Category Archives: Students’ Skills and Abilities

Announcement: Formation of Faculty Inquiry Group on Teaching Professional Writing

Faculty members interested in teaching different approaches to professional and workplace writing are invited to a meeting at the CUNY Graduate Center to establish a cross-disciplinary, cross-campus forum or “faculty inquiry group” focused on the unique challenges and opportunities of this effort.

DATE: Friday, April 23, 2010
TIME: 12-30 pm – 2:30 pm (Lunch will be served)
LOCATION: CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
219 West 40th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
Room 301
RSVP: Zhanna.Kushmakova@mail.cuny.edu

While there is ample evidence that students struggle with writing academic papers, many of us are also keenly aware of the special demands posed by workplace writing. Being able to complete workplace or professional documents usually requires knowledge of specific narrative conventions, formatting rules, and reasoning sequences-often taken-for-granted in various fields. In order to enter this very competitive job market, our new graduates are expected to hit the ground running and be competent in these writing styles. Emerging work on pedagogies of professional writing is laying some of the groundwork for addressing this gap in academic and career preparation. We hope that by bringing together faculty from a range of professional and academic fields, we can create a collaborative forum for sharing teaching approaches and piloting and identifying best practices to help students master these critical skills.

This effort is being led by Bonnie Oglensky, Associate Professor in the Social Work Program at York College. She has collaborated with colleagues on an approach to psychosocial assessment writing in social work called “Writing in the Field.” If you have questions about the upcoming meeting and the creation of this forum Bonnie can be reached by phone, 718-262-2612, or email: oglensky@york.cuny.edu.

Posted in Analytical Skills, Communication Skills, Students' Skills and Abilities | Leave a comment

Understanding What You Don’t Understand

When students are having trouble, I often suggest that they come to work with me one-on-one so that we can figure out where they are going wrong and fix it. We go through an example of a basic and core problem, such as a simple supply and demand problem in economics. I ask them to explain things to me step-by-step so that I can see at what point the difficulty or mistake occurs. When we get to a point where they don’t know how to answer a question or where they have a misunderstanding, I jump in and explain. Then we do another example—or several more—so that they have a chance to do it themselves. Students usually find where their misunderstanding, or missing understanding, is.

Some students feel upset at being “put on the spot,” and some just avoid coming in to do this. I know that it is important that students don’t think that they are innately stupid and can’t learn. And I worry that highlighting their lack of understanding can undermine students’ confidence. But this method of finding out what students don’t know is generally very effective. Afterwards, they frequently enjoy a major leap in performance and understanding.

One student response, however, undermines the process and raises a red flag: “I understood that” right after saying something that showed not understanding. If you don’t realize that you don’t understand something then you can’t fix it. In my experience, such a response indicates a student who is unlikely to learn and improve either from our interaction or in other settings. Over the years, I have come to repeat things like: “Knowing what you don’t know is the key to learning”; “In economics (research methods, etc.) many problems are hard, and I often don’t understand them at first. It takes work. You need to be comfortable with not understanding things. Not understanding doesn’t mean anything is wrong, just that you need to work at it.”

But these are things that I say primarily in my office with individual students and only rarely to the class as a whole. Even when I speak to the class as a whole, I don’t really offer concrete methods for helping a student who does not recognize what they don’t understand to gain that recognition. I would like to have a more systematic way to help in this process.

Therefore, I read with interest an account of a CUNY project on self-regulated learning, described recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education here . The article describes how in a basic math course at City Tech, “when students make errors, they need to be coached to reflect on exactly where they went wrong…students are required to rework at least two of their incorrect quiz problems…[and] write a sentence or two about the correct strategy.”

What do other instructors think? How do you respond to students who don’t recognize when they don’t know or understand something?

Posted in Analytical Skills, Students' Skills and Abilities, Students' Thinking | 3 Comments

Excelling at Excel

Should all undergraduate business students study spreadsheet-based modeling?

For the past two years I’ve been thinking about this question, first as a member of the Provost’s Task Force for Quantitative Pedagogy, and now as a member of two follow-up efforts (the Weissman School’s “implementation committee” and the Zicklin School’s “quant group”). If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share some of what I am hearing.

First, I asked young alumni as well as hiring managers who recruit Baruch’s BBA graduates.

They told me that to compete for the best entry-level professional positions, one needs spreadsheet fluency (some said that PowerPoint presentation skills and Access database skills are key too). And once on the job, according to Accountancy’s Harry Davis, young Excel and Access database “whiz kids” are receiving promotions earlier, especially at smaller firms where such skills are invaluable. Just yesterday someone told me that she perceives a double standard on Wall Street: all else being equal, Ivy League entry-level job candidates can say, “sure, I can learn MS-Excel visual basic macros” whereas a Baruch candidate would probably receive additional scrutiny over such statements.

Next, I surveyed our undergraduate BBA students (i.e., my MGT 3121 students.)

Students tell me that they want stand-alone courses in Excel modeling and they want Excel deeply embedded in business courses where it makes sense. I’ve heard this so many times that it motivated this article for my professional society’s monthly magazine.

Next, I asked Patricia Imbimbo and C. May Reilly at Baruch’s STARR Career Development Center.

