April 23, 2013
Use learning contracts to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning
Create learning contracts for students in your courses with the following two purposes:
For first course assignment, ask students to create a draft of a learning contract in which the student establishes a learning goal to accomplish in your course during the term. Students should also describe the support they hope to receive from you (their instructor) and from their peers (their classmates) to help them attain this goal.
The learning contract format contains the following elements:
A statement of the learning goal that meets the following criteria:
The student should describe each of the following in his/her learning contract:
During the first class session, include an activity in which students learn to write a learning goal using Bloom´s taxonomy (see the CUTLA web site for information on Bloom’s: http://uwf.edu/cutla/assessstudent.cfm and http://uwf.edu/cutla/writingslo.cfm). During the second class session, students should give one another feedback on their learning contracts and make adjustments to eliminate actions and expectations that are not reasonable. Ask students to submit their final draft at the end of class or post it in eLearning by the end of the week.
During the term, ask students to complete a self-assessment exercise two or three times before the end of the term. In this activity, the students should evaluate their progress toward achieving their learning goals by responding to closed and open ended questions.
Suggestions for self-assessment questions:
Distribute the self-assessment to students through e-mail as a Google Form, which will enable you to collect responses in an Excel spreadsheet. Summarize the students’ responses during class to facilitate a group discussion on how the class is progressing and how students feel about their learning progress. The learning contract activity engages students in the course content and helps instructors identify aspects of the class that students perceive to help and hinder their learning. The self-assessments help students become aware of the relation between their activities and effort and their level of success in attaining their learning goals.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted to the Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Anabella Martinez, Professor of the Education Department and Director of the Centro for Teaching Excellence (CEDU), Universidad del Norte (Barranquilla, Colombia).
WKU Writer’s Consortium
October 2, 2012
eLearning crashed just as I tried to submit my paper to the Drop Box! Ensure students have technical assistance with eLearning when planning assignments
Our culture has a long tradition of deadlines that end at midnight (think of the deadline for filing your taxes with the IRS). Although students “ought” to plan their work to accommodate unexpected obstacles near the submission deadline, some deadlines might be more punitive to procrastinators than others. A particularly punishing deadline is one that occurs when students have no access to assistance with last-minute technical problems.
When you select deadlines for student work that requires the use of technology (e.g., electronic submissions of work to a drop box in eLearning, access to a timed online quiz, assignments that require use of a limited-access piece of technology), give some consideration to when campus help resources are available to students for technical support.
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 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
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/).
April 19, 2011
Balance flexibility and fairness through course design
College students lead increasingly busy lives, juggling college courses, off-campus work schedules, family responsibilities, and other demands of personal life. When planning a course, consider the need to balance work and life, for your students and for yourself.
Maryellen Weimer (2006) encourages instructors to occasionally put themselves in their students’ shoes by taking a college course outside their field of expertise every few years. Attending an out-of-field course has several benefits.
This tip is based on a suggestion from Mark Potter, Center for Faculty Development, Metropolitan State College of Denver (http://www.mscd.edu/cfd/).
Robertson, D. (2003). Making time, making change: Avoiding overload in college teaching. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.
Weimer, M. (2006). Enhancing scholarly work on teaching and learning: Professional literature that makes a difference. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
March 29, 2011
Preparing for the end of the term: Strategies for deterring grade complaints and coping with them when they occur
Strategies for deterring complaints
Strategies for coping when complaints occur
And for fun (in anticipation of Finals Week)
Visit the fantasy software Grader 2.95 created by Sally Kuhlenschmidt, Director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching (FaCET), Western Kentucky University
This tip was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium, (sponsored by Western Kentucky University) by Sally L. Kuhlenschmidt, Ph.D., Director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching (FaCET), Professor, Department of Psychology, Western Kentucky University.
February 8, 2011
Design courses that align learning outcomes with assignments, class activities, and assessments: Make the implicit explicit for improved student learning
Do you expect students to write professionally, using the accepted style of your discipline? Do you expect students to develop critical thinking skills that characterize scholarly thinking in your discipline? Do you hope your students will develop creativity in your course? Do you tell students directly about these expectations? Or are these implicit expectations?
