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 description of your teaching tip to Claudia Stanny (email@example.com) at the Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), and you will be added to the distribution list.
April 17, 2012
Reflecting on learning during final class meeting
People are meaning-making beings. We make meaning based on our experiences and on the information and ideas we encounter.
L. Dee Fink (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences. (p. 106)
How we end a course can influence the long-term impact our teaching will have on our students. Take some time during the final class meeting to provide closure for you and your students.
During the last class meeting, facilitate a discussion about “lessons learned” during the term.
Organize students in small groups and ask them to reflect on the content covered in the course and identify the “big ideas” they will take away from the term. After 5-10 minutes of small group discussion, ask each group to share 1 or 2 significant ideas the group generated. Collect the responses from the groups and post the list to your course webpage, blog, or eLearning site. As the instructor, you’ll be able to see which ideas resonated most strongly with the students during the semester.
Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. This book is in the CULTA library and available for check out.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy suggested by Linda Serro, Ph.D., Director, Teaching, Learning & Assessment Initiative, Florida Gulf Coast University. (http://www.fgcu.edu/tlai)
April 10, 2012
Strategies for using group work in college classes
Are you interested in using group work but uncertain about how to manage this in a class? The Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia created a short video on the use of group work. The video discusses several types of research-based best practices for group activities, how to manage group work to keep the focus on learning, interviews with instructors and students about their experiences with group work, and demonstrations of different types of group activity in classroom settings.
The 15-minute video can be viewed in two parts on YouTube. The link below also provides access to this video in Flash and QuickTime formats.
An interesting strategy illustrated in the second video is the use of tablet-sized white boards that students use during group work on computational problems. The tablets are 12” x 9” dry-erase boards that are large enough to allow students in a group to share their final diagram, written response, or problem solution with the rest of the class in a pair-share activity. Students can easily erase and revise their solutions to problems while they work together as a group, so they are less hesitant to begin work on problems.
Link to the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative
April 3, 2012
Strategies that make ideas stick
Do students sometimes smile and nod while you present an important idea in class and then seem unable to explain it or seem to forget it entirely shortly afterward? Heath and Heath (2010) present 6 strategies that make new ideas more memorable.
Heath and Heath illustrate the narrative strategy by contrasting how well students learn the concepts from a series of lectures on various accounting practices (identifying revenue, computing current assets) to students who learned these concepts in the context of a story about two fictional students who launched a start-up company for a new product.
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. Random House.
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Teaching that sticks. PDF file available from www.heathbrothers.com
March 27, 2012
Revealing all of your expertise while teaching
Expertise can interfere with our ability to explain a new idea clearly. Once you find the hidden pattern in an image, you may find that you can no longer look at the image again without instantly recognizing the pattern. However, what is obvious to the knowledgeable viewer may not be obvious to the naïve viewer. As Heath and Heath (2010) note, once we know something, it can be difficult to imagine what it is like to not know this information.
An easy way to demonstrate this impact of prior knowledge on your ability to communicate is to try the “tapper task” with a friend. Think of a common tune that you and your friend know well. Your task is to tap the rhythm of the tune by rapping on a table. Your friend’s task is to guess the name of the tune you are tapping, based only on the pattern of taps. Will your friend be able to identify the tune? The pattern will seem to be an excellent match to the tune of the song (you will hear it playing in your head while you tap), but your friend will probably not be able to identify the tune. How can your friend not imagine the tune that is clearly playing in your head while you tap? In this case, your knowledge of the tune is private. The tapping will not adequately communicate the information your friend needs to identify the song.
Similarly, an explanation that is crystal-clear to an expert may omit critical details required to clearly communicate this knowledge to a novice. These details are so obvious to the expert, that he or she forgets what learning is like for a novice who does not already know these details. An important skill in teaching is learning to identify these critical details that create bottlenecks to learning for novices and discovering strategies that make these details more explicit in the learning experiences (Diaz, Middendorf, Pace, & Shopkow, 2008). Teaching strategies that communicate new ideas using simple models, compelling stories, and multi-sensory information frequently ensure that critical details that experts notice automatically will be equally obvious to novices.
Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., Pace, D., & Shopkow, L. (2008). The History Learning Project: A department “decodes” its students. The Journal of American History, 94, 1211-1224.
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Teaching that sticks. PDF file available from www.heathbrothers.com.
March 13, 2012
Strategies for modeling critical thinking in your discipline
Although disciplines may vary in how specific aspects of critical thinking are defined and emphasized, they share some common assumptions. Specifically, Brookfield (2011) argues that students in all disciplines must “recognize, and question, the assumptions that determine how knowledge in that discipline is recognized as legitimate” (p. 28). That is, disciplines have specific processes by which scholars in the discipline determine whether disciplinary content is true.
