March 18, 2014
Tips for managing email from students: How to be responsive and maintain your sanity
Students are more likely to interact with instructors outside of class by sending an email than by visiting an instructor during office hours. Prompt responses to student emails create a sense of “connectedness” between students and faculty, contribute to the quality of engagement with the course, and can indirectly improve student learning and retention.
We all appreciate prompt responses to our email messages. But with a huge volume of mail in our queue, how can we respond effectively to student email messages and protect our time for other important activities?
Respond promptly to messages from your students. You need not respond immediately. Try to respond within a reasonable period of time (24-48 hours).
Tell your students how quickly they can expect a response on the first day of class and in your syllabus. Honor this promise. They might expect prompter responses from their friends, but you can and should set reasonable expectations and limits on how quickly students can expect you to respond. Communicate email policies clearly. Plan to communicate them more than once, e.g., repeat them near assignment deadlines and test administrations.
Set up a filter in email to direct mail from students to a designated folder. A good filter prevents messages from getting lost in your email queue.
Identify a key phrase (best to pick one that is easy for students to remember) that you used when you set up your filter. For example, if you set up a filter so that all mail with EXP4407 in the subject line goes to your EXP4407 class folder, students must always include this in their subject line or risk having their message buried and neglected. Tell your students what they must include in the subject line to ensure their message is filtered properly. As tech-savy as we think our students might be, they might be unaware of filters for email and the need to put a key word in the subject line to ensure their message is directed properly. Consider this a “teachable moment” for practical real-world communication skills.
Use this strategy to sort your email from other key sources. You can filter emails from your department chair or a colleague you collaborate with on a research project by filtering mail based on their email address.
Remind students to sign the email with their full name. Student accounts and private email addresses are cryptic. As with strategic use of the subject line, full identification of the sender is an email skill that students might still be learning.
Identify a time when you will respond to student email. If you think about responses to student email as a replacement for conversations during office hours, consider setting aside a designated time when you respond to email from students. De-clutter your inbox by creating a filter for student messages, which you can then locate, read, and respond to during your designated time. This strategy also works well for managing the flow of messages from a topical listserve. Isolate these messages in a folder with a filter and read them when you have time.
February 4, 2014
Request feedback from your students about your course during the term
Model the use of formative feedback for your students and reinforce the credibility of the end-of-term course evaluations. Introduce the topic of the value of formative feedback by discussing the value of formative feedback on your teaching. Point out that evaluative feedback from students at the end of the term does nothing to benefit the students who are currently enrolled in the course. Faculty simply can’t correct a problem that they don’t know about. If they learn about a problem only after the term ends, the problem might be corrected in the following term but it can’t possibly be resolved for students during the term.Consider conducting a mid-course evaluation.
Participate in the Teaching Partners program. Teaching Partners conduct classroom observation visits and provide one another formative feedback about their teaching.
Not all suggestions or comments can be acted on (or should be acted on). But instructors can draw attention to changes they make based on student suggestions and explain why some suggestions cannot be changed (dispensing with exams, ending an evening class half an hour early). The fact that you take the comments seriously and responded to those that you could reasonably implement will strengthen students’ belief that course evaluations are taken seriously.
This tip is based in part on a tip submitted by Michael Dabney, Director, Teaching and Learning Center Hawaii Pacific University.
February 19, 2013
Use Google Sites to organize and monitor group activity on a class project
Google Sites provides a simple interface to build a course web site and organize information for a course, individual team projects, or collaborations with a research group. Google Sites has a large number of templates to get you and your students started.
Create a collaborative space in which students can share materials, edit common documents, and communicate with one another about a class project. Create pages on the site to serve as document archives (file cabinet), make announcements, or host topical discussions. Google web pages on the site can include images, links, a table of contents, text boxes, videos, and other Google apps. You (and members of student teams) can track who makes changes to the site and when changes were made to hold students accountable for their individual contributions.
