final exam. They begged me for a multiple choice test instead. To their credit, I had assigned a large number of projects throughout the semester, so I caved and wrote a final exam for them.

I do believe, however, that a degree means more than regurgitating facts. There are a number of other skills employers expect when they hire someone with a degree. I think these skills are learned through the college experience as a whole.

I came across this list of traits that we really cannot measure with tests today:

Whether or not we use multiple choice tests for factual knowledge, I believe the experience of going to college and completing practical application projects helps develop these characteristics.

Next time I work with a student who is frustrated, doesn’t like group projects, writing assignments,  or has roadblocks and other issues in the way – I will come back to this list, for no matter what a student’s major is, these skills come along with it. And we all get to contribute to that!



Creating a Soundtrack for Your Class

If you were unlucky enough to take one of my sessions during the time period immediately after Guardians of the Galaxy, you probably heard some references to the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” tape from the movie.  I loved the songs on there.  To this day, when my phone rings, I am “Hooked on a Feeling” and when I wake up, there “Aint no Mountain  High Enough” for my alarm.  If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know what I am talking about, feel free to check out the mix tape below…but be warned…I am not responsible if this is stuck in your head!

Did you know that the director played this soundtrack over and over during filming so that the crew could get the right emotional “groove” that he wanted for the film?  To show this in a different way, 2001 a Space Odyssey almost had a late ’60’s rock soundtrack instead of the classical one that is so iconic.  How would that have changed our view of the film?

Why do I mention this and what does it have to do with education?  When I was working with students and wanted them to be inspired and yet to write in a certain emotional view, I would play music that would fit that mood and help them without even telling them my intention.  It was amazing how music could be used to calm nerves or to create excitement, depending on the needs of the project and my intentions.

One method that I used regularly was one that I saw while watching “Gone in 60 Seconds.”  In the clip you are about to see, the always fun to watch Nicholas Cage uses a particular song to charge up before a very busy night.

Lowrider is obviously a song that his old crew are used to and it is a way to tell them that it is time to get your thoughts together and rally yourself for the task at hand.  In other words, just playing the song is a way to get them ready for what is to come and acts as an audio trigger to get ready and start.

This technique worked great for me when I used it for the students, especially in the first and last classes of the day.  When I played a certain piece of music, usually the same that Mr. Cage did, it became a signal for the students to empty their minds of all else and to get started.  Sound is a highly powerful thing.  What is your “Charging Up” music?  Would it work in your class?


Canvas and Face-to-Face Classes

When I returned to college-level teaching (after almost 20 years break), I felt intimidated by the prospect of using a Learning Management System. Talk about change … we were just barely using email over dial-up on a UNIX prompt (no web browsers yet) last time I was in academia. It wasn’t the technology that intimidated me – it was the fear of using technology as part of my teaching method. I felt outdated, and out-of-touch with new teaching technology.

I couldn’t have been more wrong! Using Canvas as a part of my class has freed me from creating and maintain spreadsheets, updating grade reports, grading tests, and much more. It has also enhanced the learning experience for my students by allowing them to discuss things online, providing a running tally of the assignments due, and providing grades and feedback as soon as something is reviewed or graded by me. It also allows me to communicate with students on a more real-time framework, and it keeps all the paperwork associated with the class in an easy-to-access, organized fashion.

Here are some of the ways I use Canvas for face-to-face classes:

Gradebook – I love this feature. I can set up weights on grades and offer extra credit without having to do much math at all. After I do a set of grading, I usually look at the overall total for each student to see how they are doing in the class as a whole.

Front Page – I have found a way to set up a table for the course home page that I can update each week. I put some kind of picture that represents the area of study and a quote by someone regarding that area of study. I also have spots for Important Links, What is due in the coming week, and a section for honors. I can also put a big, red announcement across the top of the page to emphasize something important (like test dates, etc.).

Assignments and Rubrics – I set up all assignments in Canvas for several reasons. First of all, I must to that to use the gradebook feature. However, by setting up the instructions for the assignment online, I don’t have to worry about students losing the printed assignment instruction sheet. I also set up rubrics, so when I’m grading, I can remain objective and accountable.  I also ask students to turn in assignments via Canvas whenever possible – I know exactly when an assignment was turned in (late or on time), and I never have the fear of losing someone’s paper. Also, students can’t claim they turned something in when they really didn’t.

Tests – I hate tests. I like to use projects to assess how students are understanding and applying the material, but I also know that tests are a necessary evil. I also like to use interaction, small group activities, and active learning in class, and I feel that class time is better spent in discussion and activity than in taking tests. I set up quizzes in Canvas, and students must take them within a certain amount of time. The time limit prevents them from looking up every answer, so they must know a bit about what we’ve been discussing in class. However, as we all do in real life – if there is something they are blanking on, they can use notes and text to find the answer.  By using this strategy, I have gained three additional class periods that would otherwise be used in testing. … And no more scantrons! Canvas grades them for me, so all I do is look at the statistics in case I have to revisit any of the questions or material later.

