The Get Engaged: Tips for Student Engagement series is a weekly e-mail message that describes an instructional strategy that faculty might find helpful in promoting active learning and student engagement. The Get Engaged tips are based on the scholarly literature on teaching and suggestions from faculty who have successfully used the strategy in their teaching.
Do you have an instructional strategy that improves student learning or promotes student engagement with your class? Send a 200 word (or less) description of your teaching tip to Claudia Stanny at the Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (firstname.lastname@example.org) for posting in a future Get Engaged mailing.
If you do not currently receive the Get Engaged e-mail but would like to receive future postings, contact CUTLA (email@example.com), and you will be added to the distribution list.
April 21, 2009
NOTE: This week’s tip is intended to help faculty plan future courses.
When students are at risk of failing the course
The first exam or major graded assignment in the term delivers a loud message to a certain number of students in a course: You are not performing well enough to succeed in this course. What can faculty do to help students who are “on the edge” pull back from the brink of disaster and succeed in the course?
April 14, 2009
Use Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) to reflect on your teaching and improve student learning in future courses
The final weeks of the term are one of the best times to reflect on student learning and consider changes you might want to implement the next time you offer the course. Identify activities and assignments that worked well and make notes to yourself about modifications to assignments, rubrics, and other aspects of the course that might create improvements. Use the course evaluation activity to administer a questionnaire of your own design to elicit comments and suggestions from students. Formal course evaluations currently focus on “student satisfaction.” Rather than asking students if they liked aspects of the course, create your own Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) questions to evaluate the effectiveness of a specific assignment, class activity, project, or teaching strategy.
SALG questions ask students to rate the class in general or to rate specific assignments, projects, class activities, and other teaching strategies.
Examples of SALG questions
Target activities may include a class activity, lab assignments, particular learning methods, guest lectures, class readings, and other resources.
Provide a list of specific learning outcomes or concepts that you consider important for the class.
Target skill may include making quantitative estimates, finding trends in data, designing a research study, writing technical material, creating a web page, piece of art, etc.
Attitude Change SALG
For example: enthusiasm for the course or subject area
Although these are self-report measures, SALG measures can provide diagnostic evidence about teaching effectiveness that can be useful for scholarly projects on teaching and learning or inclusion in documentation of teaching effectiveness for annual evaluations, tenure and promotion, and teaching awards.
A discussion of the development of SALG measures and information about the validity and reliability of this approach to measuring student learning can be found in:
Seymour, E., Wiese, D., Hunter, A., & Daffinrud, S. M. (2000, March). Creating a better mousetrap: On-line student assessment of their learning gains. Paper presentation at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, San Francisco, CA.
Information about Student Assessment of Learning Gains and a free download of the Seymour et al. paper can be found at the SALG web site: http://salgsite.org/about.
April 7, 2009
Micro-lectures: Just-in-time teaching for critical topics and skills
Attaining competence with some concepts and skills requires repetition and practice. Instructors can use class time more efficiently if they create short electronic modules that discuss a particular concept or demonstrate a skill that students struggle to learn. Create an out-of-class assignment in which students view the micro-lecture and then complete an activity, small project, or written assignment that entails applying the concept or using the skill. Micro-lectures can be as short as 60 seconds to 5 minutes or as long as 15-20 minutes.
Use micro-lectures to:
Shieh, D. (2009). These lectures are gone in 60 seconds. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 55 (26), Page A13.
Want to create a micro-lecture and need help?
Contact the Academic Technology Center: http://uwf.edu/atc/
March 31, 2009
Getting Students to Read
Create an assignment in which students write three reading questions/comments based on the text for each reading assignment. The reading questions/comments are graded for content.
The quality of the reading questions/comments must provide evidence that:
Before the semester begins, randomly select 12-15 days when you will collect the comments and note the date in your calendar. This strategy encourages students to bring their questions every day and ensures that you collect comments with a reasonable frequency without being tempted to punish absent students by collecting comments on a day with low attendance.
Inform students that the purpose of the assignment is to get them to read. Award up to 5 points each time students turn comments in during class; use the total score to determine about 10-15% of the final grade.
Grading need not be onerous. Award 5 points if students clearly put some thought into their comments. Deduct a point or two and include a specific comment to suggest to students what they should have included to earn full points. Deducting a point or two for lower quality submissions encourages students to use the feedback and improve future submissions. Over the course of the term, student responses improve and show evidence of deep, critical thought. The questions often work well as the basis for a good class discussion.