Brookfield proposes that faculty who effectively model critical thinking skills in their discipline make their process of critical thinking public by making the strategies they use explicit. Privately questioning your assumptions and considering multiple perspectives doesn’t help students discover how to cope with the discomfort they experience when they confront and question their assumptions or articulate the interpretations that follow from a perspective that originates from a different set of assumptions. Instead, describe how you engage in critical thinking about difficult topics in your discipline. Personal examples that describe how you mastered disciplinary material that present challenges to your students can be helpful guidelines for students. However, these stories past successes will be less useful as models than current examples based on controversies or challenging topics in the field that represent areas that cause you to struggle with new ideas.
Avoid virtuosic displays of high-level and seamless critical thinking that display your expertise without revealing your underlying thinking strategies. If you must use an example that you have thought about frequently and already worked through many of the thorny problems, warn students that you have worked on this problem before and already resolved many of its difficulties and that they should expect the process to be slower and more difficult. Novel problems will slow down your strategies and make them more visible to you (so you can better describe your strategies) and to your students. Alternatively, spend some time discussing the difficulties and missteps you encountered when you first began thinking about this problem and describe the strategies that helped you correct errors and overcome obstacles.
Give students opportunities to practice new critical thinking skills. Model your critical thinking strategies on one content topic or problem that is analogous to but not identical to the content topics or problems that you assign to students for a critical thinking assignment. Give feedback on how well students used these strategies when completing their assignment.
Example: Modeling how you evaluate the quality of web sources
Select one topic related to the course content and locate web pages that discuss this topic (one that is a high-quality source and one that is unreliable). Do a “think aloud” demonstration of the questions you ask and the evidence you look for when you open a web page and evaluate the accuracy and validity of content provided. Describe the things you look for (and find) on the high-quality web page. Describe the things you look for (and don’t find) and other warning flags that you look for that indicated that the unreliable web page is problematic. Give students an opportunity to practice these skills in a critical thinking assignment in which they evaluate other web sites that present content on a different set of course topics. Evaluate their submissions in terms of the evidence they provide that illustrates their use of these critical thinking strategies when reviewing their web sites.
Brookfield, S. D. (2011). Teaching for critical thinking. San Franciso: Jossey-Bass.
March 6, 2012
Using clickers in upper level STEM courses
Eric Mazur has been promoting the use of Concept Test questions to promote deep learning of concepts in physics and other STEM disciplines.
The Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia has an excellent resource page and collection of YouTube videos that describe how to create and use effective clicker questions in class. Videos are short (1-4 minutes) depictions of specific clicker techniques in use in a large classroom. The site also includes a useful 36-page PDF Clicker Resource Guide that discusses how to write effective questions, introduce students to the value of clicker questions for learning, manage discussions and class activities prompted by clicker questions, and deal with unexpected situations.
Many instructors express concern about the trade-off between time spent on discussions prompted by clicker questions and time spent covering content in a lecture. The authors of the Clicker Resource Guide discuss this trade-off and describe the benefits to learning associated with using clicker questions. For example, they find that clicker questions promote deeper learning and understanding of concepts addressed in these questions. Students are motivated to read course material before class so they are prepared to engage in the activities and discussions prompted by clicker questions. Finally, when instructors evaluate which concepts students understand well based on responses to clicker questions, they can strategically devote more time to concepts that students find most challenging. In addition, instructors might find that they can reallocate class time that they have used to review concepts students easily learn from the assigned reading and devote this time to a discussion of other material.
Link to the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative
Link to YouTube video of Eric Mazur describing his use of clickers
February 28, 2012
Focus learning by beginning a lecture with a question or thinking prompt
Lectures are an efficient way to communicate a large amount of content in a fixed period of time. Unfortunately, “telling” (the main activity in many lectures) does not translate directly into “learning” (the main goal for most faculty who prepare and deliver lectures). Students sometimes become lost in the forest of content details in lectures and fail to extract the larger picture that reflects how these details are integrated. Students will be more likely to recall specific content details if they begin with an overarching organization that creates context and suggests how details relate to one another.
Providing an organizational theme or structure before presenting content improves comprehension and facilitates recall of content details. For example, Bransford and Johnson (1973) asked students to read and recall a short text that described 18 details associated with a common activity (e.g., First you arrange things into different groups. . . . If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities, that is the next step. . . . it is better to do too few things at once than too many. . . . After the procedure is completed, one arranges the materials into different groups again.). When students were told that the passage was about washing laundry before they read the passage, they recalled twice as many details than when they learned about the theme of the passage after reading it.
