PREACHING & TEACHING: Researchers have found that framing is important; human memory doesn’t seem to fully engage in the absence of meaning and relevance. Explain how the biblical story is relevant to the listener, before telling the story.

Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.

Take a moment to read over the following set of instructions:

The first thing you want to do is decide how many items you want to incorporate. Take t hem out of t he container — it doesn’t matter which ones, as long as there aren’t any obvious signs of damage. Place them somewhere secure, as they tend to move without warning and this can be disastrous. Take the first one you want to deal with, and grasp it lightly along the short axis, then make contact between this and a fi rm but not sharp object. Be sure you also have an adequate container for the material inside. You can repeat this pro cess up to two times, but after three, you should probably start over. With practice, you will end up with a clean separation, but even experts find that it’s diffi cult to keep the various components totally under control. Remember, this is a skill that gets better with practice, and physical strength is less important than dexterity and fi nesse.45

If you read this paragraph in an online course, do you think you could accurately remember many of the key points? Or would it simply go past you in a swirl of confusing, disjointed details? But what if I told you that this “mystery process” was a description of cracking an egg? Look back at the paragraph— it probably seems far more memorable with that key piece of context. Framing is important; human memory doesn’t seem to fully engage in the absence of meaning and relevance. Thinking back to the “function-alist agenda,” this makes a lot of sense— why should we invest scarce cognitive resources on information that doesn’t complement what we already know about the world?

45 This “myster y pro cess” description is adapted from the experimental materials in J. D. Bransford and M. K. Johnson (1972), Contextual prerequi-sites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall, Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 11(6): 717– 726.

PREACHING & TEACHING: Listeners remember more when they see what they are learning is relevant for their survival. #Salvation #Eternity

Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.

Researchers have flushed out these vestiges in a number of intriguing experiments, including several that show marked memory superiority for items that people process in terms of “survival relevance.” This “survival processing” paradigm asks participants to think of whether a given item— a hammer, say, or a chair— would help them survive living out on a grassland as a hunter- gatherer. Asked later to recall which words they saw in the experiment, participants performed better for objects they thought of in the survival context, compared to a control condition where they had thought of whether the items would be useful moving from one apartment to another, or other more modern survival- relevant activities. Researchers are still hashing out whether these fi ndings can truly be traced to ancestral survival challenges, but for now, evi-dence suggests that they aren’t merely an artifact of some confound-ing factors such as how emotionally arousing or attention- grabbing the different scenarios are.21

21 J. S. Nairne and J. S. Pandeirada (2010), Adaptive memory: Ancestral priorities and the mnemonic value of survival pro cessing, Cognitive Psychology61(1): 1– 22, doi:10.1016/j.cog psych.2010.01.005

MEMORY & Shorter study sessions are better than one big marathon. If you have, say, six hours to spend going over previously learned material, two three- hour sessions beats one big marathon, but three, four, or more shorter sessions are even better.

Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.

The spacing effect— sometimes also called distributed practice— refers to the increased payoff we get from spreading review sessions over time, rather than “massing” them in long, concentrated sessions.31 Like the testing effect, spacing is robust and holds up under a lot of different variations. There really is no magic number of study sessions or ideal length, as long as spacing is maximized. If you have, say, six hours to spend going over previously learned material, two three- hour sessions beats one big marathon, but three, four, or more shorter sessions are even better.

… Memory researchers have cited a number of mechanisms that feed into this effect, including the ability to link up information to a wider variety of cues. 

31 For a review see N. J. Cepeda, H. Pashler, E. Vul, J. T. Wixted, and D. Rohrer (2006), Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis, Psychological Bulletin 132(3): 354– 380, doi:10.1037 /0033- 29 0 .

PREACHING & TEACHING: Interleaving different media (e.g. video, music, drawing, computer screen, etc.) into your sermon increases retention. From a memory standpoint it’s best to alternate topics, circling back to previously exposed material rather than working straight through each topic one at a time.

Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.

