Sometimes it’s about just making it through the week.

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The plan this week was to post something on how the Modern Algebra course turned out, and maybe another one of those GTD-oriented posts, maybe on how to end the semester strong. But today this seems dishonest. Because while I’ve been able to manage the stress and demands of doing my job over the last year, in the meanwhile there has been trouble brewing over on the personal and family side of things. At times that trouble has boiled over and we’ve dealt with it. This week it boiled over again…

It’s probably better not to give final exams at all, but if you must, then here are some alternative approaches that do more to help students.

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It’s almost final exam season for a lot of us. As that time rolls closer, it makes me think about something wonderful that happened during the pandemic in 2020: A lot of faculty just opted out of traditional final exams. We took a look at our students and at ourselves, ran the cost/benefit analysis of having a traditional final exam, and simply said — You know what? It’s not worth it. And it turned…

Teaching math as if computers existed leads to less cheating and better engagement with core mathematical ideas.

Photo credit: NASA

When the Big Pivot came around last March, I wasn’t teaching — I had the semester off from teaching to serve as department chair. Instead, I was helping 40+ faculty in my department adjust to suddenly going online. I saw the full spectrum of approaches to teaching college-level mathematics across a range of courses from basic algebra to topology. One thing became clear very quickly: The more a faculty member fought against technology, the harder things got. Once everything went online, then all…

Universities are not businesses and shouldn’t be run like them; but good companies have cultures that universities would do well to study.

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Last week I got a rare opportunity, for a faculty member at least: To work for a couple of hours with a group of about 50 Student Affairs staff at SUNY Broome, a community college in the State University of New York system. …

Having students teach themselves things is a feature, not a bug in higher education and we need to stop apologizing for it.

Student studying in a lecture hall — Photo by <a href=”">Philippe Bout</a> on <a href=”/s/photos/study?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText”>Unsplash</a>
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

I believe in lifelong learning. Not in a hazy, college-mission-statement sort of way but as a concrete goal for college pedagogy, realized in our teaching and course design and actualized in the day-to-day work of the class. I’m interested in, and have been evangelizing for, pedagogical models that don’t just talk about lifelong learning but make it real, by giving students tangible tools and experiences to get them engaged with it now and not hoping that lifelong learning…

Where load comes from that isn’t necessarily “work”-load.

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Last time I wrote that the present concerns about student workload in higher education might not be about the amount of work being given to students, or not just about this, but rather it’s about a combination of three other things:

  1. A lack of connectedness among the concepts in a course;
  2. A lack of training in managing multiple high-level commitments; and
  3. Assessment schemes built around high stakes and zero tolerance.

Each of these carries its own cognitive and emotional load in addition to the quantifiable assignment workload in a course. All of…

It’s not necessarily the workload.

Last week I administered the first round of informal mid-semester evaluations to my students, one question of which says:

How are YOU doing right now, in terms of life, school, and everything else? What do you need, and how can I help?

This was an optional item, and not every respondent chose to answer it. But among those who did, a common theme was that my workload right now is getting to be too much to handle. …

And why lecturing is so expensive.

This semester I’ve moved from teaching hybrid classes to synchronous online classes. Instead of being on campus four days a week to teach the face-to-face meetings of my classes, I am now teaching from home 100% of the time, using my home office as the base of operations. Like every other faculty member who shifted to teaching from home, I’ve had to figure out how best to configure my tools and my workspace to make it a productive and comfortable environment for me, and an effective learning experience for my students. …

Learning takes courage. And what our students need from us faculty right now, more than anything, is our courage.

I have a notebook that I use to navigate just about every aspect of my life. Everything goes into it, from daily to-do lists and passing thoughts all the way to deep dives into my darkest issues and greatest hopes. At the front of this journal is a quote from C. S. Lewis that I review every day:

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. — C.S. …

When life gets especially difficult, it forces you to fall back on your identity. Who are you? And what kind of person do you want to be? Throughout 2020, which was a profoundly difficult year for me and my family in several ways, I’ve been asking these questions of myself. They are answered on several different levels all corresponding to the roles that I play in my life. I could go into a lot of detail about each of those roles. …

Robert Talbert

Mathematics professor who studies, speaks, and writes about teaching, learning, technology, and higher education. Also a Dad, Catholic convert + decent cook.

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