Need help? All Google Apps include comprehensive help pages. At the top right corner of the window, click the gear-shaped icon. The menu will allow you to change your settings (preferences) and will also direct you to the help pages, which are indexed and searchable.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted to the Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Francine Glazer, PhD, Assistant Provost and Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, New York Institute of Technology (http://www.nyit.edu/ctl ).
WKU Writer’s Consortium
February 5, 2013
Flipping Your Class with a Combination of a Case-study, Role-play, and Collaborative Learning
Instructors who are interested in experimenting with a “flipped class” format can use this activity to structure the pre-class preparation assignment and in-class active learning. This activity combines a case study with in-class role-play and collaborative learning to promote student learning. This activity is time-consuming and requires some preparation, which makes making it a good choice for a “flipped classroom” experience. Assign preparatory readings to students as pre-class homework. Plan to devote an entire class period for the group collaborative learning activity.
The case study component is a narrative that addresses a realistic issue and provides a basis for student discussion of important topics and problem-solving strategies. Cases can be based on actual events or a scenario you create to include key elements you want the class to discuss.
In the role-play component, each student assumes the role of one character in the case scenario. Players take responsibility for acting out roles in the case narrative, either through literal acting or by taking responsibility for making the decisions typically made by that character in the decision-making process enacted in the scenario.
The collaborative learning component of this activity is a Jigsaw technique. Students work in a small group to discuss the topic assigned and develop strategies for explaining the topic to others. Each group works on a different aspect of the case to become the “experts” on their assigned topic. Students then leave their expert group and join a new group comprised of one member from each expert topic group. In the new group, each student must teach his/her topic to the other members of the group. Finally, students rejoin their original group, discuss their experiences in the second group, and prepare to share their reflection on the case in a discussion with the entire class.
Pre-class assignment to prepare students for in-class activity
Assign a case for the students to read (with supporting documents as needed). The case should provide sufficient information on the topic to support a rich discussion. Assign the reading for the case (including supporting documents) ahead of class so students are prepared to learn from the class activity. Materials for the case study can be obtained from multiple sources:
Collaborative learning activity during class meeting
For example, if an environmental issue were to be addressed in the case study, different students could argue from the perspectives of a member of the general public, a representative from the business community, a scientist, a politician, or other relevant roles. This technique works well for case studies in disciplines that address multiple points of view (e.g., medical, political, economic, ethical, scientific, or other perspectives).
Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Brislin, T. (1995). Active learning in applied ethics instruction. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching. 6, 87-95.
MERLOT is a program of the California State University, in partnership with higher education institutions, professional societies, and industry. The MERLOT site archives peer reviewed teaching and learning materials in Arts, Business, Education Humanities, Mathematics and Statistics, Science and Technology, Social Sciences, and Workforce Development.
The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, located at the University at Buffalo, houses an award-winning collection of peer-reviewed case studies for multiple STEM disciplines that faculty can download and use in their courses. The work of NCCSTS has been supported by the National Science Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the U.S. Department of Education.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted to the Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Bill Burke, Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT), University of Kentucky (http://www.uky.edu/celt/).
WKU Writer’s Consortium
January 8, 2013
Using electronic tools to organize your class
Faculty can choose among several options to remind students of course activities and deadlines and help students stay on task.
If you teach an online course or use eLearning to supplement a face-to-face course, you can create deadlines in the calendar function in eLearning. Students will see notifications of impending deadlines whenever they open the course in eLearning.
Create a News item to alert students to an impending deadline. Encourage your students to set Notifications in eLearning. Students can request eLearning to send them reminders of upcoming deadlines for the Dropbox or to notify them when a new item appears in their course News or a new message is posted to a discussion forum. Students can choose to receive their notifications in an e-mail or as a text message to their mobile device.
Encourage students to regulate their progress by creating a Checklist of assignments in eLearning. Checklist items include brief descriptions of assignments and the date each assignment is due. Students monitor their progress by checking off each item as they complete it. You can create multiple short checklists for items due in each module of a course or you can create a global checklist for all items due during the term. ATC provides details about the mechanics of using checklist in AskATC.