Thanks to Brien K. Ashdown, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Saint Louis University, for this suggestion.
March 24, 2009
Advising students about effective study strategies
Some first and second-year students become disengaged with their academic work because they do not have the appropriate time management and study skills. Several campus resources will help students develop these skills. Resources are also available on the internet. For example, the Study Guides and Strategies site on the Teachers First web pages provides a wealth of resources on study strategies, time management, writing skills, preparing for tests, and other topics of interest to students.
UWF Student Resource Page
Study Guides and Strategies (Teachers First Toolbox)
Thanks to Robert M. Isosaari, Instructor, Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science, University of West Florida for suggesting the Study Guides and Strategies page.
March 17, 2009
Encourage students to write regularly about their learning to improve their learning practices
Reflective writing can help students become more self-directed learners if writing assignments require them to identify and discuss important information learned in their course and describe the strategies that helped them learn. Reflective writing can be achieved by asking students to keep a learning journal, assigning regular in-class writing, or creating a threaded discussion in an online component of the course. Reflective writing can be structured by creating specific prompts that focus attention on learning strategies and an evaluation of their effectiveness.
Examples of prompts for reflective writing assignments:
TRACE Tips: Improving Students’ Learning Practices
Centre for Teaching Excellence
University of Waterloo
March 10, 2009 – SPRING BREAK – No Get Engaged Teaching Tip
March 3, 2009
Coach students in the cognitive skills associated with the discipline
Experts differ from less accomplished performers in terms of the amount of disciplinary content they know, the nature and fluency of specific disciplinary cognitive skills, and, for disciplines such as music, sport, and dance, physiological adaptations that emerge following extended periods of practice and training (Ericsson & Charness, 2004). Discipline-specific cognitive skills used by experts may be so deeply embedded in expertise that experts may not be fully aware of the speed and fluidity with which they deploy these skills. Expert skills include cognitive strategies such as approaches for analyzing a problem and strategies for reading the technical literature. Experts may have difficulty articulating how they acquired these skills or describing their decision processes when using these skills. Ericsson and Charness (2004) argue that novices require extensive practice and expert coaching to achieve expert levels of performance on these skills.
Coach students on discipline-specific reading strategies
Scholarly reading is a specialized skill that requires both instruction and practice. As novices in the discipline, students might not have acquired these cognitive skills. Additionally, they might not have engaged in enough practice with these skills to transform them into discipline-specific habits.
Coach your students in the use of discipline-specific reading skills by assigning a short reading from the scholarly literature. Students may be reluctant to mark printed text or make marginal notes after spending years in a school environment in which books are loaned and students are forbidden to mark up their books.
First, ask students to work with an assigned reading on their own. Then ask students to describe the notes they made to the group. After the group finishes its discussion of its reading and annotation strategies, show the students a page of the text that you marked and annotated. Describe how you approached the reading. Identify which sections of the text you decided were important and explain your decisions.
If students will read journal articles in your discipline, describe the process you use when reading a journal article. Do you preview parts of the article first? Describe the types of information you expect to find and the questions you want answered in each section of a journal article. Describe the types of notes you make when reading an article (highlighting, marginal notes, or separate reading notes).
Describe how your discipline defines close reading of text material. Describe the strategies students should use to identify main ideas. Discuss how you identify important ideas and key passages in the text. Describe the kinds of notations you created to help you locate important sections when you read the material at a later time.
Ericsson, K. A., & Charness, N. (2004). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49, 725-747.
Dartmouth College, Academic Skills Center
Resources for student study skills for reading textbooks:
Getting to Know your Textbook
Using your Textbook
February 24, 2009
Establish norms and expectations for individual contributions to group work
Students who are new to group work may be uncertain about how to be an effective member of the group. Establish clear expectations for good group citizenship and team skills by asking students to develop a group contract. You can assist this process by providing a sample contract that students could adapt to the needs of specific groups and projects.
A group contract should include two types of information:
TRACE Tips: Making Group Contracts provides examples of guidelines that students might include in a group contract, including guidelines that address student effort and attendance issues, procedures for group meetings, roles of group members, behavioral expectations, and a procedure for resolving conflict within the group.
TRACE Tips: Making Group Contracts
Centre for Teaching Excellence
University of Waterloo
February 17, 2009
Use exam feedback to help students reflect on the effectiveness of their study strategies
Ask students to think about the study strategies they used to prepare for an exam after they receive their grade on the exam. Did they perform as well as they hoped they would? Invite students who are satisfied with their performance to describe the strategies that seemed to help them the most. Students who are not satisfied with their performance should consider adopting effective strategies suggested by fellow students when studying in the future.
