March 19, 2013
Cognitive warm-ups to wake up student thinking skills
How can you ensure that students arrive to class on time and prepared to engage in the learning activities planned? How can you begin each class with an enthusiastic activity that wakes up your students and gets them ready to focus on the business of learning?
Cognitive warm-ups are like pre-exercise stretches for the mind and the attention span.
Warm-ups consist of an event or activity that will challenge your students, engage them in relevant thinking skills, and create an engaging transition between when students arrive and the beginning of class. A cognitive warm-up should align with course goals and relate to topics you plan to discuss that day, although they might relate to general thinking skills important to the discipline. Warm-up activities should be brief, interactive, and involve solving a puzzle or having a laugh would probably work as a warm-up.
Suggestions for cognitive warm-up activities
Warm-ups as mid-class breaks in longer class sessions
For a 90-minute class or a long evening class, you can use a warm-up activity as a mid-class refresher to help refocus attention following a break. Investing 5 minutes of class time for an activity that engages and motivates students is a small price to pay for the dividend of refocused attention.
Once you have a suitable collection of activities, you can introduce a warm-up at the beginning of the term and use a warm-up every day. Regular use can motivate students to attend class and arrive on time, if only because they are curious about what you found to introduce the current topic. You might prefer to experiment with less frequent warm-ups until you develop a collection of suitable activities for your course.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted to the Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Fred W. Sanborn, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology & Director, Teaching & Learning Center, North Carolina Wesleyan College (firstname.lastname@example.org).
November 30, 2010
Mentor undergraduate students in research and scholarly and creative activities with support from the Office of Undergraduate Research
Undergraduate research is one of five “high impact” practices that engage students at their academic institution (Brownell & Swaner, 2010). Undergraduate research refers to a variety of scholarly and creative activities that occur outside the classroom. This activity involves collaboration between faculty and students in original research or other creative work that results in a tangible product (e.g., submission of a manuscript for publication, presentation at a professional conference, creation of a public performance or exhibition). As such, undergraduate research is broadly defined to encompass scholarly and creative activity in all disciplines.
Students who participate in capstone experiences, directed study, or independent study projects generally have improved GPAs after participating in these experiences (Clewell, Cosentino de Cohen, Tsui, & Deterding, 2006). These experiences enable students to be more competitive when they apply for admission to graduate and professional schools. Summers and Hrabowski (2006) report that students who engage in these projects are five times more likely to go to graduate school than are other students.
The earlier students begin to engage in undergraduate research, the better. Students build close mentoring relationships with faculty during these experiences, which help them clarify a career path in the discipline early in the undergraduate major. If you have not worked with undergraduates in the past, consider ways you can include them in your own scholarly and creative work.
The University of West Florida has established an Office of Undergraduate Research to inspire and sustain undergraduate student engagement in research and scholarly activities across all disciplines. The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) facilitates collaborations between students and faculty by providing funding and administrative support for both project and travel awards for undergraduate students engaged in a scholarly project.
The OUR will have its next call for proposals from December 3rd to January 31st. OUR funds can be used to support research projects begun in the spring semester and to support student travel to present results at a conference prior to June 1st, 2011.
The OUR, the Graduate School, and the Office of Sponsored Research will host a campus-wide student symposium showcasing scholarly work completed at UWF on April 21st, 2011. All students who participate in research at UWF are encouraged to present their work at this event. More details about the student symposium will be available soon on the OUR website (http://uwf.edu/our). If you have any questions about the OUR, please contact Pamela Vaughan at email@example.com.
Clewell, B, Cosentino de Cohen, C, Tsui, L, & Deterding, N. (2006). Revitalizing the Nation’s Talent Pool in STEM, The Urban Institute Report (NSF).
Brownell, J. E., & Swaner, L. E. (2010). Five high-impact practices: Research on learning outcomes, completion, and quality. Washington, DC: AAC&U.
Summers, M. F., & Hrabowski III, F. A. (2006). Preparing minority scientists and engineers. Science, 311(5769), 1870–1871.
Thanks to Pamela Vaughan, Assistant Professor, Chemistry, Director, Office of Undergraduate Research, for this teaching tip.
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 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 28, 2010
How does Team-Based Learning differ from “group work?”
Team-based Learning (TBL) differs from group work in that TBL structures the activities and provides mechanisms for addressing group dynamics. In contrast, much group work entails assigning students to groups or allowing them to self-select into groups and work out dynamics on their own, often with mixed results.