Instructors can facilitate comprehension of their lectures and improve student recall of lecture content by providing a question, thinking prompt, or other organizing theme before beginning the lecture. Write the question or prompt on the board where it will be visible throughout the lecture. Include it in the first slide of a power point presentation. Instructors should direct attention to the prompt as students enter and prepare to listen to the lecture. Some instructors will ask students to write a short paragraph in response to the prompt before the lecture begins to encourage students to complete assigned readings before class. Refer to the question or prompt at relevant points during the lecture to reinforce the theme that connects content of the lecture in a coherent whole.
Bergey, B. (n.d.) Making it stick: How to design engaging and effective learning activities. Workshop handout, Teaching & Learning Center, Temple University.
Bransford, J. D., & Johnson, M. K. (1973). Consideration of some problems of comprehension. In W. G. Chase (Ed.), Visual information processing. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Silberman, M. (1996). Active learning: 101 strategies to teach any subject. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.This tip is based in part on a suggestion by Bradley Bergey, Teaching & Learning Center, Temple University.
February 21, 2012
Promote critical thinking skills with a pro-con-caveat homework assignment
Encourage critical thinking skills by creating assignments that require students to consider multiple points of view and describe the evidence that supports each perspective. In a pro-con-caveat assignment, students must identify arguments in favor of a certain decision, against the decision, and identify caveats or other considerations that might impact the decision. This assignment can motivate students to complete assigned readings in preparation for a class discussion. Provide guidelines on the number of entries expected for each category (pro, con, caveat) and the quality of writing expected for entries (e.g., should students write complete sentences or will a list of bulleted items be an acceptable response format?).
Use work on the pro-con-caveat assignment to support small group discussion during class. To encourage advance preparation, require students to post one copy of their assignment in eLearning before the class meeting or turn in a copy of their assignment at the start of class. In either case, students should bring an additional copy of their completed assignment to use while engaged in small group discussion during class.
Small group discussion activity based on the pro-con-caveat assignment. Students work in small groups (3 to 5 students) to create an in-depth pro-con-caveat grid that identifies the best ideas from each student. Call on one or two groups to share their collective pro-con-caveat grids with the class.
This assignment encourages students to prepare for class, reflect on issues discussed in assigned readings and apply these to a realistic problem or decision. The small group activity provides additional practice with critical thinking skills when students evaluate individual suggestions for pro and con arguments and caveats, evaluate the supporting evidence for these suggestions, and make decisions about which arguments and caveats should be included in the final grid.
Grading individual grids can be as simple as assigning pass-fail credit or assigning one point for assignments that include an entry for a grid element (3 points maximum).
This tip is based on teaching strategy suggested by Barbara Millis, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Texas at San Antonio. (www.utsa.edu/tlc)
February 14, 2012
Use response cards to facilitate class discussion of sensitive topics
Students may be reluctant to raise questions or express opinions during class discussion, especially if the discussion involves a sensitive topic and the student’s participation might entail stating a controversial or unpopular opinion, or revealing unflattering personal information, or asking a question the student fears others might think is overly simplistic. Students can be engaged more fully in discussion if they can make contributions in a less public way.
First, ask students to write a brief response to a prompt for the discussion on an index card or sheet of paper. Students should not write their name on the index card. Remind students to write legibly because they will pass their card to other students.
Next, ask students to exchange cards with at least three different people. Multiple exchanges ensure that no student will know the author of the comment written on the index card they hold at the end of this activity. Most students will finish this activity with an index card written by another student.
Begin the discussion by asking several students to read the response to the prompt written on their current index card.
This strategy enables students to participate without raising concerns about appearing naïve or uninformed or feeling threatened by responses that reveal unflattering information about themselves. Initial contributions to the discussion that are based on the anonymous responses written on the index cards will open the discussion and encourage additional contributions. If discussion falters, ask students to review their index card and contribute responses related to any additional issues the class has not yet discussed.
Bergey, B. (n.d.) Making it stick: How to design engaging and effective learning activities. Workshop handout, Teaching & Learning Center, Temple University.
Silberman, M. (1996). Active learning: 101 strategies to teach any subject. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
February 7, 2012
Build rapport with students by gathering and responding to student feedback
One of the best ways to find out if students are learning is to ask them. Whether you use an in-class activity or an out-of-class assignment, there are several efficient and effective ways to gather student feedback in order to gauge their learning.
At the beginning or the end of class, ask students a question about their learning and have them write for one minute in response. Possible questions include:
Student responses to these questions can help you shape your coverage of content, help you gauge students’ understanding, and influence your choices for the next time you teach the course.