Adapted from Bette LaSere Erickson, University of Rhode Island, Helping first-year students study. Essays on Teaching Excellence (Toward the Best in the Academy).
February 10, 2009
Keep ‘em on their toes: Engage students in lecture classes by creating variety
Predictability is one of the most deadly characteristics of a presentation. Variation produces powerful effects on audience attention and engagement (Middendorf & Kalish, 1996). One of the evils of PowerPoint presentations is that they tend to chain us to the podium where the computer is housed. Sometimes we get hidden behind the computer screen (not an engaging location).
Movement draws attention. Break up the predictable routine of lecture by varying your location. Change your position from day to day and move around the room during a particular class. Instructors may be unaware of the reinforcing effects of attentive students on their classroom behavior. We are drawn to locations in the classroom where our most attentive students sit. Although their attention reinforces us and increases our attentiveness to them, we need to ensure that we include and engage the entire class. Make an effort to make eye contact with the student lurking in the back row as well as the student who is eagerly attentive.
Middendorf, J. & Kalish, A. (1996). The “change-up” in lectures. The National Teaching& Learning Forum, 5 (2), 1-5.
February 3, 2009
Use online technology to engage students with assigned readings and improve class discussion
The ELearning system can be used to encourage students to read assigned material before class. Instructors can create a “quiz game” in which students take a short quiz to accumulate a “high score” for the assignment. Each quiz might contain only 4 or 5 multiple choice questions on the assigned reading from a larger set of 12-15 questions. The questions should be selected to help students focus on target issues that will be discussed during class. Quizzes can be structured (using D2L or Respondus) so that students answer different questions each time they take the quiz. This can be a low-stakes assignment, but some credit should be assigned so that students complete the activity. Advance completion of the quiz will improve the quality of discussion during the face-to-face class.
Thanks to Xuan V. Tran, MBA, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor in HLES for this teaching tip.
January 27, 2009
Promote academic integrity by educating students about academic expectations
Although some students know they are engaged in academic misconduct when they plagiarize work for an assignment, many students do not understand how to appropriately paraphrase and cite scholarly work following the conventions of the course discipline. Similarly, they may not understand what sorts of collaborations are allowed and what sorts of collaborations are forbidden on a given assignment. Practices that are acceptable in one course or discipline may be unacceptable in another. Students may be confused by the ambiguity created by these variations in expectations and conventions.
Instructors will experience fewer problems with academic misconduct if they clearly articulate their expectations for collaborative work and include a statement about academic misconduct on course syllabi. If students write papers for the course, they may need an explanation of the conventions for authorship, paraphrasing, and citation of ideas that are used within the discipline. Instructors can make use of a variety of resources for this instruction. Some disciplines include authorship information for students on a web site. Many academic libraries and departments host tutorials on plagiarism and good authorship practices that include excellent assessments of student learning.
The Pace Library at the University of West Florida maintains a set of tutorials to assist students with writing, conducting library research, and identifying plagiarism.
Indiana University hosts an excellent tutorial on how to recognize plagiarism.
January 20, 2009
Have a question about solving a problem in your class?
Consult the interactive web tool created by Michele DiPietro and Michael Bridges at the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and the Office of Technology for Education at Carnegie Mellon University. The tool is a three-step process that serves as a convenient index to a large collection of useful teaching tips and strategies.
The first step, problem identification, opens a menu of common teaching problems. Selection of a particular problem opens a menu of possible reasons for the problem. Finally, selection of one of these reasons opens a menu of strategies for addressing the problem and underlying reason.
January 13, 2009
Provide feedback early in the term to improve student success
Frequent, informative, and timely feedback is important for successful student learning and improves student engagement (Cambridge, 2005). Students are frequently overconfident about how well they understand material. When they receive formal feedback from a graded quiz, assignment, or exam, they get a valuable “reality check” on how they are doing. Feedback delivered early in the term can motivate students to seek tutoring and enable them to recover from a less-than-graceful beginning. First and second year undergraduate students, in particular, can benefit from the feedback about performance when this is delivered within the first 3 or 4 weeks of the course. Moreover, instructors who assign graded work early in the term can provide concrete information about student performance to Academic Advising and student success programs that implement early warning systems. In this way, instructors can help these programs identify struggling students and refer them to appropriate support services before these students fall too far behind to recover.
