Timers, House Cleaning, and Student Success

Ish Stabosz - mop

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

PhD student Anjali Gopal recently wrote a piece for the GradHacker blog over at Inside Higher Ed called Setting Five Minute Timers.

In her article, Gopal talks about how the practice of setting short timers for herself has helped her check off to-do lists, get started on tedious task, and ignore the temptation to do everything perfectly.

Among Gopal’s experiences that I can relate to are the following…

  • Spending a half hour agonizing over the wording of an email
  • Ignoring the boring tasks (like tracking blog statistics) in favor of the enjoyable ones (like writing blog posts!)
  • Only taking 30 seconds to prep for a meeting (and maybe sometimes less)

Her solution to these problems is the five minute timer, the power of which she sums up as follows:

Using short bursts of high-energy work can be highly effective in finishing up stale tasks, getting started on daunting projects, and in giving thoughtful consideration to rushed decisions.

As I read Gopal’s post, I couldn’t help but think of FlyLady, one of my mother-in-law’s favorite internet personas. FlyLady encourages efficient and effective housecleaning and home organization to help her followers avoid “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome”. One of her mottoes is “You can do anything for 15 minutes”, which she uses as a battle cry to inspire overwhelmed homeowners to de-clutter for 15 minutes a day (she even sells timers emblazoned with the motto).

Okay, okay. What’s the point?

If you’re wondering why I’m writing about this on Forward Thinking, so am I.

No, just kidding. I’m getting there.

I’ve blogged about my 5-2-1-0 method for productivity in the past, but as I was reading Gopal’s post and contemplating the wisdom of FlyLady, I thought…

Wouldn’t it have been great to learn how to manage my time when I was a student?

Wouldn’t it have been helpful to learn how to organize a house before mine became a mess? (that is, exploded with children)

Seriously, I didn’t get productive until pretty recently.

I basically spent the majority of my life floundering around in all of my responsibilities until it became impossible to do so. That’s when I figured out how to get organized.

So, maybe I can do my students a good turn by helping them avoid the same pitfalls I fell into. I know I’m just an English teacher, but it shouldn’t be too hard to embed productivity tips into the course. One of the practices that Gopal mentions is to set a timer and then complete a task as if “that five minutes was the only time” she had to get it done.

That would be a quick and easy lesson to teach my students about rough drafts:

You’ve got an outline done? Good. Now pick one heading you want to work on. I’m gonna give you five minutes to write a paragraph about it. Pretend that’s the only time that you have. Ready. Set. Go.

And revision, students hate revision:

Listen up, kids. You can do anything for 15 minutes. We’ll practice it once in class today. But your final draft is due next week. Between now and then, spend 15 minutes a day revising your essay.

How about you? What are some ways that you can incorporate productivity lessons into your courses without losing instructional time?


“Go Forth and Reuse!”

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Last month, the New York Public Library announced the addition of almost 200,000 items to their digital collections. In their announcement, they make it clear that these are free to use without restriction with the following words:

No permission required, no hoops to jump through: just go forth and reuse!

Ever wonder how 1857 New York City was laid out?

NYC 1857

Or maybe what floor plans looked like in the early 1900s?

Floor Plan 1900s

Or how MIT classrooms were designed more than a century ago?

MIT classroom

The collection is big, and it provides some great material for use in your lessons. Consider how your discipline has changed in the past century? What conversations could you start with your students using an artifact that shows that change?

Explore the collection your self at http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/ and share your finds in the comments.

Peer Observation, Self Reflection


By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Author’s Note:

Last semester, I had the pleasure of teaching the first-ever offering of IDT G91: Peer Observation, for employees at Delaware Tech. This course provided participants an opportunity to observe their colleagues in the classroom and reflect on those experiences. Because it was my first time teaching the course, I also completed all of the observation hours and assignments. This post is a slightly modified version of my final reflection on the course.

I share it to inspire educators everywhere to consider the benefits of peer observation, whether through a formal program or something much more organic that starts at the water cooler. I have also included, in several captions, testimony that others enrolled in the course offered to be shared.