Cover Letter Assignment
When students hand in an assignment, ask them to provide a “cover letter” in which they reflect on and describe the process they used when completing the assignment. Student comments in a cover letter might describe
This assignment helps students focus on the process of learning as well as attending to the characteristics of the final product.
At the mid-point of the term, ask students to respond anonymously to three questions:
Review and respond to this student feedback in the following class. Talk about patterns that you noticed in what students said was working. Identify those areas that might need adjustment and explain which changes can be made and which ones cannot be made.
For each of these three student feedback options, one of the most important things that you can do to build class rapport is respond. Whether you make changes or not, students like to know that they have been heard. Make sure to bring your feedback gathering full-circle by responding to students’ learning and their questions in class.
For additional information on gathering student feedback, check out the following book:
Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross,Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers.
This book is in the CULTA library and available for check out.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy suggested by Kathryn Linder, Ph.D., Assistant Director, Center for Teaching Excellence, Suffolk University.
January 31, 2012
Grading the mechanics of writing quickly while helping students learn mechanics
When you make the assignment, tell your students that you will be grading them on mechanics by choosing one page (but you don't tell them which page) from the assignment to note instances of errors in the mechanics of language. On that page, you will only put a check in the left (or right) margin in line with each mechanical error. Do not identify what the error is or correct the error yourself.
Set the standard for how many errors on the page will affect the grade for the overall assignment and in what ways (e.g., 0-5 errors = 20 points gained for mechanics, 5-10 errors = 15 points gained, 10-15 errors = 10 points, 15-20 errors = 5 points, more than 20 errors = 0 points).
After returning the graded assignment to your students, make a required follow-up assignment in which students identify and correct all the mechanical errors made on that page (or as many as students possibly can) to gain back points they lost. Students get credit only for accurate corrections. To motivate students to get the mechanics right the first time, award only half the value of the points they lost for each correction they make on the second assignment.
Tell the students to make their corrections on the actual page of the paper in a different color ink (or pencil) than black or the color that you used in making your notations. Give students references to one or more sources of English-language/writing handbooks. (The web has a variety of resources on mechanic of writing.) Of course, you really don't care who or what they consult to identify and correct their errors. Give students three to four days to complete this follow-up assignment.
When you collect these corrected pages, you need only look at the number of checkmarks you made in the margin and the number of correct corrections made to grade the assignment. Students will remember the errors they looked up and corrected and will be motivated to avoid repeating these errors in future papers.
On the next paper, select a different page in the submissions for this feedback procedure. Chances are that you won't see a student repeating the same errors. This second (and the third and the fourth) time around, you will catch new errors, and your students will teach themselves additional mechanics lessons.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy suggested by Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D., Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University. (www.clemson.edu/OTEI).
January 24, 2012
Grading that functions as useful feedback to students
Grading is generally one of the least favorite parts of teaching. Grading can feel stressful when students challenge their grades, attempt to cheat or plagiarize, or focus on earning grades rather than acquiring skills or learning. When grading only serves to sort students into categories of achievement, instructors feel uncomfortable playing the role of judge, preferring the role of coach and mentor. Clear and fair grading are hard to formulate. Student performance that fails to meet our expectations sometimes makes us doubt our effectiveness as teachers.
How can we make grading less aversive to ourselves?
Resources on the CUTLA web site
Examples of rubrics:
You can download a Word document template for a rubric that you can use to begin constructing your own template from the CUTLA web site:
Walvoord, B. E., & Anderson, V. J. (2010). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment in college (2nd ed). San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
This book is in the CULTA library and available for check out.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy suggested by Carolyn Oxenford, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, Marymount University. (http://www.marymount.edu/academics/ctl/faculty)
January 17, 2012
Strategies to increase academic honesty and discourage cheating
The old adage that an ounce of preventative medicine is more beneficial than a pound of cure can be applied to promoting academic integrity. Establish expectations in your class and structure assignments to proactively minimize opportunities and temptations to cheat.
Be explicit about the academic honesty policies and expectations for student work in your class
Design assignments to minimize opportunities for cheating
Minimize temptations and opportunities to cheat during exams
Explicitly link graded assignments to learning outcomes for the course
Discuss the relation between academic integrity and professional ethics in the discipline and the future careers student might follow
Davis, S. F., Drinan, P. F., & Gallant, T. B. (2009). Cheating in school: What we know and what we can do. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.This tip is based in part on suggestions by Debi Griffin, Faculty Development Center, Bellarmine University (www.bellarmine.edu/library/fdc/index.asp), and Barbara Millis, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Texas at San Antonio (www.utsa.edu/tlc/).