Cambridge, B. L. (2005). Promoting student success: What new faculty need to know (Occasional Paper No. 12). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.
January 6, 2009
Setting the Tone for your Class
Use the instructional strategies you plan to use during the semester on the first day. If you want students to talk in class, create a discussion activity for the first day. If you plan to use groups, put students in groups and have them complete a relevant activity on the first day. If you plan to ask students to write, have students complete a short reflective writing activity. If you want the students to be in charge of their own learning, start with an activity in which students are the experts and cannot rely on you for information. For example, introductory psychology courses often address common myths about human behavior. An instructor might include a brainstorming activity in which students identify common myths about student behaviors in dorms.
For additional suggestions for the first day of class, consult the following web site:
Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence
Carnegie Mellon University
December 2, 2008
Setting and Clarifying Expectations and Goals in the First Week of Class
Consider beginning your class by asking students why they are in your class and what they expect to gain from their experience in this class (Benjamin, 2005). Instructors may be surprised to learn that students frequently have different goals for their courses. An activity that identifies and clarifies instructor and student expectations and goals can benefit both students and instructors. An explicit comparison of student and instructor goals creates student buy-in to the course and provides the instructor with an opportunity to explain why he or she uses certain teaching strategies, activities, and course assignments. Instructors can also explain how the course fits into the overall curriculum for the discipline and describe the skills students can expect to acquire that will benefit them in subsequent courses and future professional activities.
The following first-week activity helps establish a common set of goals and expectations (Barnett, 1999).
Ask students to write down their goals and expectations for the course by asking the following questions:
Immediate pair-share activity
Ask students to work in groups of 3-4 and compare their goals.
Share the group’s goals and expectations with the class as a whole.
During this discussion, the instructor should identify his/her goals and expectations, highlight those goals that are shared with students, and describe the role of the course in the larger curriculum. When possible, discuss how student-generated goals might be attained within the context of the overall course goals.
Instructors might get some insights into student motivation from this activity. Sometimes we will discover opportunities that allow us to meet unanticipated student needs by making minor adjustments without compromising the primary goals of the course. Benjamin (2005) argues that this activity allows instructors to publicly respond to student needs without necessarily making major changes to their courses. The discussion sets a collaborative tone at the onset of the course, improves student motivation, and enhances overall satisfaction with the course. Similarly, Barnett (1999) reports that students are more understanding of the need for the quantity of work demanded during the course when the role of these assignments for developing skill is made clear at the outset.
Barnett, M. A. (1999). On the same wavelength? Clarifying course expectations and goals. Teaching Concerns. Newsletter of the Teaching Resource Center for Faculty and Teaching Assistants, University of Virginia. (http://trc.virginia.edu)
Benjamin, Jr., L. T. (2005). Setting course goals: Privileges and responsibilities in a world of ideas. Teaching of Psychology, 32, 146-149.
November 25, 2008
Engaging Students with a Review Session
Students frequently request a pre-exam review session. Consider structuring your review session to encourage students to reflect on their learning by preparing questions for the session. This strategy makes students responsible for the content of the session, which is determined entirely by the specific questions posed by students.
Explain in advance that you will answer questions about content. Questions such as Will this be on the test? and Do we really need to know this? or What do we need to know? are off limits. Expect that some student questions will not be precisely focused. Expect some questions such as Can you explain the Smith-Wilson model again? Typically, students identify enough specific content areas that they have trouble understanding to fill a review session. The discussions are lively and productive.
This approach has several advantages. First, when you limit the review to content related to the questions students ask, you eliminate expectations that the review might provide a “Cliff’s Notes” to the content of the course or the exam. Second, you won’t waste time reviewing topics you think might be challenging but students feel they already understand. Instead, students will ask questions about content that they believe they need to understand better. As such, this form of review encourages students to reflect on the quality of their own learning and understanding. It places responsibility for identifying weaknesses in understanding squarely on the shoulders of students. Finally, students must prepare for the review by studying their notes and materials to develop review questions, which is a beneficial study activity in itself.
November 18, 2008
If an activity is good for student learning, make it a requirement
Creating an engaging and beneficial student activity is no guarantee that students will make use of this activity. We can ensure that students will benefit from these activities by making activities that improve learning required. Include explicit credit for participation in these activities, if only as a participation grade worth 10% of the final grade, to motivate students to engage in these activities.