Like spacing, interleaving has to do with how we organize our study sessions over time. We interleave material whenever we alternate between different topics, categories, skills, and the like, rather than just working with one at a time. To illustrate, participants in one line of research were assigned to learn to identify visual examples, such as different kinds of birds or paintings by different artists. Researchers found that mixing up the exposure to different examples across sessions— different artists, different classes of birds— improved learning.35 So from a memory standpoint it’s best to alternate topics, circling back to previously exposed material rather than working straight through each topic one at a time.

35 M. S. Birnbaum, N. Kornell, E. Bjork, and R. A. Bjork (2013), Why in-terleaving enhances inductive learning: The roles of discrimination and re-trieval, Memory & Cognition 41(3): 392– 402, doi:10.3758/s13421- 012- 0272- 7; N. Kornell and R. A. Bjork (2008), Learning concepts and categories: Is spac-ing the “enemy of induction”? Psychological Science (Wiley- Blackwell) 19(6): 585– 592, doi:10.1111/j.1467- 9280.2008.02127.x. 36. D. Rohrer (2012), Interleaving helps stud

ADJUNCT SUCCESS & How to Learn From (and not get discouraged by) Student Surveys.

By Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/29/16.

I’ve been teaching students at Indiana Wesleyan University for 22+ years.  And that means for over two decades I’ve been reading student surveys. I often find that adjunct instructors teaching my classes can become discouraged after reading a few student surveys. Below are my eight tips, gleaned from over two decades of how to get the most out of them, without letting them get to you.

Step 1: Ask yourself if more than a handful of students have complaints.

Every course is going to have a few students who didn’t like how the course was organized or taught. But, unless you have a majority of students with similar complaints, you probably are hearing from just a few students. A strategic attribution error is to take outliers and attribute to them a majority perspective.

In every class there’s going to be some students who would prefer things to be handled differently. Don’t get too wrapped up in the criticism unless the majority of the responses are citing the same shortcomings. Thus …

  • If just one or two students are critiquing the same thing, go to the next step.
  • But, if it’s the majority saying the same thing then sit down and have a hard look at your teaching and curriculum to make adjustments. Then go to step two.

Step 2: Recognize that research indicates you will remember negative comments longer than positive comments.

I’ve often noticed that though there may be dozens of positive comments, it’s the one or two negative comments that bother me for days. In fact, research indicates that our brains are actually wired to remember negative comments in lieu positive ones. (See this article: CONFLICT & The Biological Reason Why Negative Comments Stick With Us So Much Longer Than Positive Ones,

Thus, you can’t let a few negative comments begin to obsess and worry you. Because of this, you should take them for what they are: comments with probably a grain of truth at their core. But don’t retain a focus on the negative comments and let them wear you down. As I mentioned above, research shows that negative comments stay with us longer and disturb to us longer than positive ones. Thus, the few negative comments are going to harass you and the good comments you’re going to be quickly forgot.

But there is a way around this. The Bible gives us the answer in Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message):

8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

So, read back over the positive comments. Take the positive comments to heart too. I found that you need to read them 2 to 3 times as many times as the negative comments just to keep them equally balanced in your mind.

Step 3: But, don’t dismiss the negative critiques because they are outliers.

When you get negative comments recognize there is probably a kernel of truth in each. Look for the truth and the things you can change in the negative comments. Take them to heart and see if they reoccur in other courses. It could be that they are minor critiques, whose accuracy won’t come out until after a series of courses.

Step 4: Don’t take to heart personal insults.

Sometimes negative comments can come from out of left field. Amazingly, students sometimes utilize the anonymous nature of a course survey to be rude and cast insults. The reason I think this happens is because students who are struggling can become frustrated. And, if they have developed a coping mechanism of projecting the problems on others to take the focus off of themselves, they will often take the end of course survey as an opportunity to criticize others. And you may be the first in their sight. So look for the grain of truth that set them off but don’t let insults or name-calling stay in your heart. Go back to step 2 if you are struggling with a particularly mean comment. (Note: if the comment is hateful speech and you feel yourself or others might be threatened by it, you must alert myself, your faculty supervisor, and the dean.)

Step 5: Don’t judge comments’ authenticity by their length, for good comments are usually short and critical comments are often long.