I’m the instructor in this course, Peer Observation, so shouldn’t I already know everything about it? What do I really have to reflect on?

In a word: everything. Continue reading

The 2015 Top Five

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Now that a new year is upon us and spring semester is underway, it’s a good time to look back and remember what happened here at Forward Thinking in 2015. Here are our top 5 most-viewed posts from last year. Continue reading

Discovering Evidence of Effective Instruction


By Melissa Brown
Nursing Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

As a new instructor I am constantly looking for ways to determine if my teaching was effective and if the students are “getting it.” I am always looking for ideas to strengthen my lessons. What better way than to ask the students for input?

One idea that was recently suggested to me was to ask students a question and have them answer anonymously. This method allows students to answer honestly and provide constructive criticism about clinical, lecture and learning activities.

In clinical, I asked two questions; “What is one thing you wish your instructor knew?” and “What is one thing would you like to do in clinical?” These questions are asked toward the end of the semester when the students have a good idea of what the clinical experience involves. From the responses, I have received excellent feedback about how students learn in clinical and also what they would like to see done differently.

In the classroom I ask the students to write on a separate piece of paper one thing they learned and one thing they would like clarification about. I find these questions beneficial in helping my adjust my lesson plans. In addition to providing feedback they also allow me to review specific content at the beginning of the next class.

Also, in the clinical setting, students are asked to complete concept maps that help the instructor to determine if the student is critically thinking about various concepts (e.g., perfusion, oxygenation, fluid and electrolytes) related to their specific patient and how each concept affects the other (e.g., how perfusion affects oxygenation). This allows the instructor to really understand a student’s thought process and where the student may need more information.

All of these evaluation strategies have been very helpful in the determination of how effective my teaching has been and also how the students are progressing in the critical thinking process.

I don’t think any of these ideas are new, but for a novice instructor I feel it is very important to have some idea of the effectiveness of my teaching. The best way to get feedback is directly from the students. Students are the ones that will benefit from improved and effective teaching strategies. Why not allow them to provide input?

Students have the potential to provide new ways of thinking about how an activity is completed and whether or not the activity was beneficial. I am continuously looking for ways to determine if my teaching is effective and also how students perceive my teaching style.

How to Keep a Human Presence in a Virtual World


By Joan Harden
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

US News reports that in the past year, nationwide enrollment at two-year colleges has dropped 6 percent citing that the biggest drop is among the nontraditional students (Sheehy, 2015); and the US Census also reports that “a large part of the decline took place in two-year colleges (known often as community or junior colleges). Such schools experienced a 10 percent decline in enrollment from 2012 to 2013” (United States Census Bureau, 2014, para. 5).

However, one area that has increased enrollment is online education. One school in Florida’s online course enrollment increased 15.5 percent during 2013-2014; while another school in Texas reported an 18 percent increase in 2014 (Sheehy, 2015).

With advancements in technology, online learning has grown from a “correspondence course” delivered via the U.S. postal service (mid-nineteenth century) to the present online virtual education platform that is available almost anywhere at any time. Teaching an online course has become the norm today, but is very different from teaching a class in a traditional classroom; the most obvious difference being the lack of a physical presence. Research has indicated that an online presence is essential for a successful virtual class. Students have stated that the best online faculty are the ones who are present “multiple times a week, and at best, daily” (Boettcher, 2013, para. 5).

Some suggestions to present a stronger “appearance” in online classes include face-to-face Skyping for virtual office hours; “a short YouTube video to welcome students to the course or to go over the syllabus” and emails with YouTube links to short (30 seconds) videos reminding students of upcoming due dates (Tichavsky, Hunt, Driscoll, & Jicha, 2015, p. 7). For classes using Twitter, a quick Tweet could also be sent to the class for reminders.

Interaction on the discussion board was also a frequent comment by students who stated that they liked “when the teacher provokes a thought or question which can lead the class into discussion … [because this is sometimes missing from online classes they] feel very detached when taking an online class.” (Tichavsky, et al., 2015, p. 3).