Carol Twigg (2003) describes a course redesign project at the University of New Mexico in which a collection of supplementary online activities (interactive web-based activities, online quizzes, and programmed self-instruction modules) was added to the General Psychology course (with a reduction in the amount of face-to-face time in lecture). The redesigned course was more difficult than the traditional lecture-only course. For example, the course covered the content in all chapters in a high-level text (versus the common practice of deleting one or two chapters because constraints on lecture time). In one semester, students in all sections of this course had access to the online materials and were encouraged to use them. Students in one section were required to use these materials and earned course points for their participation whereas these activities were optional in the other section. Students in the section with mandatory participation outperformed their peers in the voluntary participation section on identical exams administered in face-to-face settings: 37% of students in the traditional course earned A’s and B’s on these exams whereas 77% of students in the course with mandatory participation earned A’s and B’s on the same exams.
Want to help students improve study habits and develop personal life skills that will help them succeed in academia? Each semester, the UWF Counseling and Wellness Services offers weekly Living Well Workshops. Students can learn about time management, study skills, managing test anxiety, and other topics that can improve their academic performance. Consider encouraging students in your course to participate in one or more of these workshops by providing an incentive for participation in your course syllabus.
Review the Living Well Workshop schedule to identify workshops that might be relevant to your course or helpful to your students:
Twigg, C. A. (2003, July). Build it, but will they come? Learning Market Space. Electronic newsletter published by the National Center for Academic Transformation. Retrieved from http://www.thencat.org/Newsletters/Jul03.htm#1
November 10, 2008
How to Deal with Uninterested Students?
Students may be disengaged and uninterested in courses when they believe they only enrolled in the course because it was required. One way to engage these uninterested students is to discover common ground between their interests and the course content. During the first week of class, gather information about your students’ interests. In addition to gathering their names, majors, and e-mail addresses, ask them the question: What do you do? Students will describe their jobs and out-of-class interests, which might be connected to course content through specific examples. If students in a course include a large number of non-majors (e.g., if the course is frequently used as part of another major or if students in another discipline frequently select your course as part of a minor), illustrate course topics with examples that are related to these other disciplines to engage these students with the course. If you know that a number of students are interested in video games or work in restaurants, you might be able to create assignments or use examples in class that connect to these experiences. Students can be asked to create these connections themselves as part of an assignment. Ask students to identify and describe relations between specific course material and an interest or issue they encounter in their daily life.
Arvidson, P. S., (2008, October 3). Students 101: How to tailor your teaching to the interrupter, the hijacker, and other familiar types. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
http://chronicle.com/temp/email2.php?id=pXTd9YygrhV8dXbv4fssJZnRxYpK4csh (accessed 9/30/2008).
November 4, 2008
Structuring Small Class Discussions
Leading a small class discussion can be a challenge. If students are not prepared, discussions can be derailed when students attempt to participate by introducing off-topic questions and comments. How can we motivate students to prepare in advance for class and participate actively and constructively in discussions? Leupen and Burtt (2008) describe a strategy for structuring student preparation and class discussion that requires students to prepare for class and participate in a way that keeps the discussion on track.
Assign the following three assignments to different students as preparation for at least one class meeting each week:
Strictly enforce presentation times (use a timekeeper and a bell if needed) to ensure that all presentations occur. Using this strategy, a “critical mass” of students is present at each class to sustain a lively discussion. The nature of the assignments and related presentations also ensures that relevant themes and topics related to course content are addressed in the discussion.
Leupen, S. M., & Burtt, Jr., E. H. (2008, October). The truly participatory seminar. The Teaching Professor, 22, 5-6.
October 28, 2008
Using Clicker Technology in Large Classes
Embedding questions in a large lecture and requiring student responses via clickers can motivate students to attend class, complete readings and assignments as preparation for class discussion, generate interest in course material, evaluate student learning mid-lecture, or apply new learning to conceptual or practical problems. The types of questions posed and how the instructor uses student responses are important for the successful use of these devices.
Woelk (2008) provides a useful taxonomy of the types of questions that can be posed:
Students enrolled in sections of courses that included clicker questions during lectures outperformed students enrolled in sections (taught by the same instructor) in which students could answer questions as an optional out-of-class activity (Radosevich, et al., 2008; Reay, 2008; Woelk, 2008). The improvements observed in exam performance persist in long-term follow-up exams.
Interested in learning more about the use of clickers in the classroom?
Attend the November 7 Faculty Friday to try using clickers yourself and listen to faculty who are using these devices in an ongoing pilot project at UWF.