January 10, 2012
First things first: Start lectures and classes with the most important ideas
One of the most robust findings in the psychology of memory is the phenomenon known as the serial position effect, which describes the pattern of recalling the information presented at the beginning of a list and the last few items in a list best. This phenomenon influences memory in many everyday situations. You are most likely to recall the names of the first and last people introduced during a meeting. Jurors are more likely to remember the first and last evidence presented during a trial.
During a typical 50-minute lecture, students are more likely to remember and retain material, information, and concepts that are presented during the first 15 minutes of class (Prime Time 1) and during the last 10 minutes of class (Prime Time 2).
Maximize student retention of the most important points of your lecture by discussing them during one or both of these Prime Times for learning. Resist the temptation to squander these critical times with mundane housekeeping tasks (routine announcements, taking attendance). Use Prime Time 1 to introduce important new course concepts and reinforce previous material. Use Prime Time 2 to summarize and reinforce the major content discussed during the day’s lecture.
This tip is based in part on a suggestion from Barbara Millis, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Texas at San Antonio (www.utsa.edu/tlc/).
November 29, 2011
Engaging students through interactive lectures
For over 500 years, lecture has been associated with teaching in higher education. In the medieval university, texts were rare and expensive. Instructors read texts aloud so that students could hear and take notes on them. During the renaissance, the practice of lecturing referred to public instructional discourse, with or without the reading of texts. In nineteenth century America, orators like Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Jennings Bryan grafted rhetorical skills honed at the pulpit with the academic tradition and raised lecture to an art form. The Chautauqua tradition of delivering polished, engaging, public lectures treated the lecture as a means for both public enlightenment and entertainment. Roosevelt claimed that Chautauqua lectures were "the most American thing in America."
The recent focus on collaborative learning and student engagement, bolstered by research findings that document the value of specific strategies to improve the retention of complex information, raises questions about the value of lectures as the primary mode of instruction. Is lecture truly an ineffective method for learning and teaching? The most correct answer is, "It depends." There are times when lecture may be the most appropriate instructional strategy to use.
When used properly, lecture can be an effective and enjoyable pedagogy. When used incorrectly or over-used, it can become a stumbling block to learning. The following guidelines will improve the value of lecture for promoting effective student learning:
This tip is based on a contribution from Devan Barker, Instructional Development, Brigham Young University Idaho (http://www.byui.edu/).
Angelo, T., & Cross, P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
November 15, 2011
Motivate students to learn by offering “extra credit” opportunities that reinforce course learning outcomes
Near the end of a term, more students will ask their instructors if they will give them opportunities to earn extra credit to improve a course grade. Instructors have many good reasons to object to these requests. Completing an extra assignment requires time that a struggling student ought to allocate to study and completion of regular course assignments. Students often expect that the extra work will earn all the credit they need to make the target grade. If a student spends time on an extra assignment and still does badly in the course, the unmet expectations create a conflict between the student and the instructor. If the extra credit activity is unrelated to the primary learning outcomes of the course, the inflated grades will fail to accurately describe student achievement on the student learning outcomes for the course.
The following assignments and activities can be used to provide students with opportunities to improve their course grade and motivate students to learn the intended course skills and content.
Thanks to Ed Gehringer, North Carolina State University, Stacy Jacob, Texas Tech University, Stuart McKelvie, Bishop’s University, and June Pilcher, Clemson University for suggestions included in this teaching tip.
November 8, 2011
Using game show formats to engage students with course content
Are you looking for a novel way to review material, encourage participation, or use an activity to refocus attention during a lecture? Consider incorporating games in your class to involve your students in the learning process.
Benefits of using games
Tips for successful use of games for learning
Want to try using a popular game show format for a class session? Several web sites offer free templates that enable you to transform a PowerPoint presentation into a game show. Download the template and add your course questions and material.
Downloadable Game Templates
PowerPoint Games (http://jc-schools.net/tutorials/ppt-games/)
Includes Who Wants to be a Millionaire (PowerPoint Template by Mark E. Damon), Jeopardy, & Password
Template for Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?
Family Feud Demo Video
Template: http://www.gameshowvideos.com/files/feud.pptx (Link removed 2/22/12)
This tip is based on a contribution from Allison Boye, Suzanne Tapp, and Micah Meixner Logan, Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center, Texas Tech University (http://www.tltc.ttu.edu).
Millis, B.J. and Cottell, P.G. (1998). Cooperative learning for higher education faculty. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.
Jones, K. (1997). Games and simulations made easy: Practical tips to improve learning through gaming. London: Kogan Page Ltd.