Team-based learning includes the following four components:
Team-based learning strategies can be implemented in large lectures (even in rooms with fixed seating) as well as in smaller classes.
Create diverse teams to distributed attributes associated with student characteristics across the teams. Collect information about the characteristics of students enrolled in the class and assign team membership to ensure that each team include a variety of majors, years of experience as a student, athletes and non-athletes, men and women, racial and ethnic groups, and other characteristics. Diverse teams provide opportunities for students to learn about the unique strengths that students from different backgrounds contribute to work on a given task. Self-selected teams tend to be too homogeneous and undermine the goal of providing students with experiences working with students different from themselves. Student-formed teams frequently perform less well than instructor-created teams.
The readiness assurance component ensures that students are prepared to engage in team activities when these are scheduled. One example of a readiness assurance strategy is to require that students take a short quiz on material for the team activity at the beginning of class before they participate in the activity. After completing the quiz individually, students participate in groups to work on the quiz. Teams can appeal a question answer in writing but must provide a clear justification for their appeal based on citations of text-based evidence to support their argument.
Examples of application activities include:
One characteristic of these team-based activities is that all teams work on the same problem and report their decisions simultaneously. Some faculty will ask student teams to use clickers to report their choices, but other mechanisms can also be used.
Examples of peer evaluation criteria include:
View a 12-minute video that illustrates team-based learning in action (on the site).
Developed by Michael Sweet, University of Texas Austin.
The web site is a great resource for team-based learning strategies, including information on creating teams, grading team-based activities and assignments, pre-class preparation, ensuring students are prepared for team activities, peer evaluations, and application exercises.
March 16, 2010
Engaging Students through Problem-Based and Collaborative Learning Activities
Activities that actively engage students with course content, provide opportunities to practice and apply discipline-based skills, and enable students to collaborate with one another to encourage peer instruction are effective methods for improving student learning and connecting students with one another and their institution.
The Center for Teaching & Learning at Brigham Young University hosts a web page on collaborative learning in which 5 faculty members describe collaborative learning activities they use in their courses, discuss their rationale for using these strategies, and share their observations of the benefits for student learning. Individual videos are short (the longest is about 7 minutes long) and include videos of students engaged in the activities described.
Topics discussed in these videos include:
William Baker, Management Communication
Video describes collaborative learning strategies in a Business Communication course, including the use of teams, peer instruction, peer review, and a capstone project.
Deborah Hines, Nursing
Video describes problem-based learning activities with peer coaching in a clinical setting.
Matthew Mason, History
Video describes active learning strategies that engage students with primary resources and develop communication skills.
Video describes the use of a short writing activity at the beginning of class to promote student preparation for class and support in-class discussion.
Center for Teaching & Learning, Brigham Young University
Videos of faculty discussing their use of a collaborative learning strategy
February 2, 2010
Improve student learning by evaluating what students retain from a lecture
Ever wonder how well your students understand and remember that lecture you worked so hard to prepare? It seemed clear. Students seemed to follow your line of reasoning. What do they actually remember?
The Focused Listing activity takes only a few minutes to complete at the end of class and can provide useful information about how much students recall from the class meeting.
This activity can help instructors determine whether the main points they intended to make during class were actually perceived by students as important.
The activity can promote student learning by helping students:
Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993) Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Based on a tip provided by:
University of Kentucky
January 26, 2010
Encouraging active learning by adding clicker questions to your class
Student response systems (“clickers”) can be used in a variety of ways to engage students with course content and promote deep learning. Clickers can also promote the development of faculty expertise in addressing problems in student learning. For example, Derek Bruff notes that one instructor was shocked when he discovered that students’ performance on a clicker question did not improve after students heard his standard explanation of a confusing concept. He had firmly believed that this explanation was crystal clear, but student performance clearly indicated that this explanation did not improve student understanding. Students were just as confused after hearing the explanation as before. The instructor decided that he needed to find a better way to explain this concept and discovered that he could use clicker questions to determine immediately whether a given explanation improved student understanding.
Want to learn more about strategies for using clickers?
The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching has a rich supply of resources on the use of clickers, including a list of resources organized by discipline:
You can also find a useful resource page full of technical examples, including some video demonstrations of instructors using clickers on the Vanderbilt site:
Derek Bruff also hosts a blog, Teaching with Classroom Response Systems:
UWF now hosts a Student Response System Users Group as a Google Group.
Click on the Sites option in your UWF GMail to access and join this group.