Google apps strategies
You can create multiple Google calendars in your UWF Gmail account. Create one calendar for each course you teach and enter class meetings, readings, and assignment due dates on the class calendar. Students in your class can subscribe to the calendar for your course. When you make a change to the course calendar, the change will automatically appear in the students’ accounts. Since student email at UWF is hosted by Gmail, students can access the Google Apps calendar whenever they check their email.
Create a Google site for your course. Add countdown gadgets (search on the public gadgets for countdown options) to remind students of the number of days to each assignment deadline.This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted to the Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Francine Glazer, PhD, Assistant Provost and Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, New York Institute of Technology (http://www.nyit.edu/ctl ).
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).
January 18, 2011
Create activities that develop team skills and enable students to work effectively in groups
Students will work more effectively in groups on a major project if you provide them with explicit training on how to manage group dynamics and interpersonal interaction. If course learning outcomes include project management outcomes such as working effectively with colleagues, then include activities in the class that will teach these skills. An effective instructional activity for group interaction will
Strategies for structuring and guiding group processes
This tip was based on a submission by Barbara Millis, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Texas at San Antonio.
Portions of this tip were based on Walvoord, B. E., & Anderson, V. J. (2010). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment in college (2nd ed). Jossey-Bass and circulated as a teaching tip by TOMORROW'S PROFESSOR(sm) eMAIL NEWSLETTER http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/cgi-bin/tomprof/postings.php.
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.
September 7, 2010
Request feedback from your students about your course during the term
Model the use of formative feedback for your students and reinforce the credibility of the end-of-term course evaluations. Discuss the value for both you and your students of constructive, formative feedback about the class structure and your teaching. Point out to your students that evaluative feedback from students at the end of the term does nothing to benefit the students who are currently enrolled in the course. Faculty simply can’t correct a problem that they don’t know about. If they learn about a problem only after the term ends, the problem might be corrected in the following term and benefit those students, but it can’t possibly be resolved for students during the current term.
Consider conducting a mid-course evaluation.
Not all suggestions or comments can be acted on (nor should all suggestions be acted on). Instructors can draw attention in class to those changes they make based on student suggestions and explain why some suggestions cannot be implemented (e.g., dispensing with exams or grading, ending an evening class half an hour early every night). The fact that you take the comments seriously and responded to those that you can reasonably implement strengthens students’ beliefs that you take course evaluations seriously.
This tip is based in part by a tip submitted by Michael Dabney, Director, Teaching and Learning Center
Hawaii Pacific University (http://www.hpu.edu/index.cfm?contentID=9473&siteID=1).
August 24, 2010
To Post or Not to Post: What are the consequences of posting power point slides for student learning?
What is the evidence about the impact of having a handout of the power point slides during the presentations? Do instructors who provide the slides as handouts free students from the multi-tasking associated with copying information from the slides and allow them to concentrate on listening to the presentation and class discussion? Or does having a copy of the slides encourage students to skip class, allow them to surf the web during class, or otherwise disengage?
Marsh and Sink (2010) examined the content of notes students took during classes when they either had an advance copy of the presentation slides or only had blank paper for taking notes. They also examined student performance on several types of course exams (multiple choice questions, short answer questions, free recall essays). Although students took more notes when they did not have copies of the presentation slides, the notes they took consisted primarily of verbatim copies of the content of the slides presented during class. Both groups recorded additional information from the lecture and discussion that had not been included on the slides, but both groups of students recorded this additional information at equal rates.
What were the consequences for learning? Students who received a copy of the slides as handouts before attending the lecture performed better than students who took notes and received the slide handouts later when both groups were tested with short-answer questions. The groups performed equivalently on other types of questions. Thus, student’s claims that having a copy of the slides in advance helps them focus on the meaning of the lecture by reducing the time they spend recording specific slide content appears to be supported by evidence.
