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by Tiera S. Coston


"Colorful World Globe Human Family" by GDJ is licensed under CC BY.

The idea of diversity has been a popular theme in every aspect of society from sports and politics to  economics and education. And, it should be. Countless studies have shown that diverse groups make better decisions and obtain better results than uniform groups. The nature of the diversity includes everything from ethnicity, gender, and the type of work performed to  sexual orientation,  geographic location and religion. Richard Freeman and Wei Huang specifically demonstrated this phenomenon in the area of research. Through an analysis of 2.5 million research papers, the duo revealed that papers with a more ethnically diverse group of authors were published in higher-impact journals and were cited more often than papers whose authors were of the same ethnicity.1 There are many possible reasons for this effect, but some cited by Freeman and Wei include: 1) a greater variety of perspectives addressing the problem; 2) extra effort or work put in by group members to overcome possible cultural or communication barriers; 3) exposure of the group's work to diverse networks because of the makeup of the group; and 4) exposure of the group to various tools and languages to address the problem. Despite these advantages, we, as individuals in society, tend to collaborate most with those with whom we have similarities on some level. Studies like the one conducted by Freeman and Huang provide us a glimpse of potential successes, breakthroughs and triumphs that are possible when we engage in problem-solving with diverse teams. We are called upon to use this information as an impetus to purposefully seek out collaborative relationships with those whose background, outlook, and professional and personal circles are different from our own.

1. Freeman RB, Huang W. Collaborating with People Like Me: Ethnic Co-Authorship within the U.S. Journal of Labor Economics, Special Issue on High Skill Immigration [Internet]. 2015;33 (3):S289-S318.

by Tiera S. Coston

As teachers, we all want to encourage the development and enhancement of the problem-solving skills of our students.  However, we may have to tap into some problem-solving skill of our own when attempting to create a classroom environment that is engaging, informational and effective in meeting the objectives of our courses.  Many times, this is easier said than done.  But, fear not.  The Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University has created an excellent resource that may help you to effectively address teaching issues that are commonly encountered in the classroom.  This Solve a Teaching Problem tool works as an easy-to-use, three-step process.  First, you identify the problem that is occurring in your teaching from a listing of issues that are divided into broadly-themed categories.  These categories include: Attitudes & Motivation; Prerequisite Knowledge and Preparedness; Critical Thinking & Applying Knowledge; Group Skills and Dynamics; Classroom Behavior & Etiquette; and Grading and Assessment.

Step 1.

Step 1

Once you identify the problem, the second step is to identify the possible reasons that the problem is occurring.

Step 2.

Step 2

Once you understand why the problem may be occurring, the final step is to explore the strategies provided to determine what may be effective in addressing the problem.

Step 3.

Step 3

It is important to note that these strategies are both evidence-based and practical.  However, as with any strategies, certain ones may work for some while being ineffective for others.  The idea is to think critically about what is happening in your particular class and use the strategies as a guide to create a plan of action for your specific situation.  Happy problem-solving.

Dr. Kandethody Ramachandran visited Xavier University of Louisiana to discuss the details and accomplishments of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) Project at the University of South Florida (USF). Dr. Ramachandran described how methods were instituted that effectively advanced student success in Calculus. The STEP project at USF is based on the premise that success in calculus is the gateway to success in the STEM fields. STEP is aimed at increasing STEM graduates through intervention programs in the Engineering and Life Science Calculus sequences. Through this project, several transportable strategies such as, one stop extended hour tutoring lab (STEM Mart), project-based teaching, and peer leading have been developed and implemented. These multiple strategies have transformed the teaching of calculus at USF and are leading to increased retention and pass rates for students. Also, faculty are enthusiastic in implementing these strategies in their class rooms. STEM Mart is a tutoring center that provides undergraduate students in the STEM disciplines an opportunity to receive free tutoring from other successful undergraduate students selected by the program. In project based teaching, “bridge” projects were introduced into Engineering Calculus II and III and Life Sciences Calculus II. Students work with a faculty member or supervisor in their workplace to define a problem, write and analyze appropriate equations, and write a narrative report – in essence, they write a story problem, and then answer it and write it up as a scientific report. In peer leading, a curriculum of inquiry-based activities was developed that follows the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. Undergraduate peer leaders lead weekly, 50-minute guided-inquiry sessions in Engineering and Life Science Calculus I. The curricula developed by faculty and graduate students focus on guiding students to discover concepts of calculus prior to lecture, along with algebra and trigonometry warm-ups. These strategies have proven successful with an overall pass rate that went from about 50-55% before project inception to about 70-73% by the end of six years.