Some final thoughts are that while I have not had the experience of teaching an online class; although I would like to one day, I do have several years’ experience as a student taking online courses. Much of the research that led to this post can be substantiated by myself and my fellow students.

Although it has been a few years since taking those courses, it seems that despite the new technology, students still need to feel that there is “somebody out there” to reassure them that they are on the right track, to answer questions, and to facilitate interactive dialogue. Sometimes just an open-ended question posted occasionally can spark a debate.

Despite some remaining incorrect stereotyping of online courses (e.g., they are not as good as traditional classes, or they are easier to teach than traditional classes), it is obvious that these distance learning courses are here to stay and that the teacher is still one of the most valuable assets to any type of course—online or traditional.


Boettcher, J.V. (2013). Ten best practices for teaching online: Quick guide for new online faculty. Designing for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.designingforlearning.info/services/writing/ecoach/tenbest.html

Sheehy, K. (2015, January 9). Community colleges expand online as overall enrollment declines. U. S. News & World Report. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/community-colleges/articles/2015/01/09/community-colleges-expand-online-as-overall-enrollment-declines

Tichavsky, L.P., Hunt, A.N., Driscoll, A., & Jicha, K. (July, 2015). “It’s just nice having a real teacher:” Student perceptions of online versus face-to-face instruction. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9(2), 1-8. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/ij-sotl/vol9/iss2/2/

United States Census Bureau. (2014, September 24). College enrollment declines for second year in a row. (Release Number: CB14-177). Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-177.html

The Wonderful Mistake


By Craig Cox
Senior Systems Specialist
Delaware Technical Community College
Office of the President

I had an opportunity earlier this year to help design a class in Blackboard. In my role in IIT, I don’t often get into the Blackboard LMS, even though I once helped manage that system behind the scenes. Much has changed in just a few years, so I thought I had better brush up on my skills.

I signed up for IDTG22, “Foundational Technologies”, hoping to get the cook’s tour of Blackboard. Here’s a blank course, here’s the feature set, here’s Delaware Tech’s common look and feel, let’s all make a quiz – that kind of thing.

Week one was kind of a surprise, as we introduced ourselves on a Blackboard discussion board, and then took a really deep dive into learning theory. By week three, it was clear that we would be casting a very wide net, incorporating all kinds of technology into the classroom experience. But there was still no mention of Blackboard operations.

Instead, there was a wealth of insight into the people whose work I support.

Traditional IT service involves assessing the needs of employees and delivering systems that meet those needs. Expansion and upgrade are orderly, planned processes. The introduction of unexpected and unauthorized hardware and services is viewed with some hostility, because securing and supporting technology requires technical staff to be trained.

Having five (or 20, or 100) different custom setups puts a burden on support staff to stay competent in that variety of technology. You end up with a “jack of all trades, master of none” level of support. Maintaining and enforcing standards puts boundaries on the amount of training time and money needed to keep staff proficient; it also keeps the workload manageable.

As it turns out, this model doesn’t always mesh well with academic needs.

I had known in a vague, background sort of way that colleges had to compete for students. What I picked up from IDTG22 was an idea of the depth of thinking that goes into reaching and keeping those students through graduation. I learned that in order to accommodate diverse learning styles and needs, educators are actively pushed to experiment with diverse technologies.

While I have always known about the rapid pace of change in the technology fields, the class I’d taken by mistake brought home just how that pace challenged and drove educators to constantly seek new techniques and solutions.

Stagnation never was an option. The orderly process of evaluation, selection, approval, training and deployment of technology might not always be the best option. While I would love to wind up this post with a bold vision of a new understanding between those who do the educating and those who provide the infrastructure, I don’t have one of those. I will certainly be working to find one, of course; but that was never the central point.

The central point is, my job perspective was improved in a way I didn’t expect. Sometimes professional development is deliberate; sometimes, I found, it sneaks up on you. I challenge anyone reading this to look for opportunity in mistakes. If you’re digging for silver, don’t close the mine if all you find is gold.