If you decide to post slides in advance, consider posting a bare-bones variant of the slides you plan to use in class. This handout will support note-taking without providing all the detail that might be included on class slides. This creates an incentive to attend class, provides a structure for organizing the notes, and forces students to attend to details included in the class slides and your presentation as they add these details to the notes on their handouts.
Marsh, E. J., & Sink, H. E. (2010). Access to handouts of presentation slides during lecture: Consequences for learning, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 691-706. doi: 10.1002/acp.1579
March 2, 2010
Using electronic tools to manage collaborations with students and colleagues
Current technology now provides a variety of tools that allow faculty to collaborate with students and colleagues. E-mail enables rapid communication and exchange of documents with collaborators. Faculty can now easily draft and edit a manuscript with co-authors on several continents by sending documents as attachments or sharing documents through other electronic forums. For example, Google Documents and Google Sites allow faculty to share and edit documents without exchanging large attachments in e-mail.
Although technology creates many convenient tools for collaboration, it also creates vulnerabilities to the security of intellectual property and personal identity. When collaborating with students and colleagues in the UWF community, faculty are sometimes tempted to provide access to files on a computer or server by disclosing their password instead of using a more secure collaboration tool. ITS and CUTLA developed a new information website that discusses the tools currently available for electronic collaboration that will help faculty easily share files with students and colleagues without compromising password security.
The new web site is located at http://uwf.edu/cutla/password.cfm
Thanks to Sylvia Maxwell and Michael White (ITS) for contributions to this teaching tip.
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.
December 1, 2009
Electronic Information Literacy: Promoting Netiquette in your Class
The campus migration to Gmail provides us with an opportunity to revisit how faculty and students use e-mail for communication. Capitalize on this opportunity by discussing e-mail netiquette with students in your class.
The introduction of electronic communication (e-mail, online threaded discussions, Twitter feeds, etc.) to class interaction poses a new set of challenges for instructors: Teaching students to communicate professionally in electronic media. Faculty might initially think of this issue mainly in terms of their own response to inappropriate language from students in e-mail (Hey! Missed class yesterday. Did I miss anything?) and posts to online discussions (i don’t get the reading this week – booooooring : - ( will this be on the test?).
Effective communication through electronic media is an important skill. Help your students develop this skill with the following strategies:
Good web guidelines on netiquette can be found at the following:
Virginia Commonwealth University
Center for Teaching Excellence
Texas Tech University
Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center
October 6, 2009
Human factors in the classroom: Minimizing problems created by inadvertent multitasking associated with PowerPoint
In spite of popular media depictions and their own proclaimed competence, students are not as adept at multitasking as they believe. Divided attention has costs for the quality of student learning. Classroom situations can create unintended divided attention conditions that interfere with student learning. For example, PowerPoint presentations can create a variety of challenges to effective note-taking:
Instructors can help students manage the task of taking effective notes on PowerPoint presentations by providing a minimalist version of their slides before class. Posting a minimalist version of slides rather than the detailed slides used during class also creates an incentive for students to attend class. Remember to provide enough time during the lecture to allow students to complete their notes on one topic before moving on to the next.
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:
April 7, 2009
Micro-lectures: Just-in-time teaching for critical topics and skills
Attaining competence with some concepts and skills requires repetition and practice. Instructors can use class time more efficiently if they create short electronic modules that discuss a particular concept or demonstrate a skill that students struggle to learn. Create an out-of-class assignment in which students view the micro-lecture and then complete an activity, small project, or written assignment that entails applying the concept or using the skill. Micro-lectures can be as short as 60 seconds to 5 minutes or as long as 15-20 minutes.
Use micro-lectures to:
Shieh, D. (2009). These lectures are gone in 60 seconds. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 55 (26), Page A13.
Want to create a micro-lecture and need help?
Contact the Academic Technology Center: http://uwf.edu/atc/
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.
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.
Updated 01/08/13 cdw
To report errors and/or broken links on the CUTLA website, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment | Bldg. 53, Room 208 | 11000 University Pkwy. | Pensacola, FL 32514 | USA | (850) 473-7435 | Campus Map | Text Only | Site map