Rosato, J.L. (1995). All I ever needed to know about teaching law school I learned teaching kindergarten: Introducing gaming techniques into the law school classroom. Journal of Legal Education, 45, 568 – 581.
Sarason, Y. and Banbury, C. (2004). Active learning facilitated by using a game-show format, or who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? Journal of Management Education, 28, 509 – 518.
November 1, 2011
Use learning outcomes to organize class lectures and lessons and focus student attention
Begin developing a class lecture or plan for the class discussion with the specific student learning outcomes you intend to promote during that lecture. This approach will shift your focus from pure content coverage to student learning and understanding. Students have difficulty separating the essential course content from other content included in a lecture. If you clearly identify three or four main concepts and how these are related to one another as the primary goal of a given class session, you can focus the class discussion and activities on those key learning outcomes. Packing more content into a 50-minute block of time does not necessarily lead to more student learning or guarantee retention or understanding of all of the content presented. Students benefit from class time spent engaging in content-related problem solving and activities that require them to integrate content into a larger, coherent representation of how content is related to larger course questions and themes.
Want to learn more about backward course design?
Fink, D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Nilson, L. B. (2007). The graphic syllabus and the outcomes map: Communicating your course. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Tip based on suggestions included in Sibley, J., and Canuto, L. (2010). Guide to teaching for new faculty at UBC. Available at http://issuu.com/ubc-aspc-cis/docs/faculty_guide-2010
October 25, 2011
Develop skills in scholarly disciplinary research
Many disciplines expect that students will develop the ability to conduct research using the scholarly disciplinary literature. These research skills require information literacy skills in which the student can locate and evaluate sources of information.
This tip describes a collaborative project developed for a survey-level American history course by a historian and a reference librarian. This assignment could be adapted to courses in any discipline that uses visual materials (art work, artifacts, and photographs) as part of scholarly work.
Learning Outcomes for the Assignment
Assign a different image or artifact to each student. The student’s task is to write a 4-5 page essay that explains the image or artifact using information from scholarly sources and places the image or artifact in historical context.
Students need approximately two to three weeks to complete the research and writing components of this assignment, including time to request and receive materials available only through inter-library loan. Encourage students to meet with reference librarians out of class if they have additional questions about researching their image.
Essays must include the following elements
Library instruction associated with the assignment
The students will need two consecutive class sessions with a reference librarian in the library classroom. The first session is a library workshop demonstrating how to conduct searches in the appropriate library databases. The second session should be devoted to a discussion of the ethical use of information and the importance of citing sources. A brief demonstration of citation management software (e.g., RefWorks) can be provided or students can be referred to the library tutorial (http://library.uwf.edu/tutorials/). In addition, students should use some time during this session to begin their search for information about their assigned image. Both the instructor and the librarian should be available to answer specific questions about using the databases and evaluating the usefulness of information related to the images.
This tip is based on teaching strategy suggested by Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD (Department of History/Social Sciences and Center for Innovative Teaching, Learning & Assessment) and Susan G. Miller (Librarian), Community College of Rhode Island (http://www.ccri.edu/citla).
October 18, 2011
Create graphic organizers to improve student learning in large lectures
A graphic organizer or set of essential questions provides an overall organization for material that instructors discuss during a lecture. Cognitive research has demonstrated that individuals retain more information when they have a structure that organizes the new information. Mnemonic devices often depend on existing learned structures to organize new learning and function as reliable retrieval cues for new information. When organizing structures are also related to the relations between newly-learned concepts, these structures promote understanding and articulation of these meaningful relations as well as retrieval of content (Bransford & Johnson, 1973; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999).
Organize your lecture on a given day around a big-picture question or relation between concepts that can be illustrated through a graphic organizer. The organizer can take the form of a concept map, a matrix or grid, a flow chart, or a list of 3 or 4 key questions. If instructors provide the basic structure as a handout (distributed at the start of class or posted in D2L for printing before class), students can use the organizer while taking class notes. Alternatively, students might rework notes taken during class to incorporate key points into the appropriate areas of the graphic organizer. Both exercises will help students identify the key concepts and details discussed during class and integrate these individual details into a coherent whole.
Tip based on suggestions included in Sibley, J., and Canuto, L. (2010). Guide to teaching for new faculty at UBC. Available at http://issuu.com/ubc-aspc-cis/docs/faculty_guide-2010
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Bransford, J. D., & Johnson, M. K. (1973). Considerations of some problems of comprehension. In W. G. Chase (Ed.), Visual information processing. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
October 11, 2011
How should I respond to a student who uses insensitive language in the classroom?