I Was Boring Myself


By Patricia Wessell
Nursing Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Terry Campus

The beginning

As I began instructing brand new nursing students, I found myself teaching to students with blank stares on their faces. Everything was new and foreign to them, even the words I used. I found myself using words to explain other words and it was obvious that I needed to find another way to help the students think through the content presented in class.

The Ah-ha moment

As first semester nursing students, they did not begin clinical rotations until halfway through the semester. Although they worked in the nursing lab to learn hands-on skills, it didn’t really prepare them to critically think when in the clinical setting. Having attempted case studies, gamification, and other classroom activities, I decided that I needed to bring the clinical setting to them.

The solution

I began my next lecture with the foundational information about oxygenation.  This time, however, instead of using a lot of words to describe breath sounds, I took the students to the simulation lab and utilized the manikin so that they could hear breath sounds and learn to distinguish them from each other.

I utilized scenarios, describing medical conditions that they would see in the hospital, to reinforce the sounds associated with each condition. The National League for Nursing states that simulation is a way to “facilitate high-quality experiences that foster thinking and clinical reasoning.”

The result

The students remained focused and interested. They had their Ah-ha moments! So next semester, I will start off with this plan from the beginning, as I believe it will reduce some of the student’s apprehension their first day in clinical.


National League for Nursing NLN Board of Governors. (2015). A Vision for Teaching with Simulation.

Backward Design: Articulating the Results


By Alison Randall
English Department
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

It is odd that sometimes you can spend ages planning a lesson and it is dull. You are bored. Students are not engaged. How could all of the work backfire?

Other times, a simple exercise gets everyone in class talking. Students are asking questions, arguing with their peers, going online to prove their points, answering your questions, changing their opinions etc.

What happened? Sometimes it is beyond your control. Sometimes the students in the class are just hard to motivate, while another class with the same lesson is lively. As a teacher we learn to adapt to those unforeseen circumstances. But other times, we know we might need to adapt our lesson plans.

I recently shared an article with the Instructional Innovation Committee Research Group which I think has given more focus to my classes and my instruction. The article is actually Chapter 1 “What is backward design?” from Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Although it is from 2005, it can help teachers rethink their work.

Rather than using the old: What will I teach today? What is the final assignment? How will I assess it? the new model asks instructors to think very clearly about results, then assessment, then instruction.

Delaware Tech has CCPOs and MPOs, and they certainly help us clarify our goals, but identifying desired results asks instructors to apply filters (I prefer the word criteria, and our research group had a good discussion about the differences in these terms).

The filters or criteria help the instructor determine what is worth understanding. As the instructor thinks about this, the process moves from general content standards to a specific desired result you want from that class. Maybe that is why Wiggins and McTighe call them filters: you filter your results until you get to a distilled goal.

For example, you might go from: Students will think critically, students will learn about context, students will address the issue of artistic freedom through a cultural lens to…What do I really want them to get from this class? Students will use their understanding of context and apply it to a specific problem to show how contextual awareness can impact one’s interpretation of a situation.

With my focus so specific, my activities become more focused, and so does my assessment. How will I know they have understood these concepts? Will I provide a sheet which prompts responses? Will I ask students to discuss the issue and present their findings to the class?

Finally, I plan my learning experience. This is hard because even as I am planning my goals and assessment, how I am going to teach it is always at the back of my mind. Clearly, I am not completely immersed in backward thinking yet; however, working backward has informed my instructional plan.

For example, now that I know the specific skills I want from this lesson, I can think about ways they can demonstrate this. They will need to know what contextualization is? They will need to know some key critical thinking skills. They will need to know what Freedom of Speech really means. They will need to know if private schools are subject to the same rules as public schools. They will need to see how other educational institutions have dealt with offensive art.


I am going to need to design a class that addresses an issue, has some time built in for students to respond immediately, and then some time for them to do research. I can divide them into groups with each group researching a different prompt and reporting the results to the class, then revisit the solution and see if the research offers a more meditated position on it. This will necessitate a class discussion about how the political and cultural context has reshaped their position. Class participation will be assessed, and so will understanding of the cultural context.