They tell me that the need for spreadsheet and modeling skills are so great that they developed their own training program. The two-dozen or so students who qualify for the Financial Leadership Program (FLP; formerly called Wall Street Careers) receive three half-day Excel workshops on shortcuts, pivot tables, if statements, solver, vlookups and visual basic macro programming. In addition, Training the Street gives FLP participants additional modeling instruction. If our most promising graduates need such training, what does this say about the other 2000 BBAs who expect to graduate this year?

(more…)

Posted in Analytical Skills, Quantitative Skills | 9 Comments

“Freshbloggers”

The Schwartz Communication Institute’s Luke Waltzer just posted to cac.ophony an interesting discussion of one of our most ambitious projects to date, the introduction of student blogging into every section of Freshman Seminar. In Luke’s words, “every Freshman Seminar at Baruch currently is blogging. That’s roughly 60 sections, populated by over 1200 students. Yowser.”

The idea of the FRO blogging project, a collaboration with our colleagues at Advisement and Orientation, is to provide first-year students with an online, public space for reflecting on a number of required projects and activities as well as their experiences of acclimating to college life — to give our incoming students yet more curricular opportunities to write and, in the process, to increase engagement and deepen their thinking about what they are learning and experiencing in their first year at Baruch.

Luke’s post details some of the nitty gritty of the project, which is one big experiment (a full-scale pilot, if you will) that we hope will teach us quite a bit more about the pedagogical potential of online personal publishing in introductory programs and courses. We hope, for example, to look closely at the tremendous variety of writing we have seen in the FRO blogs so far (from well articulated, impressively developed posts resembling mini-essays to brief, informal missives written in like SMS text messages) and explore ways in which to better teach students the conventions of college-level written discourse. For now, we’re focused fairly heavily on logistics and mechanics and look forward to building on and refining the programmatic and pedagogical aspects in coming semesters.

Student blogging seems to be a natural fit for typical Freshman Seminars, so I would expect that other schools have tried something like this though it does appear as though we at Baruch are blazing new trails. If you know of other schools doing something similar, please let us know.

Posted in Communication Skills, Instructional Technology, Student Participation | 14 Comments

Note Taking Tips

Lifehacker recently posted this handy survey of five ways to take notes, something that may be worth sharing with your students.

Posted in Students' Skills and Abilities, Students' Thinking | 2 Comments

VOCAT and the Question of Openness

x-posted from cac.ophony.org

It recently occurred to me that very little has been written about the Schwartz Communication Institute’s most ambitious and potentially most promising project, our Video Oral Communication Assessment Tool, or VOCAT. I have presented on VOCAT a number of times over the years (most recently at the 2009 Computers and Writing conference in June), but have not yet written about it in any kind of real detail. So it’s high time to remedy that.

VOCAT is a teaching and assessment web application. It is the fruit of a collaboration between the Schwartz Institute and mad genius code-poets at , Cast Iron Coding, Zach Davis and Lucas Thurston. It is still very much in development (perpetually so) but is already in use in introductory speech communication and theater courses as well as a number of assessment projects. Our career center used it effectively a few semesters ago as well. To date, approximately 3200 Baruch students have used the tool.

VOCAT was developed in recognition of the principle that careful, guided review of video recordings of their oral presentations (or of any performance, for that matter) can be remarkably effective for aiding students in becoming confident, purposeful and effective speakers. It serves as a means for instructors to easily provide feedback on student presentations.  It enables students to access videos of their performances as well as instructor feedback and to respond to both. It likewise aggregates recorded presentations and instructor feedback for each user and offers an informative snapshot of a student’s work and progress over the course of a given term or even an entire academic career. Presentations can be scored live, as students perform, or asynchronously once the videos have been uploaded. (Our turnaround time at this stage is between one and seven days depending on how many sections are using the tool at once — once some of the key steps happen server-side, turnaround time will not be as much of a concern.) Built on the open source TYPO3 content management system, it is a flexible, extensible and scalable web application that can be used at once as a teaching tool and as a means of data collection for research or other assessment purposes. (Screenshots are available here. I am also happy to share demo login info with anyone who would like to take a look — please email me at mikhail [dot] gershovich [at] baruch [dot] cuny [dot] edu.)

While VOCAT is quite feature-rich at this early stage, especially when it comes to reporting, data export, and rubric creation, we are always thinking about ways in which the tool can be made more robust and flexible. Currently, we are playing around with adding a group manager feature for group presentations, tagging for non-numeric assessment, moving from QT to Flash video, video annotation, as well as server-side video processing and in-line video and audio recording. We are also considering allowing users to choose to enable social functionality to take advantage of web 2.0 tools for sharing and commenting on one another’s work. And since, at its core, VOCAT is a tool for aggregating and responding to anything that can be uploaded, we’re thinking about other uses to which it could be put. It could easily, for example, be adapted for writing assessment. And someone once suggested that it could be useful for teaching bedside manner for medical students. Adapting VOCAT for these purposes is hardly a big deal.