Radosevich, D. J., Salomon, R., Radosevich, D. M., & Kahn, P. (2008). Using student response systems to increase motivation, learning, and knowledge retention. Innovate 5 (1).
Reay, N. W., Li, P., & Bao, L. (2008). Testing a new voting machine question methodology. American Journal of Physics, 76, 171-178.
Woelk, K. (2008). Optimizing the use of personal response devices (clickers) in large-enrollment introductory courses. Journal of Chemical Education, 85, 1400-1405.
October 21, 2008
What Makes a Great Teacher Great?
Ken Bain (2004) argues that the best teachers are not only expert in their discipline but they also know how to engage and challenge students. Evidence from a survey conducted by the University of Montana Center for Teaching Excellence indicates that students have similar criteria when they evaluate their instructors. Student respondents identified the following five behaviors as characteristics of excellent teachers (listed in order of importance):
Bain identifies a common characteristic of exemplary teachers across multiple disciplines: the best teachers believe that teaching matters and that all students can learn. Bain argues that these two beliefs influence how the best teachers prepare their classes, the kinds of learning activities they create, what they expect from students, how they treat their students, and how they evaluate the impact of their efforts on student learning. Bain defined quality teaching by the changes that occur in students’ thinking processes and future actions rather than by pass rates on exams that evaluate the retention of facts. He argues that the best teachers understand that the process of learning requires multiple opportunities to practice new skills, meaningful feedback about performance, and “plentiful opportunities to revise and improve their work.”
Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tip based on a contribution by:
David Durr, Department of Economics and Finance
Murray State University
October 14, 2008
Creating Active Learning in Lectures by Getting Students to Read Assigned Material before Class
How often have you assigned a chapter for students to read for a given week only to discover that your lecture on the material is actually their first encounter with the content of the chapter? Instructors tend to control the structure and pace of their review of required readings by preparing a detailed PowerPoint presentation. With this level of organized review, students may question the value of advance reading. Some may even question whether purchasing the book is necessary. Under these conditions, motivating students to read assigned material before coming to class can be a challenge.
One approach to this problem is to require your students to prepare detailed study notes for the assigned reading as graded assignments. Structure the class meeting time around student learning from their advance reading. Begin the “lecture” with the question What did you learn from your study of today’s assigned reading?
In a large class, most of the key points of the chapter will be addressed after discussing the responses of 9-10 students to this question. Instead of delivering a prepared lecture, use class time to respond to student comments and questions. Clarify misunderstandings that might emerge. Augment the assigned reading with relevant practical examples. This approach transforms a lecture that simply reviews the reading to an interactive and engaging discussion that still “covers” the content of the reading.
Based on a teaching tip described by Mick La Lopa, Purdue University (Indiana) in the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Digest, August 28, 2007 and summarized by the Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching, Western Kentucky University.
October 7, 2008
Use a Variety of Strategies to Engage Students with Varied Learning Skills
Universal Design is an architectural concept in which designers anticipate the needs of all potential users and design buildings that will be accessible to diverse users without retrofitting. Similarly, Universal Instructional Design (UID) is a proactive approach to the design of course instruction, materials, and content to accommodate diverse learning strategies and specific constraints imposed by documented medical conditions, physical disabilities, or learning disabilities without requiring additional modifications. Course concepts are designed to be educationally accessible regardless of learning style or ability by including instructional strategies that
All students bring diverse learning strategies to the classroom. These varied learning styles may include preferences for one of the following activities:
Although students may prefer to use one learning strategy more than other strategies, they should be encouraged to practice using less-preferred strategies. Practice with multiple strategies will strengthen their skill with less familiar or less preferred strategies and will enlarge the student’s repertoire of effective learning strategies.
Learn more about Universal Instructional Design:
Higbee, J. L., Chung, C. J., & Hsu, L. (2008). Enhancing the inclusiveness of first-year courses through Universal Instructional Design. In J. L. Higbee and E. Goff (Eds.), Pedagogy and student services for institutional transformation: Implementing Universal Design in higher education. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota, Pedagogy and Student Services for Institutional Transformation.
University of Minnesota: Pedagogy and Student Services for Institutional Transformation (University of Minnesota)
University of Washington: Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) http://www.washington.edu/doit/
Tip based on a contribution by:
Tasha J. Souza
Faculty Development Coordinator, Humboldt State University
October is Disabilities Awareness Month
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.
