April 8, 2014
Use an annotated syllabus to track changes in your thinking about course design and document the effectiveness of your teaching
Faculty should use multiple sources of evidence to document the effectiveness of their teaching for annual evaluations and tenure and promotion portfolios. An annotated syllabus can document how you use feedback from students and other assessment evidence to improve the quality of courses you teach regularly.
Annotated syllabi begin with your current course syllabus and grow in scope and in depth as you add annotations and links to additional materials each time you teach the course. How can an annotated syllabus be useful for faculty? Creating an annotated syllabus prompts regular reflection on the effectiveness of course design and the instructional assignments we create. An annotated syllabus makes the intellectual work that goes into teaching public, documenting the evolution of course designs across multiple terms.
Annotating your syllabus also creates immediate and tangible benefits. During the middle of a term, we may discover small changes that will improve future versions of our course or get an idea about a better way to design an assignment or in-class learning activity. Usually it is not possible to implement these changes during the current term, but we want to capture these ideas for the next time we teach the class. Annotations on the syllabus should describe the precise change we intend to make and articulate our rationale for the change. Thus, an annotated syllabus tracks the evolution of your ideas, impressions, and observations about course design and documents your efforts to continuously improve teaching and learning in this course.
Annotated syllabi can provide entry points in which you can “dig down” and excavate your assumptions about course design, ask questions such as
• is this textbook really accomplishing what I want from it?
• does my policy about class participation motivate students to give their best? or
• is my grading rubric as clear as it can be about different levels of performance?
There are no prescriptive prompts for creating an annotated syllabus; each annotated syllabus is unique to the interests and professional development of the instructor. Simply annotate your syllabus where you have questions about how you want to structure future courses, identify the changes you are considering, explain the scholarly thinking that informs choices you make when designing your course, or identify assignments you plan to use to assess how well students achieve a particular course learning outcome.
Collaboration with other faculty can magnify the benefits of creating an annotated syllabus. Collaborative groups might pose questions that an instructor working alone might not consider, such as
• why does this rule exist in your classroom?
• why did you select these materials for your students? or
• why did you include or not include this language in your syllabus?
If you choose to work alone on annotating your syllabus, consider reading a book about instructional improvement or course design. These resources can prompt you to raise questions about your instructional choices. Good resources include:
• Ken Bain (2004) What the Best College Teachers Do
• Donald Finkel (2000) Teaching With Your Mouth Shut
• Maryellen Weimer (2002) Learner-centered Teaching: 5 Key Changes to Practice.
• Maryellen Weimer (2010) Inspired College Teaching
Practical Tips for Creating an Annotated Syllabus
Save your current course syllabus as a Word file with a different file name than the one used for the course syllabus (e.g., Syllabus-MMM2345 might be saved as Annotated-Syllabus-MMM2345).
Activate Track Changes in the Review menu in Word.
Highlight a word or phrase in your syllabus that you want to annotate and click on New Comment to add an annotation.
Alternatively, if you would like to access your annotated syllabus from any computer—and perhaps eventually to make it public—use Google Docs or a Wiki such as PBWorks. Wikis allow you to add endless depth to your annotated syllabi!
You can view samples of annotated syllabi created as part of a faculty learning community at Metropolitan State College of Denver.
This tip is based on teaching strategy submitted by Mark Potter, Director, Center for Faculty Development, Metropolitan State College of Denver to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
February 4, 2014
Request feedback from your students about your course during the term
Model the use of formative feedback for your students and reinforce the credibility of the end-of-term course evaluations. Introduce the topic of the value of formative feedback by discussing the value of formative feedback on your teaching. Point out that evaluative feedback from students at the end of the term does nothing to benefit the students who are currently enrolled in the course. Faculty simply can’t correct a problem that they don’t know about. If they learn about a problem only after the term ends, the problem might be corrected in the following term but it can’t possibly be resolved for students during the term.Consider conducting a mid-course evaluation.