How often have you thought, If I had only known that you wanted me to do that, I would have done it. We might have said this to an annoyed spouse, a funding agency that declined to fund our project, editors of journals, or major professors. We all appreciate when others clearly describe exactly what they expect us to do. When making requests ourselves, we often assume that some expectations “go without saying.” This assumption can set the stage for miscommunication, frustration, and disappointment with the work produced.
A recent review of syllabi for General Education courses indicated that the student learning outcomes described on syllabi focused almost entirely on course content. Although skills in writing, thinking, analysis of data, use of scholarly sources in argument, working effectively as a collaborator on a team, or adherence to professional ethics were implied in many assignments and course activities, these learning outcomes were seldom articulated as course student learning outcomes. Identify student learning outcomes related to implicit expectations about skills acquired along with content knowledge to clearly communicate course goals to students and colleagues.
Course redesign is a process in which faculty reflect on the relationship between their course goals, stated learning outcomes, the structure, activities, and assignments in a course, and the procedures used to evaluate and assess student learning. A well-aligned course is one in which the instructor intentionally creates classroom instruction, activities, or assignments that develop the skills describe in the SLOS. These courses will include assignments, projects, or exams that clearly assess these learning outcomes.
Contact the Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment if you would like to discuss course redesign for a course that you currently teach or design a course you are thinking about developing.
Resources on Course Design
Diamond, R. M. (2008). Designing and assessing courses and curricula: A practical guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Fink, L. D. (2003) Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wehlburg, C. M. (2006). Meaningful course revision: Enhancing academic engagement using student learning data. Bolton, MA: Anker.
Wulff, D. H. (Ed.). (2005). Aligning for learning: Strategies for teaching effectiveness. Bolton, MA: Anker.
January 11, 2011
Include an assignment on evaluating sources to develop skills in scholarly research
Faculty often tell their students that they must only use scholarly sources in their research projects and papers, but many students have trouble distinguishing between scholarly and popular sources. Consider including an activity on the evaluation of sources that highlights the differences between such scholarly writings and other sources.
Suggested activities on the evaluation of sources
Talk with your subject-specialist librarian if you need assistance finding sample materials or developing one of these assignments. You may also assign one of the Pace Library Evaluating Sources Tutorials (e.g., scholarly journals vs. popular magazines) and quizzes as a graded activity for the course. Assignments that require students to evaluate the quality of source material promotes information literacy and critical thinking skills and helps students identify quality sources in a variety of source formats for future assignments.
Olin Library Reference, Research and Learning Services, Cornell University Library. (2009). Critically Analyzing Information Sources. Retrieved from the Olin & Uris Libraries Web Site: http://olinuris.library.cornell.edu/ref/research/skill26.htm
University of West Florida Libraries. (2010). Online Tutorials. Retrieved from the UWF Libraries Web Site: http://library.uwf.edu/tutorials/.
Thanks to Britt McGowan, Pace Library, for contributing this teaching tip.
November 16, 2010
Web Resources on Course Design
Dee Fink, author of Creating Significant Learning Experiences, has launched a web site with resources on how to design courses that encourage student engagement and produce better student learning. http://www.designlearning.org/
The web site includes examples of course designs and links to useful print resources related to course design. An especially good resource on this site is the report, Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback (2004).
Juwah, C., Macfarlane-Dick, D., Matthew, B., Nicol, D., Ross, D., & Smith, B. (2004). Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback, York, UK: The Higher Education Academy (Generic Centre).
November 9, 2010
Improve the technical preparation of students in your class by describing the technical skills and specialized software needed for your course during course registration
Students will begin registering for courses on November 15.
All UWF students are expected to have an active ArgoNet e-mail account, regular access to e-mail (2-3 times a week), and basic skills in the use of a word processor. Many courses make additional demands on technology skills, including the ability to use web conferencing for Elluminate sessions, access to D2L, the ability to use course functions in D2L (such as uploading material to an assignment drop box), and the use of specialized software required for tasks such as statistical analysis, creation of power point presentations, or creation and manipulation of digital images.
The academic course search pages on the UWF web site include icons for each course that allow students to view the course syllabus, determine whether the course is an eLearning course or a distance learning course (and whether the instructor will be present in the location for that section), determine the extent of computer use expected in the course, and identify other technology needs associated with the course (special software available only in a lab, Elluminate, need to purchase a clicker, use of proctored exams, and other specialized software or technology needs).