The platform on which VOCAT is built is open source but the tool itself is not yet open. Right now, it is Baruch’s alone. Whether it should stay that way is a question much discussed around here. Here at the Institute we face several critical issues around open education, not the least of which is conflicting views on student access of Blogs@Baruch. In regards to VOCAT, however, the one thing constantly on my mind is the tension between an internal drive to share the tool as an open-source web application and build a community around it (there are no shortage of interested parties) and the pressures (or maybe a pernicious institutional common sense) that seem to compel us to keep VOCAT proprietary and use it to generate as much revenue as possible. I have heard arguments that VOCAT should be Baruch’s alone — that we should charge for its use and seek private funding for its deployment and development. This is a business school, after all, and I’m sure promoting and marketing VOCAT could be an interesting project for an upper division Marketing course.

Yet, I am inclined to believe that VOCAT should be shared freely and widely with other institutions and that other developers should be encouraged to develop for it.  A great many more students would benefit and development would certainly be accelerated as more and more schools add features they need that could then be adopted for use here. Were VOCAT open, in other words, it would evolve quickly and probably in ways we haven’t even imagined. And that is very exiting.

In the coming months, I hope to continue to present on VOCAT and to gain insights into the roles it can play in communication intensive courses or in a communication-focused curriculum of any sort. More importantly, I would like to move towards opening it up and will work with our developers on the features and functionality that facilitate sharing. I hope also to draw upon the tremendous expertise of my friends and colleagues involved in the open education movement and learn from those who have worked with and developed various open source tools for teaching and learning. Listening to others’ ideas for VOCAT has been invaluable to thinking through what this web app could ostensibly do with the right sort of development.  could be and how to best realize its full potential as a teaching tool — both in terms of deployment, training, and development.

Posted in Assessing Learning, Communication Skills, Student Participation, Teaching Large Classes, Using Technology | 6 Comments

Citing Sources in Slide Presentation

A student I was helping at the reference desk recently asked me to examine a slide presentation he and a classmate were working on for an assignment. On one slide, there appeared a bulletted item that was clearly not written by the students. When I mentioned to the student that she should consider putting quote marks around the quotation and in some fashion identify the source, she seemed completely nonplussed, as though there was no need to indicate in this slide medium content which material was written by others. That got me to thinking that I haven’t really seen any guidelines or best practices about how to indicate in a slide that text or ideas came from another source.

I’m curious to hear what sort of advice instructors give to students about citing sources for slide presentations. While it easy to envision a final slide that is a reference list, it seems to be trickier to develop best practices for identifying sources in slides that make up the main part of a presentation. Should you use numbered notes? An author-date notation set in parentheses? A source note at the bottom of the slide? To what extent can the rules that are delineated in the major style guides (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) be applied to slide presentations? Do these rules, which were created to support the needs of scholars writing books, articles, and reports, work well in a medium like slide presentations, where there is a great deal of flexibility in the way text can be presented?

Posted in Academic Integrity, Communication Skills, Students' Skills and Abilities | 9 Comments

A+ . . . Despite Heavy Accent

Question: A student gives a presentation. He has a heavy foreign accent and is at times incomprehensible. Overall, the speech seems well researched and on target. What do you do?

a. Give him an A.

b. Subtract points for incomprehensibility and give him a B.

c. Tell him that the presentation was unacceptable and that he should improve his oral communication proficiency.

Instructors cite a variety of reasons (often with a kernel of truth) why they let incomprehensibility slide:

1. “Asking a student to reduce his/her accent is embarrassing and discouraging.” — It is true that accents are windows to our identity, and that a student changing his/her accent may experience a tangible sense of loss or feel repercussions from home culture friends and family.

(more…)

Posted in Assessing Learning, Communication Skills, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

What Will You Do Differently?

One of the things I do at the end of my training classes is hand out a post assessment. Instead of asking what faculty and staff participants think of me as an instructor, I ask what they feel they are taking away with them as a result of attending the class. The goal is to measure learning, not my level of popularity (participants can and still do tell me what they think of my teaching). You may know that I am a fan of Stephen Brookfield, and my post-assessment form is based upon a chapter in his book, The Skillful Teacher, on improving lectures. I would like to apply this to our Teaching Blog. Please comment with your response to one or more of the following questions:

What point(s) made in any of the posts or comments thus far stand(s) out most to you?

What do you know now that you did not know before?

What will you do differently now as a result of participating in the Teaching Blog? (I am defining “participating” broadly – reading, commenting on, or writing posts.)

What issues have been raised that need further discussion or most need addressing by the College?

Posted in Students' Skills and Abilities, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A for Content . . . F for Form

It’s term paper time. Actually, it was time last week for term paper drafts in two of my classes. Unfortunately, six students had draft grades below 50 (three below 40). The thing is: Their papers were actually quite good with respect to content. The students had clearly conducted their research and presented interesting information and analyses. But the papers had 50 or more errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, citations, and reference formatting.

The drafts were supposed to be proofread and in decent shape. The students knew that they can gain back only half the subtracted points through revisions. I also encouraged students to show me their drafts before submitting them to catch problems early on. None of the six students did. They also didn’t go to the Writing Center, although I reminded them several times of its existence. (more…)

Posted in Students' Skills and Abilities | 5 Comments