Participate in the Teaching Partners program. Teaching Partners conduct classroom observation visits and provide one another formative feedback about their teaching.
Not all suggestions or comments can be acted on (or should be acted on). But instructors can draw attention to changes they make based on student suggestions and explain why some suggestions cannot be changed (dispensing with exams, ending an evening class half an hour early). The fact that you take the comments seriously and responded to those that you could reasonably implement will strengthen students’ belief that course evaluations are taken seriously.
This tip is based in part on a tip submitted by Michael Dabney, Director, Teaching and Learning Center Hawaii Pacific University.
February 26, 2013
Use online writing diagnostics to develop self-editing skills and improve writing
Because few academics receive formal training in how to write for their discipline, they might avoid attempting to teach their students to write. If faculty or student writers search for models of writing in published articles, they will encounter few examples worth emulating. Sword (2012) evaluated the prose of 1,000 articles (100 articles from each of 10 disciplines: medicine, evolutionary biology, computer science, higher education, psychology, anthropology, law, philosophy, history, and literary studies). All articles appeared in well-regarded peer-reviewed journals with high impact factor ratings. Sword found examples in every discipline in which writers engaged readers and wrote persuasive, compelling arguments in clear prose. She also found many examples of dense, jargon-laden, impenetrable prose.
Stylish academic writing provides good advice to faculty writers who hope to refine their scholarly prose. The book is written for professional academic writers, but graduate student writers can benefit from this advice. Sword hosts a free, online writing diagnostic (the WritersDiet Test). You can submit a sample of up to 1,000 words of text and receive feedback on whether your writing is fit and lean or flabby. The diagnostic will not identify errors in grammar. Instead, it rates five categories of language use: verbs, nouns, prepositions, waste words (it, this, that, there), and adjectives and adverbs. Use the feedback to reflect on and edit your writing.
Have some fun! Submit a CUTLA teaching tip to the WritersDiet Test. (I already have!)
Use the WritersDiet Test to improve student writing
Use the WritersDiet Test to help students improve and edit their writing. Sword (nd) advises instructors to assign a short assignment (2 or 3 paragraphs with at least 300 words) to give students practice with self-editing skills. Discuss how students should interpret the diagnostic feedback. Ask them to edit and resubmit their assignment to the WritersDiet Test and include copies of the diagnostic feedback from both diagnostic evaluations when they submit their final assignment for grading. You might require students to write a short reflection about what they learned about writing by using the WritersDiet Test.
Sword, H. (2012). Stylish academic writing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sword, H. (nd). Teaching with the Writer’s Diet. [PDF file]
September 25, 2012
What is your professional impact?
You worked hard to collect data, prepare a manuscript to report your findings, and successfully publish them in a disciplinary peer-reviewed journal. What impact will your work have on researchers in your discipline?
Faculty can document the impact of their scholarly work by collecting information about the acceptance rates of the journals that publish their work. Some journals will publish an impact factor for the journal. What is the impact of the article you wrote that appears in that journal?
One strategy now available to faculty is to search for their articles in Google Scholar and track the citation of these articles (click on the My Citations menu to create a personal profile and monitor citation activity).
Another option is to create a profile for your scholarly work in the Web of Science. This service will provide information about the work you cite and the authors who cite your work. You can produce useful graphics that illustrate the breadth of scholarly impact associated with a single publication.
Contact a reference librarian to learn more about how to set up a profile in the Web of Science. On October 5, 2012, Amy Braden, Thomson Reuters, will facilitate a workshop in which she will demonstrate how the Web of Science works. Reference librarians will work with individual faculty in a hands-on workshop to help faculty set up profiles in the Web of Science and select graphic displays that illustrate the impact of their work.
The Web of Science workshop will be held in the Library Conference Room and Library Classroom on Friday, October 5, 2012 (11:00 AM – 1:30 PM). The program will begin with a lunch and presentation by Amy Braden and conclude with guided hands-on practice with the data base in the Library Classroom.