Small Group Work – this semester I have assigned small group projects that require a bit of work outside of class. By using the groups feature, students can interact with each other online, which makes it easier given their busy schedules.

Discussions – I use these to make students accountable for preparing for class. I ask them to post one or two things about the reading material, and then comment on someone else’s posts. Then when we use and apply the material in class, they aren’t totally left in the dark, and I don’t have to revert to lecturing.

It’s not a hybrid class, but using the features of Canvas to support my activity in class has opened up all kinds of possibilities to reduce paperwork, but more importantly, enhance student learning. Change, in this case, was good!


EDU 250 – More than what I thought!

In my ongoing journey of professional development to increase my knowledge and skills as an academic advisor I am currently in the process of working on the  Foundations of Student Services Certificate Program.  As part of the program I was required to take EDU 250 – Teaching and Learning in the Community College.  As an academic advisor I was tenaciously focused on delving into my craft and learning all I could about ADVISING students, so this class really wasn’t at the  top of my list.  As is goes, it has been the class which I was disinclined to take that has been the most useful! Little did I know that EDU 250 would provide me with some of the most essential skills I needed to serve students and help my team as we built the Gaucho 101 Program.

With the EDU 250 course under my belt I acquired a critical understanding of the many characteristics a community college student might have and the challenges some those characteristics bring.  I have a new respect for our students and what it has taken for many of them to simply walk onto the campus.  From the 1st Generation Student to the young parent who is balancing home, work, and school it is vital that each get advisement that suits their individual needs.

Then after examining the different learning styles of a student that awareness impressed upon me how important it is to build programs which incorporate different learning styles.  I now deeply understand that just talking at a student might not serve their needs and how vital it is to include visual and tactile moments of learning when possible.  Admittedly it takes time to add such elements to an advisement session but it gives the student more opportunity to truly learn.

What really rocked my advisor world was learning about course planning and design, as it gave me a good action plan for both advising students and building programs.    I have endeavored to make these four elements of course design part of my every interaction with students and to do my best to bring them into any program our team designs.

  • Knowing the aim, goals and objectives for the student
  • Finding clear ways to present the subject matter
  • Include learning activities
  • Evaluating

Beyond giving our instructors a solid foundation the EDU 250 course offers valuable knowledge at the heart of Student Services.  I highly encourage anyone who advises students or works on student programming to enroll!!


Use MLA and APA Templates in Composition Classes

I spent almost 30 years in aerospace technical writing before coming to Glendale to teach Freshman composition.  Aerospace technical writing uses Air Transport Association and military style guides that dictate not only format and presentation rules like APA and MLA do, but also dictate content requirements.  In business, the challenge in any new airplane program always was: How do we teach hundreds of technical writers (good subject matter/content experts) how to write in the new specification required by contract — quickly and cost-effectively?

Our answer in business was to use specification templates.  This template concept is transferable to academia. Imagine text book and Purdue OWL sample papers readily available in MS Word files.  Imagine that you are given an electronic copy and have free editing access to that copy.  Imagine putting YOUR content IN PLACE OF the content in the template while leaving the formatting intact, leaving only your own words and a properly-formatted paper in the end.

Using MLA and/or APA templates in a composition class can provide these benefits:

  • Save time and effort for students.
  • Save time and effort for instructors (~30% classroom time “saved” per a 2012 survey of Glendale English 101/102 instructors for a TYCA West presentation).
  • Conform to the style specification in the final paper – as good as or better than classes that do not use a template
  • Eliminate “arguments” over the right way to apply the style guide (the template is the style guide). If needed, work together as a class and change the template.
  • Eliminate worry about future revisions to/versions of the specification mid-term (the template is the style guide).
  • Add/reinforce MS Word skills for students.
  • Spend more time discussing good writing skills versus format details.
  • Create goodwill from students (“the instructor made this easy/wants me to succeed”)
  • Give students a proven sample/template they can use in their other college classes.
  • Prepare students better for what they will actually find in the work world.

While this template approach makes writing essays and reports easier for students (and correcting papers somewhat easier for instructors?), student success still relies heavily on student effort.  Note too that use of a template is not done in a void but rather in conjunction with the textbooks, Purdue OWL, and other sources.  The hardest thing to teach and reinforce, of course, is attention to detail – first time, every time.  This is something that you’ll need to constantly and continuously harp on, with or without a template.

My experience has also been that students appreciate the templates I provide and move more quickly and easily to writing good, compliant papers using templates.  My sense is that the resultant APA and/or MLA papers themselves are better written as well.  Of course, I’m also one of those guys that thinks all our modern productivity improvements will lead people to read more and be better informed.

Good thing hope springs eternal, eh?

A template for formatting? Give it a try — your students might just thank you!