by Tiera S. Coston

Growth Fixed Image

How would you feel if someone told you that your intelligence, talents, and personality were fixed traits that could not be changed? What if someone else told you that these same traits could be nurtured, developed and grown throughout your life? How would you feel then? The answers to these questions have an enormous impact on a person's mindset, and consequently, in mentoring. A mindset is a set of beliefs that an individual has about his/her most elemental traits. When we, as mentors, foster a fixed mindset (whether consciously or unconsciously), we may leave our mentees with the belief that their intelligence, abilities and talents are already determined and nothing can be done to change them. However, when we foster a growth mindset, our mentees are shown that their traits can be developed throughout their lives with conscious and sustained effort. Mentees can then begin to see a world without limitations. GROWTH AND FIXED MINDSETS IN MENTORING: THE TALE OF THE HELP AND THE HINDRANCE focuses on examining those behaviors, many of which we may be unaware, that foster the growth and the fixed mindsets. It also provides some helpful scenarios that demonstrate how to foster a growth mindset and discourage a fixed one. Finally, a mindset quiz is included to help you (and your mentees) determine what kind of mindset you have.

Click on the summit logo above for more information, to submit a proposal or to register for the conference.
Click on the summit logo above for more information, to submit a proposal or to register for the conference.

Looking for a conference that is exciting, collegial and a great value? Consider submitting a proposal to the Research on Teaching and Learning Summit. Formerly known as The Georgia Conference on College & University Teaching, the Research on Teaching and Learning Summit has been renamed to underscore the commitment to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, with an emphasis on research and evidence. Now in its third decade, the Summit is designed to provide college and university faculty the opportunity to discuss and share experiences and innovative teaching techniques. It offers concurrent sessions on cutting-edge issues in pedagogy and higher education in a relaxed, congenial atmosphere. There are also opportunities for participants to network with fellow educators.

The deadline for proposals has been extended to December 12, 2014, and the conference will be held on February 20-21, 2015, at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA.

Despite their importance, this is how many college students view their textbooks.
Despite their importance, this is how many college students view their textbooks.

Textbook reading is essential to a student's success, not only during his/her undergraduate education, but well beyond. Yet, students' compliance with class reading assignments is discouragingly low. Understanding why students don't read is a prerequisite to putting strategies into place that strongly encourage students to view their texts as useful and helpful tools, and ultimately encourage reading. Understanding Student's Aversion to Textbook Reading provides some literature-based insight into why students may not view their textbooks as the learning resources that they are, including reasons that are more under the control of the professor than the student. The presentation also offers some practical approaches to encouraging reading that address the specific reasons for students' aversion to textbook reading.


by Tiera S. Coston

Better Mistakes

For most of us, the words "mistake" and "failure" conjure up feelings of insecurity, humiliation and anxiety. And if the the words have such a negative effect, then think of how we feel when we actually make a mistake or fail at something. Further complicate the situation by imagining that the person who made the mistake or failed at something is a young college student who is already feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared. I propose a shift in the way we view mistakes and failure. We, as educators, must model to our students a mindset in which mistakes and failure are a natural part of mastering subject matter. We must teach them how to use their mistakes as valuable information that can illuminate their road to mastery. Mistakes are one of the most important things that can happen in the classroom because they have the power to direct students where to focus their efforts. Ultimately, academic success comes from how students feel about and use their mistakes. Helping your students to understand that failure is not only an option, but a necessity, is one of the most important things you will ever teach them. I certainly do not suggest that facilitating this shift in mindset in your classroom will be easy; it will require a great deal of work for both you and the students. However, consistent effort and a willingness to try (and fail at) different approaches will yield students who are in a better position to learn and succeed (master subject matter). Failure is an Option: Helping Your Students Make Their Mistakes Work for Them may help to give you a starting point if you would like to facilitate this type of paradigm shift in your classroom. Also, here is the form if you are interested in using the RAM Strategy.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the importance of STEM education in keeping America competitive and innovative in the 21st century. What is much less frequently spoken of, however, is the importance of art in innovation. Infusing the artistic (A) into STEM provides the STEAM that drives innovation. Nine creativity-inspiring tips were used to link three seemingly dissimilar entities: 1) The Greek Muses; 2) New Orleans streets; and 3) the idea that art is necessary to drive scientific advancement. So, sit back a take a trip around the streets of the 'Big Easy' to be reminded of how to nurture and support your own creativity to fuel those much desired innovations in science, technology, engineering and math.

