Claire Kamp Dush is one of our Featured Teachers for the Spring 2018 semester. She is an associate professor of Human Development and Family Science in the Department of Human Sciences at Ohio State. She also is the mother of four sons and uses a lot of the tips in this blog post to get things done.

Join Claire in a roundtable discussion about her ideas and how you might adopt or adapt them:

 April 9 from 2-3 p.m.
220 Younkin Success Center


Over winter break, I read a book that I highly recommend: Small Teaching by James Lang. It includes several teaching and learning tips based in cognitive science. I learned that to cement course material into my students’ long-term memories, they were going to need to recall that material. To encourage retrieval, this Spring, I added a cumulative midterm and final to my undergraduate course Family Development, and as such, I concluded that I needed to give my students non-content related skills for studying so that they would be successful! This led me to take stock of my strategies for productivity, and I realized that most would work for my students. I created a script and video, and posted both to my online and in-person courses using a “page” called “How to Succeed in HDFS 2200” in Canvas. I required students to watch/read the script and held them accountable by quizzing them over the content. Below, I share some of my strategies that I was able to translate into ideas for my students, along with student comments.

Efficient Study Skills

I featured several study skills covered in Small Teaching including retrieval, prediction, and interleaving. I incorporated prediction into the course itself by requiring students to take pass/fail prediction quizzes each week. They answer four essay questions designed to prime their brain to receive the content on the topic by activating their prior knowledge. An example from the module on love and romantic relationships is “Do individuals have more choices in who they are going to partner with today than 50 years ago? Is this a good thing, or bad thing for individuals? For the institution of marriage?” To encourage interleaving, the practice of learning and practicing multiple skills simultaneously, I cover three modules in their weekly quizzes. I include one question from each of the previous two modules, and eight questions on material from that module. This encourages my students to be continually studying course material and practicing skills, and discourages cramming.

“Something I found really useful for this course and some of my other courses was the concept of interleaving from the efficient study skills section. After each quiz I would review the answers and then add on to that after each quiz and I would do the same thing for the readings as well. I think that is why I did pretty well on the midterm exam since I didn’t cram and felt like I knew the information pretty well.”

Accountability Structures

Write on Site is a program whereby faculty and graduate students meet in a conference room on campus at the appointed time and just write. There is no talking—everyone just works on their own projects on their laptops—but the deal is that there is no social media or email checking allowed, and no interruptions to deal with (i.e. no students knocking on your door). I suggested my students do something similar with a study group, either with students in HDFS 2200 or in other classes.

Another strategy that has helped me is my own accountability group, an idea from Michelle Boyd of InkWell Academic Writing Retreats. Three of my colleagues and I meet once a week to review our goals from the previous week, and to set goals for the next. We have a system whereby if you meet your goals – for example, one of my goals this week is to spend four hours working on a manuscript – you get a gold star. If you almost meet your goals, you get a silver, and if you do not meet your goals, you get a blue star. I find it motivating to go for gold! I suggested my students do something similar, but set study goals.

“The professor provided great strategies! I actually implemented everyone for this past exam. My friend and I created a study group with flash cards and book material and we turned out phones off when studying which made a huge difference.”

Distraction Blockers

I recently said to my husband, “I don’t think I could have gotten my Ph.D.—or tenure for that matter—if I had had a smart phone!” Just about everyone privileged enough to have digital devices suffers from digital distraction. To curb distraction, I get almost no notifications on my phone, and have turned off all email notifications. I want to be in charge of my time; I don’t want my phone or email in charge. I suggested that students do the same, for example turn their phone on “do not disturb” when they need to get some serious studying done. I also suggested apps I use like StayFocusd and Freedom to block distracting sites.

Something I also learned from Michelle Boyd was that if I am writing and need a break, one of the worst things I can do is to consume writing! I used to take breaks by checking my email or looking at Facebook. Now, I use a fidget toy or take a walk around my office or campus. Most of the time I need a break because my brain is trying to work through some sort of problem in my writing. While I am playing with my Tangle, or walking, my brain is working it out.

“The study break tip has really helped me when studying for all my class this semester.  Usually when I would try and take a study break I would end up in a YouTube hole and waste a lot of time.  Now I like to go for a short walk when I need a break and when I get back to my room I go back to work instead of getting distracted by social media.”

Additional Tips

I wrapped up with additional tips, like working with an Academic Coach or taking a workshop at the Dennis Learning Center, practicing mindfulness and meditation, getting exercise and sleep, taking care of their physical and mental health, and doing self-care to try to manage stress. If we are not interacting in at least a small-group basis with our students, we can forget that college is very stressful. Given the stress that most of us have balancing work and our personal lives, it is easy to forget that emerging adulthood is also stressful as our students balance schoolwork, jobs, identity formation, intimate relationships, and the uncertainty of their own futures.

“I found the part about mindfulness and self-care the most useful. These are things that I am continuously trying to improve on and make time for each day. I appreciated one of my instructors promoting this. It really showed how much she cares for her students and their well being. Using meditation apps and remembering to take some time for myself has helped me be less stressed with my class work.”

Overall, I have a two goals related to my teaching. One goal is to teach my students about family development, a discipline with knowledge and skills that have the potential to profoundly impact their professional and personal lives. My other goal is to help my students reach their full potential and achieve their dreams. By focusing on both content and non-content related knowledge and skills, I believe I am achieving both.