If you expect students to use specific technology in your course, identify these needs on your syllabus and set the appropriate technology codes for the course. After logging into MyUWF, select the Classmate App and then click on the Syllabus/Tech Codes link under Action to open an interface for uploading your syllabus. This interface also includes drop-down menus that allow instructors to set technology codes for their course. When a technology code is selected, the appropriate icon will appear in the course search output for this course. A full list of the technology codes available for the course search interface can be found at https://nautical.uwf.edu/people/techCodesExplained.cfm.
November 2, 2010
Improve team dynamics by providing resources to help students develop and complete a major group project
The Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University published an 88-page resource, Successful Strategies for Teams: Team Member Handbook (Kennedy & Nilson, 2008), that is designed for students to guide them through the potentially treacherous waters of completing a major group project. The Team Member Handbook equips students with techniques and templates based on models from corporate experience that are effective in making teams more productive, efficient, and successful. Specifically, these techniques help teams organize information, organize and run effective meetings, and generate useful member contributions. This handbook promotes a variety of learning outcomes for students:
Sections of the handbook address why students should learn to excel at teamwork, the stages of team development, team player styles, mental models of teamwork, teamwork skills, ways to troubleshoot group problems, and tools for organizing, problem solving, and collecting and analyzing information.
Successful Strategies for Teams: Team Member Handbook
by Frances A. Kennedy, Ph.D. with Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D
Available as a free download to everyone at:
You can also download an Excel spreadsheet with templates for team planning tools:
This tip was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium (sponsored by Western Kentucky University), by Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D., Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University (www.clemson.edu/OTEI).
October 26, 2010
Balance flexibility and fairness when designing courses
Learner-centeredness shifts responsibility for learning to students by creating varied learning opportunities and multiple evaluation options that allow students to make choices and determine how they will demonstrate their learning (Weimer, 2002). Learner-centered course designs simultaneously hold students responsible for their learning and provide allowances for flexibility when life “interrupts” their studies, while preserving our “lines in the sand” for academic standards and our sanity.
Students need to know that submitting work late creates obstacles for getting and using feedback effectively. Still, life sometimes gets in the way of the best of intentions. Instructors who provide flexible solutions for these situations create opportunities for students to manage deadlines and learn material without delivering instructions or course material multiple times.
Examples of course design ideas that accomplish this:
Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
This tip was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium, (sponsored by Western Kentucky University) by Mark Potter, Center for Faculty Development, Metropolitan State College of Denver (http://www.mscd.edu/cfd/).
October 5, 2010
Request closed captioning feature or obtain a companion transcript when ordering DVDs to ensure compliance with ADA
Segments of video from a DVD can be a great way to liven up a lecture or engage students with material in an online course. However, instructors should be aware of the ADA implications associated with these materials, which might not be accessible to a student who has difficulty hearing.
Many commercial materials are available with closed captioning and/or printed transcript options. When ordering these materials, request these features to prevent future difficulties if a student who needs accommodations for hearing impairments enrolls in your class. Although making transcripts available to accommodate students with documented disabilities is necessary for ADA compliance, including these features for all students is beneficial to student learning. Hearing students appreciate having access to a transcript to clarify speech that might be garbled in the audio or to rapidly review the content in follow-up study. Arranging for closed captioning or transcripts for existing materials can be extremely costly. These expenses can be avoided if care is taken at the time departments place orders for these materials.
Learn how to turn on the closed caption or subtitles feature of DVDs used in class. In addition to being prepared to accommodate the needs of hearing impaired students, displaying the captions will benefit students who may have difficulty hearing the audio because of poor quality sound systems, a noisy air handler in the room, a groundskeeper running equipment adjacent to the building, or various auditory distractions created by other students. Many difficulties can be forestalled if these features are requested when placing an order.
Thanks to the following members of the UWF community for assistance with this tip:
Dr. Vannee Cao Nguyen, SDRC
Dr. Ray Uzwyshyn, Head of Digital and Learning Technologies, Pace Library
Dr. Vance Burgess, Director, Distance & Continuing Education
Dr. Michael White, ITS
September 21, 2010
Textbook affordability: Encourage students to read by making sure they have access to a text
Many students have difficulty acquiring course texts, especially at the start of the term if they must delay purchasing texts until after their financial aid has been disbursed. Instructors have several options to help make textbooks more affordable for their students.