September 18, 2012
How should I respond to suspected academic misconduct, student grievances, and grade appeals?
Faculty often experience anger and outrage when they discover evidence that a student may have cheated on an exam, plagiarized sources in written work, or committed some other form of academic misconduct. However justified the emotion, this anger is probably not the best component of an effective, professional response to this student.
As sure as you may be about a case, remember that a student has a right to due process. Gather your evidence (the originality report from Turnitin, samples of previous written work submitted by the student, statements from witnesses of cheating during an exam) and calmly present your interpretation of the evidence in an initial meeting with the student.
Contact staff at the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (uwf.edu/OSRR) to determine if this is a first offense for this student. First offenses are handled differently (with a stronger emphasis on educating the student) than are second offenses, which follow a different procedure. Attend to and adhere to University policy. Failure to report a first offense creates a situation in which a savvy, seemingly-contrite offender can slip through the system undetected through multiple offenses. The revised policy enables first-time offenders to who learn from their mistakes and avoid the most disastrous consequences (provided the first offense is not a real doozy!).
The University of West Florida recently revised the policies related to academic misconduct, student grievances, and grade appeals. The revised policies are posted on the Student Affairs web site (uwf.edu/OSRR).
Confronting a student who may have violated the academic misconduct policy can be a difficult and stressful task. Students may respond to an accusation with a variety of strategies other than contrition, including denial, claims of ignorance, excuses, rationalizations, or even hostility. What is the best response? Gentry McCreary, Associate Dean of Students and Director of OSRR will facilitate a discussion of the revised policies at the Faculty Friday, Academic Integrity, on Friday, September 28 in Conference Center Room A (11:30 AM – 1:30 PM). . This workshop will include a brief discussion of the policies and some hypothetical scenarios that will allow faculty to practice effective and appropriate responses.
August 27, 2012
Twenty-minute faculty development webinar series continues through the fall term
The Monday Morning Mentor programs are 20-minute online webinars produced by Magna Publications (publisher of The Teaching Professor newsletter). Topics include strategies for effective teaching, creating community in the classroom, use (and abuse) of technology in face-to-face classes, teaching strategies for the online environment, strategies for responding effectively to conflicts associated student behaviors.
CUTLA will distribute a link for each webinar late in the week preceding a scheduled broadcast (each link is unique to a broadcast topic). This link includes access to a web site where UWF faculty will find downloadable PDF files of the PowerPoint slides for the webinar, supplemental materials, and a link to view the webinar. [The CUTLA subscription to these webinars is limited to employees of UWF only; do not forward your link to others!]
Can't view the webinar on Monday Morning? Tune in later that week!
Webinars are first broadcast at 9:00 AM Central time on the Monday listed in the schedule.
However, faculty can access the webinar at any time (24 hours a day) during the week following the initial broadcast date.
If you viewed any Monday Morning Mentor webinars during the Spring Term or have comments on the webinars broadcast this fall, please send your comments to Claudia Stanny (email@example.com). I plan to evaluate the usefulness of these webinars before making a decision to renew the subscription in 2013. Look for an online survey about the Monday Morning Mentor series this fall!
August 30, 2011
Using the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) to improve courses and student learning
Many faculty rely on an informal process in which they reflect on the success of teaching strategies or assignments throughout the term and think about how these might be improved. These reflections inform decisions the instructor makes when revising assignments and structuring the course in future terms. This strategy of ongoing reflection on teaching and learning can be an effective way to improve one’s teaching and improve the quality of student learning in a course.
An instructor who gathers documentation about how courses and assignments evolve over time will develop good materials to include in an annual evaluation or tenure portfolio to document the quality of teaching. A more systematic approach that includes formal assessments of student learning demonstrated in course assignments might produce high-quality evidence that revised teaching strategies are effective. An instructor could submit this scholarly work on teaching and learning for publication in a peer reviewed journal on teaching. These peer-reviewed SoTL publications could be included as documentation of research and scholarship in annual evaluations and tenure portfolios.
