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Faculty Tips and Insights

Ann Feyerherm teaching in workshop

Read the latest tips from our distinguished faculty on how to make a positive impact on the classroom experience.

What is Possible in an Online Class: How to Create an Assignment that Makes a Lasting and Visible Impact on Students

By Dr. Ann Feyerherm, Professor of Organizational Theory and Management

I approached the first online class for the MSML program "Leadership and Self" with a bit of trepidation. Could I design an experience that would have students examine their own beliefs, values, and behaviors and start them on a leadership journey that could transform their lives? While the jury is still out (the class ends later this summer), I gave an assignment of practicing some form of "mindfulness" for four weeks (focus on the breath, give up electronics for an hour, journaling, etc.) and then writing about any changes they experienced (or not). This assignment was grounded in the concepts of how discoveries in neurosciences are affecting leadership practices. The first student, Bianca, just turned in her paper. At the beginning of her day, she practiced 3 deep breaths, said a prayer and took a few minutes thinking about how grateful she is.  I quote from her reflection paper (with permission): 

 "At work, I have built real friendships over the last ten years with my accounts, and we know each other on a very personal level. They have commented on how much more aware, motivated, and present I am during interactions. These friends notice how much lighter I am when I walk into their offices.

When we demonstrate a caring approach versus a selfish attitude, we are more likely to succeed in our relationships."  She ends with "In conclusion, this is a practice I can see myself continuing for the rest of my life. I also plan to allow myself the flexibility to add to it as I see necessary..... I now look forward to any positive modifications I may decide to make in my mindfulness practice, as well the changes they may bring to me and those around me."

While this particular assignment is appropriate for the subject matter I am teaching, I hope it illustrates how we, as professors, can create assignments that build on the power of practice AND reflecting on that practice. 


Group Member Peer Reviews: Using CATME to Help the Teacher and the Teams with Participation Assessment

By Dr. Brian Jacobs, Associate Professor of Decision Sciences

If your course has a significant group component, it can be a challenge to manage and evaluate group participation.  But without effective monitoring and control, dysfunctional groups can really hinder achieving the learning objectives, and potentially ruin the student experience.  Since we can’t (and shouldn’t) be privy to all group discussions and work sessions, we must rely on feedback from students to evaluate the group dynamics and the individual contributions of each member.  Most of us have some system to collect feedback on individual performance in groups, whether it’s a simple form or an online survey. In many cases, our systems were developed through our own experiences or borrowed from colleagues.

A few years ago, I was introduced to an online system named CATME (Comprehensive Assessment of Team-Member Effectiveness).  CATME was developed by academics collaborating across several universities; its initial development was funded by NSF grants.  It’s a more scientific approach to enabling student feedback, and its development and results have been published in peer-reviewed articles.  For more info, see: https://info.catme.org/ 

After creating your class within CATME, you can set up periodic surveys for each group.  The system allows you to pick from pre-developed questions. I typically use the five default dimensions for each student to rate themselves and their fellow group members:

  • Contributing to the Team's Work
  • Interacting with Teammates
  • Keeping the Team on Track
  • Expecting Quality
  • Having Related Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

In addition, each student is asked to rate:

  • I am satisfied with my present teammates
  • I am pleased with the way my teammates and I work together
  • I am very satisfied with working in this team

CATME also permits students to write confidential comments that only the teacher sees.

This might sound burdensome, but it only takes a few minutes to set up the survey, and most students can complete it for a 4-person group within a few minutes.  When the survey period closes, the teacher can preview all the comments and ratings before deciding whether to release them to the students.

I adjust the frequency of the survey depending on how extensive the group work is in the course.  In my courses where the majority of the grade is based on group work, I have performed surveys weekly.  In other courses with less-intense group work, I might only use a survey twice per semester.

My experience with CATME has been very positive, and I’ve received good feedback from several students.  For example, this is a quote from a current student: “I've never used CATME before but am a fan of the feedback structure. It definitely forces you to think about your teammates and their interaction with the team.”

What about the downsides?  Some students are resistant to rating their peers, viewing that as our job.  I explain in the first class (and in my syllabus) why peer reviews are so important:  1) it gives constructive feedback to each group member on their strengths, weaknesses, and contributions; 2) it gives practice to each group member on how to give constructive feedback (an essential management skill); and 3) it helps ensure that each group member satisfactorily participates.  The other downside is that there’s a nominal cost. When I first started using CATME, it was fully supported by grants and was free to all participants. However, CATME has recently instituted an administrative fee of $2.00 per student per year. If we were to adopt CATME on a broader scale, there are discounted rates for departments, colleges, and entire universities.