Occasionally a student may engage in disruptive classroom behavior such as using insensitive and uncivil language during discussion of a sensitive topic. For example a student might make homophobic comments during a discussion of sexual orientation. What is the best strategy to use when responding to a student who makes inappropriate and insensitive observations?
For more information about handling problems with classroom civility, the Counseling & Wellness Center invites faculty to attend a Faculty Coffee Workshop on Thursday, October 20th 2011 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM in the UWF Conference Center. Dr. Katz will train faculty in fostering classroom civility and violence prevention, with particular emphasis on handling male students who make objectionable or disparaging comments.
UWF Counseling & Wellness Services will host a campus-wide presentation by Dr. Jackson Katz, co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention program and a leading expert in gender violence prevention on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 6:30 PM in the University Commons Auditorium.
This tip is based on a suggestion from Dr. Patrick M. Preston, Psy. D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Counseling & Wellness Services, University of West Florida.
October 4, 2011
Use Universal Design to make course syllabi and handouts accessible with screen readers
Universal Design describes an approach to design that eliminates problems with accessibility for all users during design rather than retrofitting and correcting obstacles.
Many students use screen readers to access electronic documents and web pages. A bit of planning will enable you to create electronic documents and web pages that can be accessed and correctly read by the screen readers used by students with disabilities.
How can you avoid creating common obstacles that interfere with correct interpretation of electronic text or web pages by screen readers?
Insert a table to organize and format material such as a course calendar or chart for assigning grades to exam or assignment scores
Screen readers do not always read text that is enclosed in a text box correctly. If you are in the habit of creating tables with tabs and indents (as was done on typewriters), the screen reader might not read this material properly. Format this material with the table function instead.
Provide a caption or “alternative text” to explain the meaning of images
Screen readers cannot interpret images for users unless you provide a text description that explains the image in the document. You can provide this information in one of two ways:
Based in part on advice from the Technology & Learning Program, California State University, Chico (http://www.csuchico.edu/tlp/accessibility/syllabus/checklist.shtml).
September 27, 2011
Decoding the disciplines: Identifying metaphors to communicate and teach disciplinary strategies for thinking
Metaphors are powerful teaching strategies because they can connect an unfamiliar concept with existing knowledge in a way that students will understand and remember. A good metaphor can help students master difficult concepts that create bottlenecks and obstacles to their learning.
The best metaphors are based on vivid and concrete phenomena that are already familiar to the student. How do you create an effective metaphor? Once you have identified a bottleneck to learning, ask yourself what is the desired thinking like? For example, a fine arts instructor might want to model the thinking process used when an artist creates a self-portrait. What is this process like? Is the artist trying to picture the pattern of light and dark colors, like a kaleidoscope? Is the artist creating a message about herself, like describing what items to bring along on a canoe trip to make it a memorable experience? A good metaphor will help students understand the kind of thinking they should use.
Metaphors can also help students overcome the persistent misconceptions that can be problematic in science teaching. For example, a misconception from meteorology is that weather on earth is caused by the seasons, when weather is actually caused by the transfer of heat and cold between the equator and the poles. A metaphor that compares weather to a pot of boiling water in which weather is like the movement of the water in the pot that moves heat from the bottom of the pot (the equator) to the top (the poles) will help students understand how the earth, which gets super heated at the equator, transmits that heat to the cold poles through the process we know as weather.
Because students learn more from a metaphor that is based on familiar processes or phenomena, select metaphors based on things that students are already likely to know and understand. The videos described below provide examples of two professors describing metaphors that will help their students make the conceptual leaps needed to master disciplinary knowledge and thought.
Braasch, J. & Goldman, S. (2010). The Role of Prior Knowledge in Learning from Analogies in Science Texts. Discourse Processes: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 47, 447-479.
Pace, D. & Middendorf, J. (Eds.). (2004). Decoding the disciplines: Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 98). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Savion, L. & Middendorf, J. (1994). Enhancing Concept Comprehension and Retention. The National Teaching & Learning Forum, 3, 6-8.
September 20, 2011
Not just fun and games! Structure class demonstrations to reinforce learning goals
Classroom demonstrations that illustrate an important process, phenomenon, or application of a concept can generate interest and engage students with course material. Although students enjoy classroom demonstrations, they sometimes remember the activity but do not remember the course learning goals that instructors want to promote when they design the demonstration. An effective demonstration connects student memories of the classroom experience with the concepts the activity was designed to demonstrate.
Strategies that transform an entertaining demonstration into an effective learning experience
Bransford, J. D., & Johnson, M. K. (1972). Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 717-726.
Holst, V. F., & Pezdek, K. (1992). Scripts for typical crimes and their effects on memory for eyewitness testimony. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 6, 573-587.