Information about accessing the textbook rental program is available at: http://www.bkstr.com/CategoryDisplay/10001-529757-10759-1?demoKey=d
Visit the FAQ page for the Florida Orange Grove for additional information, including pricing information: http://www.theorangegrove.org/OGTtest.htm
April 13, 2010
What is Universal Design of Instruction?
Universal Design of Instruction (UDI) is an approach to teaching that consists of a proactive design and use of inclusive instructional strategies that benefit a broad range of learners including students with disabilities.
The seven principles of UDI provide a framework for faculty to use when designing or revising instruction to be responsive to diverse student learners and to minimize the need for "special" accommodations and retrofitted changes to the learning environment. UDI operates on the premise that the planning and delivery of instruction as well as the evaluation of learning can incorporate inclusive attributes that embrace diversity in learners without compromising academic standards.
Seven Principles of UDI
Information about UDI is from the University of Washington DO-IT program.
The guidelines are from The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina University.
Thanks to Vannee Cao-Nguyen, Ed.D., Assistant Director of the UWF Student Disability Resource Center for this teaching tip.
April 6, 2010
Help students organize their learning by identifying the “big questions” for your course
Gerald Nosich (2009) points out that any large body of knowledge has a core belief, “a fundamental and powerful concept . . . that can be used to explain or think out a huge body of questions, problems, information, and situations.” Fundamental concepts are useful for instruction because they help students understand and organize the course content. Blythe and Sweet note that they begin their courses in World Literature each semester with a discussion of one fundamental idea that illuminates the overall content of the course: Art reflects its culture. In each subsequent class, they discuss how the work studied that day reveals something about the culture that produced it.
Identifying a few fundamental concepts for your course serves two purposes. First, it demonstrates your own mastery of the subject. Second, it creates a touchstone for your students to organize their understanding of new content throughout the semester. These fundamental concepts will also transfer to other courses within the discipline. When students complete a course in World Literature and then take a course in English or American Literature, they will begin these courses with the advantage of knowing that the works they will study will reveal aspects of English or American culture.
Tip contributed by Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY.
Nosich, G. (2009). Learning to think things through: A guide to critical thinking across the curriculum (3rd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
March 30, 2010
Use effective grading strategies to help survive the demands of grading during finals week
Thanks to Sally L. Kuhlenschmidt, Ph.D., Director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching (FaCET), Western Kentucky University, for contributions to this teaching tip.
August 11, 2009
Planning a course syllabus to adapt to emergencies
Hurricane season reaches its peak during the first half of the fall term. Many instructors on the Gulf Coast plan their course calendars to accommodate a potential “hurricane day” much as instructors in other regions make contingency plans for “snow days.” Another incentive to make contingency plans for emergencies is the current concern over the emergence of a contagious illness that might limit face-to-face interactions (such as the H1N1 virus).
The UWF emergency planning team has created guidelines for contingency plan in the event of a campus closure or limited operation associated with inclement weather or a pandemic. Consult these guidelines (http://uwfemergency.org/) for planning information that could be included in your syllabus.
The Syllabus Construction page (http://uwf.edu/cutla/frs-syllabus.cfm) provides suggested language for the syllabus that refers students to sources of official information and describes various contingency plans that faculty might implement for ensuring continuity of courses following an emergency.
The following language can be added to a syllabus to inform students about how information about campus emergencies will be disseminated:
Official Emergency Information
Information about hurricane preparedness plans is available on the UWF web site:
Information about other emergency procedures is available on the UWF web site:
August 20, 2009
Developing information literacy skills
Are you planning to include an assignment in your class that requires a search for relevant resources in the scholarly literature? When students have a large writing assignment or research-based project, they frequently make the error of procrastinating and begin their search for relevant sources too late in the term. In their rush to find suitable materials, students may cut corners and use inappropriate materials or, worse, use materials inappropriately. In addition, many students tend to carry out a search in Google (and the “wiser” students search using Google Scholar).
Consider scheduling a classroom workshop with a Reference Librarian in your discipline to develop student skills searching relevant databases for disciplinary scholarly resources, identify appropriate scholarly sources, and evaluate the quality of information located on web sites. Create an assignment connected to the workshop such as developing an annotated bibliography on the assignment topic as a prompt to begin a large research/writing project early in the term. Creating a series of preliminary assignments related to these projects also serves as a deterrent to problems such as submitting a literature review paper found on a web site.
Updated 05/17/13 cdw
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