Finding the time and resources to implement a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning project in a course can be a challenge. The Assessment Grants offered by the Academic Programs Assessment Council include a category to support faculty SoTL projects. The faculty grants will fund up to $1,000 for projects in which faculty use assessment evidence to evaluate the impact of a change in teaching strategy or new activity on student learning related to program-level student learning outcomes in a required course in the degree program. For more information on Faculty SoTL Project grants, review the Request for Proposals and rubric used by APAC reviewers housed on the Provost Office web page (http://uwf.edu/academic/apac/). The CUTLA web site provides resources on how to develop a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning project (http://uwf.edu/cutla/sotl.cfm). Contact Claudia Stanny at CUTLA for a consultation on how to develop a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning project.
NOTE: Deadline for submitting an APAC Assessment Grant proposal is September 16, 2011.e of Denver (http://www.mscd.edu/cfd/).
August 23, 2011
Use an annotated syllabus to track your thinking about course design and teaching
The UWF Tenure and Promotion Guidelines (2010) include course syllabi as one example of artifacts that faculty might include in a tenure portfolio to document their contribution to high quality teaching. An annotated syllabus is an artifact that is based on a simple course syllabus and then grows in scope and in depth as instructors add annotations and links to additional materials. An annotated syllabus is an ideal mechanism for prompting and tracking your reflections about teaching and learning that contribute to good course design. You can also use an annotated syllabus to document the intellectual work you invest in teaching.
Another advantage to creating an annotated syllabus is the immediate and tangible benefit to course development. How often do you identify useful changes you might make to a course midway through the term? Changes might consist of better ways to design an assignment or modifications that improve an in-class learning activity. It is seldom possible to implement these changes during the term that you first think of them. Unless we capture these good ideas when they arise, we might not recall them or our rationale for making changes the next time we prepare for this course.
Annotated syllabi can motivate reflection on your assumptions about course design. Notations allow you to pose questions such as “is this textbook really accomplishing what I want from it?” or “does my policy about class participation motivate students to give their best?” or “is my grading rubric as clear as it can be about different levels of performance?” These notations will remind you to revisit these questions later, when you are more likely to have the time to explore other options for course design.
Annotate your syllabus in ways that serve your goals for improving the course and your teaching. Include annotations for questions you have about the course or teaching activities, to indicate where you are considering making changes, to explain the scholarly thinking that informed your decision about an aspect of the course design, or indicate assignments or other graded work that provide opportunities for you to assess how well students are achieving a desired learning outcome in the course.
Consider reading a book about instructional improvement or course design that could serve to prompt your own questioning about instructional choices. Some titles available from the CUTLA library that may be useful are:
Creating an annotated syllabus
Save a copy of your current syllabus in Word under a file name that identifies it as your annotated syllabus. Open the Review menu in Word and use the comments feature to add annotations at relevant points in your syllabus. Add a date to each comment to indicate when you implement these changes to the course syllabus. You can add reflections on the impact of changes in later terms.
You can view samples of annotated syllabi created by faculty at Metropolitan State College of Denver at http://metrofacultydevelopment.pbworks.com.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted by Mark Potter, Director, Center for Faculty Development, Metropolitan State College of Denver (www.mscd.edu/cfd/).
April 19, 2011
Balance flexibility and fairness through course design
College students lead increasingly busy lives, juggling college courses, off-campus work schedules, family responsibilities, and other demands of personal life. When planning a course, consider the need to balance work and life, for your students and for yourself.
Maryellen Weimer (2006) encourages instructors to occasionally put themselves in their students’ shoes by taking a college course outside their field of expertise every few years. Attending an out-of-field course has several benefits.
This tip is based on a suggestion from Mark Potter, Center for Faculty Development, Metropolitan State College of Denver (http://www.mscd.edu/cfd/).
Robertson, D. (2003). Making time, making change: Avoiding overload in college teaching. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.