Pyper, B. A. (2008). Best practices in physics demonstrations or “Oh, I thought this was just for entertainment.” Power Point slides for a presentation at the AAPT UT/ID section meeting, Boise, ID.
September 13, 2011
Short video guides for students on effective study strategies
College students frequently waste time using ineffective study strategies because they are unaware of which strategies are effective or don’t retain the suggestions for effective study provided by their instructors. Stephen Chew, a cognitive psychologist at Samford University, created a series of 5 short YouTube videos that describe effective study strategies and explain why these strategies produce learning that lasts.
In each video, Chew provides context and defines terms so that an instructor can direct students to an individual video for good advice on studying. However, because each video builds on concepts explained in detail in earlier videos, the greatest benefit will be gained by asking students to view all of the videos in sequence. The following annotated guide to the five videos is based on descriptions provided by Stephen Chew.
Video Guide: How to Study Long and Hard and Still Fail…or How to Get the Most Out of Studying
The overall theme of the videos communicates two important ideas. First, students who use ineffective or inefficient ways of studying will discover that they study long and hard and still fail. Second, students who use effective strategies will get the most learning out of their study time and will be more likely to succeed.
Video 1: Beliefs That Make You Fail…Or Succeed
Chew examines common mistaken beliefs students often possess that undermine their learning. The video tries to correct those misconceptions with accurate beliefs about learning.
Video 2: What Students Should Understand About How People Learn
Chew introduces a simple but powerful theory of memory, Levels of Processing, that explains why some strategies are more beneficial than others for learning. Application of the Levels of Processing model when selecting study strategies can help students improve their study.
Video 3: Cognitive Principles for Optimizing Learning
Chew operationalizes the concept of level of processing into four principles that students can use to develop effective study strategies.
Video 4: Putting the Principles for Optimizing Learning into Practice
Chew applies the principles of deep processing to common study situations. Chew describes the conditions in which the student’s method for taking notes in class or highlighting text while reading corresponds to either shallow or deep processing, with predictable consequences for quality of learning.
Video 5: I Blew the Exam, Now What?
Chew addresses what students should and should not do when they earn a bad grade on an exam.
The first four videos are based on a presentation Stephen Chew makes to freshmen at Samford, which he described in a publication of the Association for Psychological Science Observer (2010).
Chew, S. L. (2010). Improving student performance by challenging student misconceptions about learning. Observer, 3 (4).
Available at the following URL:
Use Power Point to prompt engaging learning activities during class
Dilbert depicts Power Point presentations as a direct route to slumber and employee revolt. Power Point presentations need not be deadly. Instructors can create slides that prompt class activities that engage students, motivate meaningful class discussion, and promote deep learning (Berk, 2011).
Instructors commonly organize and plan the presentation of content while they create a set of Power Point slides. Consider creating slides to plan and prompt engaging learning activities at key points during a class presentation.
Instructors who use personal response systems (clickers) can add a slide that poses a question to evaluate student understanding of a critical concept or to ask students to apply a model or principle to a specific application. Allow students a moment to think individually or discuss the question in small groups before they record their response to the question with their clickers.
An instructor who does not use clickers can present a slide that poses a question as a prompt for small group discussion (e.g., as a pair-share activity) or a brief in-class written response to the question (e.g., a minute paper).
Share responses to the prompt with the entire class. If using clicker questions, display a chart summarizing the pattern of responses from the group. Otherwise, ask for a show of hands for typical responses or initiate a class discussion in which several groups report the consensus response from their discussion.
Wrap up the discussion and refocus attention on the content that triggered the activity.
Include no more than one or two of these engagement slides during a class session to engage student interest and focus attention on critical points for the day’s lesson.
Berk, R. A. (2011). “Powerpoint® engagement” techniques to foster deep learning. Journal of Faculty Development, 25, 45-48.
Bruff, D. (2009). Teaching with classroom response systems: Creating active learning environments. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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.
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/).
August 16, 2011
Getting to know your students
Use part of the first day of class to gather some information about the students in your class, how they perceived their roles as students, and their expectations about the class by asking them to respond to two questions:
Before class, write your own answers to these questions so that you can identify matches and mismatches in your assumptions about teaching and learning and those of your students. Students from varying cultural backgrounds may respond to these questions in unexpected ways.
This activity is also a great self-reflection exercise to articulate your thoughts about teaching and learning that will help you develop a statement of your philosophy of teaching.
Based in part on a tip submitted by Emma Bourassa, Instructor, ESL Department, Thompson Rivers University (http://www.tru.ca/).
Updated 04/03/13 lrg
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