September 23, 2008
Use Feedback on Technical Aspects of Writing to Develop Editing Skill
Writing assignments are effective activities to improve student engagement. Writing is a skill that improves only with repeated practice guided by appropriate feedback. Students need practice within their major to develop skill with discipline-specific conventions for writing that supplements general-purpose writing skills. Student writing improves best when students receive feedback on their writing that will inform future revisions and/or writing projects. If student writing consists only of papers due at the end of the term, it is unlikely that students will ever use the instructor comments provided to improve subsequent work.
How can we provide our students with feedback on their writing and create opportunities to revise their work based on this feedback?
Coaches understand that too much feedback can be harmful to acquisition of skilled behavior. Resist the urge to copy edit the entire paper. Students tend to respond to comprehensive copy edit feedback by simply making the changes you suggest without learning to detect their own errors and edit their work. Instead, encourage students to copy edit their own work by providing “minimal feedback” on an early draft (Haswell, 1983).
Ask students to submit the first 2-3 pages of an early draft of their work. Identify problem areas by making a check in the margin next to lines that contain errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other grammatical errors. Students must find the problem in the line and make the appropriate correction. Provide a handout that describes common errors to help students identify their problems. If you believe the student will benefit from an example of improved sentence fluency with editing, revise no more than one or two sentences in the sample. Expect students to review their entire paper and make appropriate changes before submitting the completed assignment.
Bean, J. C. (2001). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Haswell, R. H. (1983). Minimal marking. College English, 45, 600-604.
September 16, 2008
Developing Team Skills
Teaching students relevant team skills requires more than placing them in groups and assigning a team project. Students also need coaching on how to communicate, manage group dynamics, keep on task, and a variety of other team-related skills. Emerson, Johnson, Milner, and Plank (1997) propose that any group activity can be structured to develop team skills if the activity requires that all members of the group work together to achieve a common goal. Observations of group processes during this activity serve as the basis for a discussion of group dynamics and the contribution of specific skills to the creation of a successful team.
The Three-Step Interview
The three-step interview (Millis, 2002) is a content-based activity that will engage students with course material while providing opportunities for learning about relevant team skills. Pose a question based on the course materials assigned as a pre-class reading.
Step 1: One student interviews another student (e.g., about a critical concept from the reading that is relevant to the planned lecture). Set a specific amount of time for this interview (2-3 minutes) with a secondary question for students who complete the first question early.
Step 2: Students in each pair reverse roles and conduct the interview again.
Step 3: Pairs combine to create a foursome in which students share insights gained from the interview process as well as their own perspective on the concept.
Benefits of the Three-Step Interview
This activity serves two purposes. First, it gives students immediate feedback about their comprehension of the material read for class. Second, the activity serves as an icebreaker for subsequent group work. If students are asked to reflect on the activity, they should be able to describe the importance of listening skills and identify the value of the contributions other students can make to their learning. Students can observe interpersonal dynamics, note sources of conflict, and identify concerns about group dynamics before they are a member of a group that is committed to completing a high-stakes project.
Emerson, D. M., Johnson, R. N., Milner, S., & Plank, K. M. (1997). The Penn State Teacher II: Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University. [available as an online publication at http://www.schreyerinstitute.psu.edu/Resources/]
Millis, B. J. (2002). Enhancing Learning – and more! – Through Cooperative Learning, IDEA Paper #38.
September 9, 2008
Using Technology to Create Community and Engage Students with Course Content
Lang (2008) argues that building community can be difficult if the only opportunity for interaction occurs during regularly-scheduled class time. In contrast, the online environment provides access to asynchronous discussion 24/7. Threaded discussions can play an important role for building community in both online and face-to-face courses. These discussions can also encourage students to read course materials before coming to class.
Make sure that threaded discussions are relevant and “matter” for class performance
Using technology for threaded discussions will be effective for community building only if students are actively engaged in the discussions. If participation is optional, students won’t participate. If the discussions and student postings are not used during regular class meetings and discussions, students will perceive threaded discussions as “make work.”
One way to create an engaging and relevant threaded discussion is to require that students post a 2-paragraph response to the reading for a given week. Skim the postings before class to identify specific topics or questions posed by students. At the beginning of class, briefly discuss high-frequency comments and address important misconceptions or questions included in the posts. When you connect the content of classroom discussion to the content of the threaded discussion, students will know their posts have an impact on the class.