November 17, 2009
Minimizing distractions in the classroom that interfere with student learning
Instructors may use a handout in class and begin talking about the content of the handout at the same time that they distribute it. This also creates a multi-tasking situation, since students must pass the handout down the rows and they may need some time to read the material before the instructor begins discussing or elaborating. This problem also occurs at faculty meetings, when documents are distributed for discussion at a meeting, rather than in advance of the meeting. People need time to read and think about the content of the document before they can engage in meaningful discussion of its content.
Matlin, M. (2007). How cognitive psychology can enhance your students’ learning. In S. A. Meyers & J. R. Stowell (Eds.), Essays from E-xcellence in Teaching (Chapter 9), Volume 7.
E-book retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Web site:
September 15, 2009
Create Activities that Encourage Deep Processing and Improve Student Learning
Deep processing tasks produce memories for new information that are more enduring than does shallow or surface learning. This effect is well-documented in the cognitive research literature (Roediger, Gallo, & Geraci, 2002). Instructors can encourage students to engage in deep processing by creating learning tasks that can be completed only if students engage in deeper processing.
Examples of tasks that induce deeper processing include the following:
Roediger, H. L., III, Gallo, D. A., & Geraci, L. (2002). Processing approaches to cognition: The impetus from the levels-of-processing framework. Memory, 10, 319-332.
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.
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: http://www.uwf.edu/cws/wellness/programs/index.cfm
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).
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 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
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.
June 3, 2008
Improve student engagement by offering your students extra credit for using improved study strategies. Junn (1995) offered extra credit to students for engaging in selected learning activities. These activities included attending class sessions and submitting weekly learning activity assignments (on time). The learning activities included creating detailed and well-organized class notes each week, creating detailed reading notes and questions based on the assigned readings following instructor guidelines for reading notes, creating 12 specific mnemonic devices (e.g., developing an acronym) to improve the student’s ability to remember key terms and concepts discussed in class that week, or documented participation in a tutoring session or attendance at a campus workshop on study or test-taking skills. The amount of extra credit earned (up to 2% of the total points associated with the final course grade) depended on the number and frequency of documented completion of one or more of these learning activities. Students who engaged in the extra credit activities earned significantly higher scores on class exams and earned significantly higher final grades (without including the extra credit points in the computation). Students reported that the extra credit assignment required a considerable amount of work, but encouraged them to learn better study habits that actually helped them learn.
Junn, E. N. (1995). Empowering the marginal student: A skills-based extra-credit assignment. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 189-192.
April 22, 2008
Getting students to read course material increases student engagement, but how can you get them to read?
Engaging students in meaningful discussion during class is easier if students have read the material in advance. Assign students homework that requires them to read the material and prepare a written response that will be brought to class. The homework should require students to make use of the content of the reading. For example, students might complete a graphic organizer for the material, respond to a prompt (e.g., compare the evidence in support of each of two competing explanations or models), or relate the material to an event or problem they encounter in their daily lives or to events in the news. The homework should be meaningfully related to a class activity that builds on this homework. For example, students might engage in a debate, discussion, or pair-share activity that requires them to use the material they prepared in the homework. Collect the homework at the end of class (students will need it to participate in the class activity) and simply mark it with pass/fail (done/not done) points that contribute to a larger homework or class participation grade. Students will initially engage in the activity to earn the points, but the homework preparation ultimately gains instructional value because prepared students are able to participate and make effective contributions to the class activity.
IDEA Paper #38: Enhancing Learning – and more! – Through Cooperative Learning (Barbara J. Millis)
April 15, 2008
How can you engage busy students who don’t have time to come visit you during your office hours? Consider holding “virtual office hours.” You can create “virtual office hours” by identifying and posting specific days and times when you will be logged onto an online instant messenger service (AOL, Yahoo, etc.) or will host an Elluminate session. Instructors who hold virtual office hours commonly create a user name for the IM account that is unique to their name, course, department, or area of expertise. Unique account names make it easy for students to remember and find the account. They also make it easy for you to separate a course account from other accounts. If you host an Elluminate session, each session must be created as a unique event and the link for this session must be sent to students in advance. Use virtual office hours to answer student questions or consult on class projects. If you use Elluminate, you can post a problem or a course assignment on a common workspace. Multiple students can simultaneously discuss, edit, or make comments on the work during a session.