Weimer, M. (2006). Enhancing scholarly work on teaching and learning: Professional literature that makes a difference. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
February 1, 2011
Library online tutorials – not just for students!
The University of West Florida Libraries hosts a variety of online tutorials. The index page lists a variety of topics, ranging from basic search strategies through discipline-specific library research skills, evaluating scholarly sources, writing skills and good authorship practices.
Faculty can develop student skills with information literacy by assigning one or more of these tutorials to students. Many of these tutorials include an online quiz that assesses the learning outcomes for the tutorial. Results of these quizzes can be e-mailed to course instructors to verify student completion of the tutorial, use as a graded component of the course, or include in departmental assessments of program-level student learning outcomes.
Faculty will also find online tutorials (without quizzes!) that are useful for their professional needs. One online tutorial provides information about how faculty can find data on the frequency with which their scholarly work has been cited and information on rankings and acceptance rates for the scholarly journals in which they publish. These data are frequently included in tenure and promotion portfolios as part of the evidence to document the quality and impact of scholarly work.
The direct URL for the Faculty Promotion Resources tutorial is:
Each spring, CUTLA provides a workshop on preparing for tenure and promotion. A panel of administrators involved with the review process and faculty who were successful candidates in the previous cycle will describe the process, give advice on preparing a portfolio, and answer questions posed by future candidates. Check the CUTLA calendar for time and location each year. This year, the T&P workshop will be held on February 4, 2011 in Conference Center Room A. Lunch will be served at noon. Discussion will begin shortly afterward and run until 2 PM.
October 19, 2010
Maintain momentum on your research through collaborations with faculty and students
Balancing the demands of teaching, research, and service can be difficult at a regional comprehensive university, where faculty teach more courses than colleagues at a research-intensive university. Finding the time and resources to develop a research program can be especially challenging. Several resources are available to faculty at UWF that will help you establish and maintain a productive research program:
Each fall, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs facilitates a CUTLA Faculty Friday on finding funding for research. The current workshop is scheduled for Friday, October 22, 2010. Details and reservations for this workshop are on the CUTLA calendar.
September 7, 2010
Request feedback from your students about your course during the term
Model the use of formative feedback for your students and reinforce the credibility of the end-of-term course evaluations. Discuss the value for both you and your students of constructive, formative feedback about the class structure and your teaching. Point out to your students that evaluative feedback from students at the end of the term does nothing to benefit the students who are currently enrolled in the course. Faculty simply can’t correct a problem that they don’t know about. If they learn about a problem only after the term ends, the problem might be corrected in the following term and benefit those students, but it can’t possibly be resolved for students during the current term.
Consider conducting a mid-course evaluation.
Not all suggestions or comments can be acted on (nor should all suggestions be acted on). Instructors can draw attention in class to those changes they make based on student suggestions and explain why some suggestions cannot be implemented (e.g., dispensing with exams or grading, ending an evening class half an hour early every night). The fact that you take the comments seriously and responded to those that you can reasonably implement strengthens students’ beliefs that you take course evaluations seriously.
This tip is based in part by a tip submitted by Michael Dabney, Director, Teaching and Learning Center
Hawaii Pacific University (http://www.hpu.edu/index.cfm?contentID=9473&siteID=1).
March 2, 2010
Using electronic tools to manage collaborations with students and colleagues
Current technology now provides a variety of tools that allow faculty to collaborate with students and colleagues. E-mail enables rapid communication and exchange of documents with collaborators. Faculty can now easily draft and edit a manuscript with co-authors on several continents by sending documents as attachments or sharing documents through other electronic forums. For example, Google Documents and Google Sites allow faculty to share and edit documents without exchanging large attachments in e-mail.
Although technology creates many convenient tools for collaboration, it also creates vulnerabilities to the security of intellectual property and personal identity. When collaborating with students and colleagues in the UWF community, faculty are sometimes tempted to provide access to files on a computer or server by disclosing their password instead of using a more secure collaboration tool. ITS and CUTLA developed a new information website that discusses the tools currently available for electronic collaboration that will help faculty easily share files with students and colleagues without compromising password security.