It is been my experience that students who are doing well in the course in enjoying it usually feel a couple short words of thanks and praise are sufficient. But those who have something regarding which they are concern will go at length to describe it. So don’t take the length of the comments as equal to their authenticity. Remember students who had something positive to say usual say it very briefly and not do any depth. Is the students who are frustrated and shared links who often fill out the faculty survey in detail.

Step 6: Pray for your students.

You should be praying for all of your students. But when because of the power of the negative comments you start to dwell on that negativity, then set aside time to pray even more for the student. Remember if it is clear the student is an outlier and still sharing negative comments or blaming you, it could be because they’re trying to take the focus off of their own frustrations. They may be frustrated with their performance in class, the finances involved in taking the degree program or the pressure they are feeling from balancing family, career and education. So take it as a prayer reminder when you receive such a negative comments to be praying for students that are struggling. And you should be praying for all students, but especially so for those who you know are struggling.

Step 7: Read the end of course survey when you are alert and not tired.

Being tired can make you susceptible to discouragement and depression (read the research from the Harvard Business Review article: “ETHICS & Why In the Afternoon, the Moral Slope Gets Slipperier at As an adjunct faculty member you may feel like giving up because you’ve worked so hard teaching a course. Then you think you will read the end of course survey for some encouragement, but you are reading it when you are tired and/or it is late at night. In such environs, the negative comments loom large and the positive comments seem to disappear.

So read the faculty survey at a time when you have energy to digest all the details and take to heart corrective steps. That way a negative comment won’t add to the discouragement that comes from lack of sleep, tiredness or low energy. Always read the comments at a time when you have energy to do something about them.

Step 8: Everybody gets bad comments, almost every time.

I’ve literally read hundreds of student surveys as well as hundreds of adjunct and colleague surveys. And even the most exceptional speakers/teachers will get negative comments every single time. It is the nature of graduate school students to critique and suggest improvements. And you already know from reading their papers that the young graduate school student may lack some tact in their enthusiasm for finding areas for improvement. So expect their negative comments to arrive, but handle them in the above 8-step matter and they won’t bring you down … but they will propel you forward.

ADJUNCT SUCCESS & Why Some People Want to be Adjunct Professors

By Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/27/16.

Every week I am contacted by a former student, friend or colleague interested in becoming an adjunct professor. To help them make a decision I share the following: what we are not looking for, followed by what we are looking for.

Purpose in teaching:

What we are not looking for: Many inquires ask about the opportunity to stand up in front of the class and lecture on their knowledge. This is really one of the last things we want.

What we are looking for: Instead we are looking for learners who want to continually read and research best practices and bring those to our students. It’s not about getting up in front of an group and having a tuition paying audience. Rather it’s about researching and studying a topic to gain insights that others may have missed. Then it is about sharing this with students.

Past successes of the adjunct:

What we are not looking for: Often times potential adjuncts tell me they want to share their story. They feel they have learned a lot through life’s lessons. But the students in the classroom will come from many different environments, ethnic cultures, different polities and varying sizes of churches. Therefore, the potential adjunct who wants to share what they’ve experienced will probably not have broad enough experience to resonate with the majority of the students

What we are looking for: We are looking for someone that’s a student of the topic, is continually researching best practices and is purposefully learning more. In my own work I found being a consultant for churches helps. Each week I’m in a church with a different denominational affiliation, different size and different history: where I must help them adapt growth and health principles for there local context.

Focus of attention:

What we are not looking for: When I tell prospective adjuncts that 90% of our teaching is online with only 10% in front of a live audience, they often gracefully bow out. I may be wrong, but it feels like they are looking for an audience rather than an investigative Academy.

What we are looking for: We are looking for insatiable, lifelong learners who are describing and synthesizing new ideas from all the information they have gathered. These are women and men who want to share that information regardless of the modality. They are even glad to share such knowledge in the anonymity of an online format, where students may never even know what they look like. They are simply happy to share their information, regardless of medium, because they want to see knowledge disseminated.

I’m sure I’ve overgeneralized at times in these short lessons. But I believe they can give a glimpse into what makes a long term and effective teacher.