Countless studies have demonstrated and documented the benefits to students who participate in undergraduate research. One of the most valuable benefits to students majoring in the STEM fields is preparation for post-baccalaureate education. There is a great deal of structure and detail that goes into building an undergraduate research program, and an important part of this structure is the undergraduate research mentor. Those who choose to mentor undergraduate researchers play a crucial role in the student's experience, which can determine whether the student continues on the STEM pathway or chooses to change course. For this reason, it is important that the mentor is well prepared to effectively guide her charge through the complex journey of academic research. Learning to be a good mentor is a process; like most things, the more it is practiced, the better the practitioner will become. However, there are established programs that have been developed that provide mentors with a practical framework within which to develop an effective method of mentoring. Presented below is a "checklist" that is based on some of elements of these programs. Because no two students are the same, the checklist is designed to inspire the mentor to assess each student individually and resist the urge to take a one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring.

Checklist for Mentoring the Undergraduate Research Student
Laying the Foundation
• Are you (or a proxy) available to the student on a regular and consistent basis?
• Have you developed a rapport with the student beyond the subject of your research?
• Do you ask enough questions of the student to fully understand his/her perspective?
• Have you created an environment where the student can freely ask questions without fear or embarrassment?
• Do you ensure that communication with the student is clear and effective?
• Are you sure that your area of research is best for and of interest to the student?
• Have you developed a mentoring philosophy and does it inform your actions as a mentor?
• Do you come to the relationship with no judgment or preconceived ideas about the student?
• Are you aware of the possibility of unconscious assumptions or biases?
• Did the student participate in setting the goals and objectives they are expected to meet?
• Do you address problems or issues that arise quickly and fairly?
• Is the feedback provided to the student honest and constructive?
• Do you seek the advice and support of more experience mentors?
Research and Professional Development
• Is the research project reasonable in scope and feasible?
• Can the project generate data that the student can present?
• Does the project have built-in challenges designed to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills?
• Have you provided the student a clear and thorough orientation to the research environment, including safety, personnel and culture?
• Does the student have the opportunity to engage in scientific writing?
• Have you set clear, reasonable and high expectations for the student and informed him/her of what he/she should expect from you?
• Is there a forum where the student can present the results of his/her research?

Kuh, George D. 2008. “High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter.” Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Lopatto, David. 2010. “Science in Solution: The Impact of Undergraduate Research on Student Learning.” Washington, D.C.: Council of Undergraduate Research and Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement.

Elgren, Tim and Hensel, Nancy. 2006. “Undergraduate Research Experiences: Synergies between Scholarship and Teaching.” Peer Review, 8(1), 4-7.

Gant, Gary D., & Dillon, Michael J. and Malott, Richard W. (1980) A Behavioral System for Supervising Undergraduate Research. Teaching of Psychology Vol 7, No. 2: 89-92.

Pita, M, Ramirez, C. Joacin, N., Prentice, S. & Clarke, C. (Spring 2013). Five Effective Strategies for Mentoring Undergraduates: Students’ Perspectives. CUR Quarterly, 33(3), 11-15.

Office of Undergraduate Research. Mentoring Undergraduate: A Guide for Mentor. Retrieved from University of Miami.

Temple, Louise, Subley, Thomas Q. and Orr, Amy J. (2010). How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers. Council on Undergraduate Research.

Handelsman, J., Pfund, C., Miller Lauffer, S., and Maidl Pribbenow, C. (2005). Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists. Madison, WI: Univversity of Wisconsin Press.

I recently attended the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) conference on Transforming STEM Education: Inquiry, Innovation, Inclusion and Evidence. It was an information-rich conference which highlighted the amazing initiatives currently taking place in the field of STEM education.To give you a taste of the veritable smorgasbord of information provided at the conference, I have prepared a summary of the sessions I attended in the whirlwind two days that I was at the meeting.

Please feel free to contact me if you want to discuss or learn more about any of the topics included in the summary. Bon appétit!