Remember to control your time! Holding virtual office hours does not mean that you must be available to your students electronically 24/7. Just as you clearly identify when you will be present in your physical office and promise to answer the phone or talk to students who appear at your door, you should clearly establish the specific days and times when students can expect that you will be logged into your instant message account, respond to e-mail, or have an Elluminate session in operation.
Thanks in part to Susan L. Brown (Philosophy, Religious Studies, & Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Lucia Bushway (Mathematics & Statistics) for these examples of virtual office hours. Contact ATC for more information on how to use Elluminate to create a virtual office hour or group study session.
April 1, 2008
Students frequently think about their courses as if they were independent of one another. Students will be more engaged if they can describe how individual courses contribute to their larger goals. Help students identify the connections between courses in their major by asking students to relate material they learned in other courses to topics under discussion in your course. If two or more courses in the major discuss different aspects of a particular topic, take advantage of opportunities to discuss this shared content. For example, if the major includes a methods course, ask students to identify the research methods or statistical analyses used to evaluate research findings described in a content course. Draw students’ attention to topics that they will encounter again when they take other courses in the major (e.g., “when you take Cognitive Neuroscience, you will learn more about the role played by specific brain structures in the memory functions we are discussing in this class,” “when you take Child Development, you will learn about how children’s understanding of grammar and the pragmatics of language develop over time”). Find students in your class who have completed a specific course in the major with related content and ask them to use their knowledge to elaborate on the topic under review. For example, a marketing instructor might ask students who have completed a course in finance to explain the financial implications of two competing marketing campaigns.
March 25, 2008
Use collaborative learning activities as class assignments that are later shared in class. For example, Dr. Jay Gould (Psychology) uses the following active-learning exercise in Experimental Psychology (EXP 3082): After reading about research ethics and discussing this topic in class, students are required to work in pairs to prepare a “Code of Ethics for Psychology Researchers.“ The printed codes of ethics are then posted in the hallway (without names) for all students in the class to review and then vote on the best one other than their own. Extra credit is given to the three pairs of students whose codes of ethics receive the greatest number of votes.
Thanks to Jay Gould (Psychology) for this contribution.
March 11, 2008
Relate the material you are teaching to real-world contexts and potential careers. Information in textbooks can often be abstract or very theoretical in nature. Students will understand, appreciate, and remember information a lot better if they can relate it to current events, how it is used in real settings, how it relates to what they will do after they graduate, how it relates to other topics in their field or even other disciplines, etc.
Another strategy to encourage students to actively engage with class material is to ask students to bring a standard 3X5 index card to each class for a brief “quiz.” Present a question on the topic of the day that requires the student to consider how the topic relates to something real in their lives. This strategy requires the student to consider the relevance and implications of the course material to their lives outside of the class. Any response that indicates reasonable consideration of the issue is regarded as “correct” and receives credit. In addition, because the quizzes comprise a portion of the final grade for the course, this activity encourages attendance and affords an easy way for the instructor to take attendance for record keeping.
Thanks to Eman El-Sheikh (Computer Science and CUTLA Fellow) and Ron Belter (Psychology) for these suggestions.
March 4, 2008
Include examples of findings and ideas from student papers or presentations to illustrate relevant points in your lectures. This practice will help establish a community-of-learners atmosphere that encourages students to take their own scholarly work seriously. You can also promote student awareness of the scholarly work of colleagues in your department by using examples of their current research to illustrate topics in your lecture.
Thanks to Stephanie D. Moussalli, Ph.D. (Accounting) for this suggestion.
November 27, 2007
Ask students to write in class. The minute paper presents students with a prompt for a brief response (answer a question related to material discussed in class that day, provide a concrete example from the student’s experience that is related to the class discussion). Minute papers from a large class can be graded in less than 20 minutes (check (2 points) for an adequate answer, check-plus (3 points) for an exemplary, well-written answer, check-minus (1 point) for a muddy answer that suggests the student was in class but might not understand the concept). Low-stakes writing assignments engage students with course material. When students rephrase topics in their own words, they will retain this information longer. The minute paper can also be a useful check to determine how well students understand the material.
October 23, 2007
Ask, don’t tell. Make students responsible for generating some of the content of a lecture. If the reading for a class session clearly describes content, ask students to generate this content in response to a probe question rather than simply reviewing this material in lecture. Research in cognitive psychology on the “generation effect” demonstrates that people retain information longer when they generate the material as a response to a probe than when they simply read this material (Slamecka & Graf, 1978).
Slamecka, N. J., & Graf, P. (1978). The generation effect: Delineation of a phenomenon. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 4, 592-604.
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