I know I need to focus on desired results and put the instructional design on the back burner, but I am finding the refinement of outcomes, goals, and results is producing more focused classes where students are engaged in understanding specific meaningful topics rather than a generic rush to complete the course assignment.

Coaching for the Win


By Megan Wagaman
Math Instructor
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

“No matter how well-trained people are, few can sustain their best performance on their own,” says a caption in a New Yorker article by surgeon, public health researcher, and author, Atul Gawande (2011).

So what do we do? As teachers, how can we improve? How can we recognize the little changes that might make a big difference in our students’ learning? Or the big changes that can revolutionize our teaching?

One method to foster development that many school districts and individuals have been adopting in recent years is to have instructional coaches. There are many roles a coach may play, and many ways in which they can work (Borman & Feger, 2006), but the common theme is that a coach helps instructors improve – whether it is through guidance while planning lessons, observing and critiquing lessons, encouraging thoughtful reflection on classroom issues, helping an instructor try a new strategy, or assisting in other ways as needed.

This was the topic of discussion of the December 4th meeting of the faculty research discussion group at the George campus, in which we reviewed the above cited articles. This post will summarize some of the ideas that came up during our discussion.

Coaching is an exciting concept and it is a great way to foster continuous improvement, but there are some challenges. People need to feel comfortable opening up to it, accepting criticism, and trusting their coach. Going along with that, you need to have the right coach – someone who will foster improvement, rather than the opposite.

How can we implement coaching?

We felt that coaching should be voluntary, and could be facilitated by an institution’s teaching and learning department (CCIT at Delaware Tech). Some aspects of coaching could be best done by instructors in the same field as the coachee, while for others it may not matter. If being in the same field is important, the teaching and learning professionals could help departments investigate different instructional strategies, and the department members could then work together on how to implement them in ways that make sense for their field. It could also be connected to new faculty development or mentoring programs.

A great argument in favor of coaching is that it helps teachers actually implement ideas they learn about. According to Gawande (2011), a study done in California showed that after a professional development workshop, only 10% of teachers used the new skill in their classrooms. However, after coaching was integrated with new skill instruction, more than 90% implemented the method. Even if there are just small things you’d like to get feedback or guidance with, a coach could help.

So, check out these articles and see what you think.


Borman, J., & Feger, S. (2006). Instructional coaching: Key themes from the literature. The Education Alliance at Brown University. Retrieved from http://www.brown.edu/academics/education-alliance/publications?keys=Instructional+coaching

Gawande, A. (2011, October 3). Personal best. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/10/03/personal-best


Another article about coaching:

Garmston, R., Linder, C., & Whitaker, J. (1993). Reflections on cognitive coaching. Educational Leadership, 51(2).

These are about ways and reasons to conduct observations:

Grimm, E. D., Kaufman, T., & Doty, D. (2014). Rethinking classroom observation. Educational Leadership, 71(8), 24-29.

Moss, C. M., & Brookhart, S. M. (2013). A new view of walk-throughs. Educational Leadership, 70(7), 42-45.

Powell, W., & Napoliello, S. (2005). Using observation to improve instruction. Educational Leadership, 62(5), 52-55.

This is about handling teachers resistant to coaching (but I think offers good proactive advice for coaching in general):

Jay, A. B. (2009). Tackling resistance. Journal of Staff Development, 30(5), 56-58.

Here is a link to a video with the coaches talking in the teacher’s earpiece:


And a couple articles to go with it:

Rock, M. L., Gregg, M., Howard, P. W., Ploessl, D. M., Maughn, S., Gable, R. A., & Zigmond, N. P. (2009). See Me, Hear Me, Coach Me. Journal of Staff Development, 30(3), 24-31.

Rock, M. L., Zigmond, N. P., Gregg, M., & Gable, R. A. (2011). The Power of Virtual Coaching. Educational Leadership, 69(2), 42-48.

Here is another video just showing coaching in action:


I read a few chapters from this book. Chapter 7 talks about setting goals; Chapter 4 is about the coaching process (I liked this one a lot):

Aguilar, A. (2013). The Art of Coaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.