The new web site is located at http://uwf.edu/cutla/password.cfm
Thanks to Sylvia Maxwell and Michael White (ITS) for contributions to this teaching tip.
September 1, 2009
Improving teaching through peer mentoring: Teaching Partners Program
An effective practice to improve teaching is to engage in informed reflection on one’s teaching practices. Faculty can obtain useful information about practices that work well in their classrooms and suggestions about areas that might need attention by asking a peer to visit their classroom and observe their teaching.
The Teaching Partners Program allows faculty to identify a peer partner to engage in mutual classroom observations. The process benefits the person doing the observation, who might observe and learn about a new classroom strategy, and the person whose teaching is observed.
For more information about peer observation and the Teaching Partners Program, visit the following URL:
Now in its second year, the Teaching Partners Program is open to faculty in all three colleges. Participants in the first year were pleased with the experience and collegial discussions of teaching. If you are interested in participating in the Teaching Partners Program this year, please plan to attend the organizational meeting at noon on Thursday, September 3, 2009 in the University Commons, Nautilus Chamber, Room 255.
September 30, 2008 (Bruce Henderson on campus Friday, Oct 3)
Balancing Demands While Teaching at the People’s University
In Teaching at the People’s University, Bruce Henderson describes the substantial demands placed on faculty at a regional comprehensive university: significant professional scholarship, evidence of a commitment to excellent teaching, and substantial service to the university, community, and professional discipline. He also discusses how faculty can contribute to the mission of a regional comprehensive university while building a coherent professional portfolio of scholarship, teaching, and service.
Bruce Henderson will be the keynote speaker at the mini-conference on Best Practices for Student Engagement in Face-to-Face and Online Classes on Friday, October 3. Join Bruce for a discussion of the expectations for scholarship, teaching, and service for faculty who teach in the unique environment known as a regional comprehensive university. The mini-conference will also include presentations by UWF faculty who will discuss effective instructional practices they use in their courses to engage students and promote student learning.
The Work of the Regional University: Doing Interesting Scholarly Things
Bruce B. Henderson
11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Friday, October 3, 2008
University Commons Auditorium
See the CUTLA calendar for the full schedule for the mini-conference (http://uwf.edu/cutla/).
Henderson, B. B. (2007). Teaching at the people’s university: An introduction to the state comprehensive university. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.
Henderson, B. B., & Buchanan, H. E. (2007). The scholarship of teaching and learning: A special niche for faculty at comprehensive universities? Research in Higher Education, 48, 523-543.
June 17, 2008
Mid-course evaluations are useful tools for getting information about what is and is not working well in your course. Instructors can make use of this formative feedback to make adjustments to the course to improve student engagement and learning. Give students a framework for this evaluation to encourage thoughtful, constructive feedback and discourage irrelevant comments about your hair style or wardrobe. Typical questions include:
What activities or course materials have helped you learn in this course?
Is there anything that is currently hindering your learning?
What changes (if any) would improve your ability to learn in this course?
These should be completed anonymously. Sort the responses into “things that are going well,” “things that might be changed to improve the course this term,” and “things that can’t be changed” and share these with your students. Although students might not be interested in the first category, sharing a few successes will direct student attention to positive aspects of the class. Identify one or two realistic adjustments based on comments from the second category. Students will appreciate your flexibility and willingness to make reasonable adjustments. Finally, explain why some items necessarily fall in the “can’t be changed” category. The course fulfills a particular role in the curriculum and yes, students are expected to be able to use statistical analyses to evaluate data. Students must use correct grammar in their writing. Courses must include tests or other evaluations of student learning. Include a humorous off-base suggestion or comment as a tacit example of the difference between constructive and unhelpful feedback.
Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Updated 06/14/12 cdw
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