Grading the posts will also motivate students to participate in this activity. But grading should not be onerous. D2L will automatically track the number of posts by each student. One simple grading strategy would be to base a student’s participation grade on the number of posts to the threaded discussion.
Lang, J. M. (2008). On course: A week-by-week guide to your first semester of college teaching. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.
September 2, 2008
Engaging Students through Discussion
Students bring preconceived notions about how the world works to their classes. Sometimes these common-sense mental models are inconsistent with contemporary thinking in the discipline. However, students will frequently maintain these beliefs independently and in parallel with the models discussed in class. An example of this phenomenon is the persistence of student belief in intuitive theories of motion that are inconsistent with the laws of physics (Kaiser, McCloskey, & Proffitt, 1986). Although students might perform well on exams, they might not really change the way they think about the discipline. Instructors can encourage students to integrate their knowledge and replace faulty common-sense models and beliefs by creating class discussions that require students to confront the contradiction between their common-sense beliefs and accepted models in the discipline.
Prior to lecturing on a new concept, pose a question to the class that will require using the new concept to arrive at an answer. In class, ask students to work in small groups to discuss and answer the question. (This can also be done outside of class as a threaded discussion in D2L.) Emphasize that the point is to debug understanding, not to be "right." The most important aspect of this activity is that the students must commit to an answer in writing. This public investment in an answer engages students in the discussion about the posted answers that follows (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). When erroneous responses are questioned by the instructor or other students, the students will have to acknowledge the contradictions between their responses and solutions offered by the new model. This will be a small revelation for them and for a large fraction of the class.
This activity could be implemented either through class discussion or a threaded discussion in D2L. In either case, it is important to ensure that students are held accountable for participation in this activity. Many instructors use a check/check-plus/check-minus system for grading this activity, which contributes to an overall participation grade (for about 10% of the final grade). Most students earn a check (pass); a small number of students earn a check-plus (exceptionally good contribution) or check-minus (minimal contribution).
Thanks to Dr. Brandon Murakami, Department of Physics, for sharing this tip.
Information about intuitive models and how mental models undergo change can be found in:
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (Expanded Edition). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Kaiser, M. K., McCloskey, M., & Proffitt, D. R. (1986). Development of intuitive theories of motion: Curvilinear motion in the absence of external forces. Developmental Psychology, 22, 67-71.
Nelson, C. (1994). Cultural thinking and collaborative learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 59 (Fall), 45-58.
August 26, 2008
The First Class Meeting: Setting the Tone for your Class
The first day of class is full of symbolic messages (Lang, 2008). Your arrival time sends a symbolic message about your attitude about timeliness. Your dress sends a message about your perception of your role as an instructor. Your behavior during class sends a message about your enthusiasm for your discipline and the way you plan to conduct the class during the term. If the first class meeting consists of a lecture on the syllabus that ends early, this sends a message that time in class is dispensable. Requiring students to talk during the first class meeting establishes a clear expectation that they will participate and contribute to future class discussions.
During the first class meeting, ask students to find a partner and identify 2 or 3 questions about the syllabus and the course. The questions might be about information you did not include on the syllabus or they might address information that is included on the syllabus but that the students don’t understand. A general discussion of the syllabus on the first day gives students an overview of the structure of the course and creates an opportunity for you to preview the “big issues” you plan to address and allows you to communicate your excitement about your discipline.
Lang, J. M. (2008). On course: A week-by-week guide to your first semester of college teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
August 19, 2008
Describe Expectations for Classroom Behavior in Your Syllabus
Many instructors include a paragraph about expectations for classroom behavior in their syllabus. (See the CUTLA web page on syllabus construction for a discussion of recommended and required elements of a UWF syllabus.) This practice may be particularly useful for courses with large enrollments of “millennial” students, who may arrive in college classes with attitudes about acceptable classroom behavior that differ from the expectations of faculty.
Some instructors leave this section of their syllabus open and hold a discussion during the first class meeting to establish mutual rules of conduct that will promote learning. In this activity, students identify student behaviors that disrupt their ability to concentrate and learn during class. They may also describe instructor behaviors that benefit (or disrupt) their ability to learn. Similarly, instructors contribute their expectations about student demeanor. This discussion helps socialize students who might be uninformed about appropriate academic behavior and allows the class to reach consensus about how it will function as a community.
CUTLA web page on syllabus construction: http://uwf.edu/cutla/frs-syllabus.cfm
To report errors and/or broken links on the CUTLA web site, please contact Connie Works, Business Systems Specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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