Past Teaching TIPS

Week 31: As faculty, staff, and students all prepare for the final exam period, the Teaching Tips offer a few reflections on academic integrity, cheating, and a few straightforward tips for limiting the temptation for students to cheat:

  • Authentic Assessment. The best strategy for limiting outright cheating is to design assessments that require students to demonstrate learning in authentic ways, which is to say that the assessment asks the student to do something with what they’ve learned in a realistic context. Of course, this can be difficult to do with different constraints, particularly for large-enrollment courses, but if you find yourself lamenting once again that you have to spend valuable brain space on counteracting cheating, then consider how you can create more authentic assessments for the next iteration of the course. Reach out to us at the UTLC if you want to learn more about authentic assessment!
  • Be Clear and Redundant. The advice to redesign assessments does not do you much good on reading day, but the good news is that we also have tips for right here and now! On the last episode of the T’n T Podcast, Mitch Croatt, Department Head for Chemistry, described how he reinforces the importance of academic integrity across the semester, including right before the exam, as well as emphasizing the precautions that he has taken to make sure cheating does not go undetected. The key message for him is that he cares about academic integrity because it appreciates the work that students put into their learning, and so will be vigilant in protecting that work – a message worth repeating over and over!
  • Change Question Order Across Multiple Versions. One of the concrete strategies that Mitch advocates in the podcast episode, especially for those contexts in which a multiple-choice exam is necessary, is providing multiple versions of an exam with the same questions in different orders. This strategy takes some extra effort on the part of the faculty member to prepare multiple answer keys, but it is a clear way to emphasize the importance of academic integrity and limit the temptation to cheat.

We encourage you to check out the recent T’n T Podcast episode for the full conversation about academic integrity with Mitch and Robert Barker from the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. You can check out the OSRR site if you have lingering questions about academic integrity at UNCG. If you want to start thinking about authentic assessment for future semesters, then consider signing up for the summer institutes – listed below – that support online, hybrid, and face-to-face course (re)development.

Week 30: This time of year is a great time for reflection – you know, with all of the free time that we have in the final weeks of the semester – and so this week’s Teaching Tips focus on the practice of reflection in teaching. We share from the work of Dr. Stephen Brookfield on critically reflective teaching, in which he proposes four lenses for engaging in critical reflection of teaching:

  • Autobiographies. Self-reflection is the foundation of critical reflection. Our own experiences are powerful guides, and tools like teaching journals or portfolios can help to arrange our thoughts in ways that can help our teaching to improve from course to course, semester to semester. The other lenses help to build on these insights and help us to incorporate other perspectives into our reflections.
  • Students’ eyes. The student perspective is often tied to course evaluations, but many of our existing assessment strategies in the classroom can also be used as prompts for reflections. Where did students struggle to understand that goal of that one assignment? What part of the course did the students have the most questions? When were they most engaged in active learning activities? We can engage with reflections through the eyes of our students by considering questions like these.
  • Colleagues’ experiences. While the first two lenses may be a part of our standard practices, we can go deeper by exploring Brookfield’s other two lenses, including by looking to our peers for advice and feedback. Depending on your situation, this could come through a formal mentoring relationship, or it could be an informal conversation to get a fresh perspective on an assignment or module. Furthermore, these interactions can be reassuring at times when we feel like we are the only ones struggling with particular issues in a course.
  • Theoretical literature. Finally, Brookfield points us to the scholarship on teaching and learning as we look for answers and alternatives. Look to the research of others can help to contextualize our experiences as we reflect on them, while also giving us a language for better exploring the various types of feedback that we receive through these various sources. Although Brookfield frames it as “Learning from Theory,” the primary focus of critically reflective teaching for him is on taking our reflections and putting them into practice, including engaging in our own scholarship of teaching and learning.

Week 29: In coordination with the rollout of the new UNCG Accessibility website, these Teaching Tips come from the “7 Basic Elements of Accessible Content” on the new website. We encourage you to check out all the information on the site for making content accessible, but today we highlight using headings and structure in digital documents:

  • Use the pre-formatted Heading tools in your software. You will find that most commonly-used software – whether it is Microsoft, Google, or Canvas – come with pre-formatted tools with built-in order and hierarchy systems, which make it easier to navigate. As with all accessibility tools, this functionality helps everyone to navigate your content more easily, and it is particularly helpful for screen reader technology.
  • Use Headings for structure only. Although the pre-formatted Headings provide font size and other formatting style changes, they should only be used to divide information for the purpose of organizing it into meaningful sections. For example, “Heading 2” style may have the color, size, and font that you want, but the reason to use it is if it provides a major section heading or other meaningful section of your document/web page. You can change details of the pre-formatted Headings to match your stylistic preferences at any time, but it is important that Headings are used for structure only.
  • Use only one “Heading 1” style. This style typically is used for the title or main content heading, and a screen reader or other assistive technologies will identify it as such. For this reason, this style should not be used for any other headings in your document or web page. You can still change the details of your font to match the “Heading 1” style, but “Heading 1” should be used only once.

The new UNCG Accessibility website has more information about these formatting considerations alongside a host of other best practices, policies, and further resources. You can read more about the new site below. We encourage you to check out the site for any questions related to accessibility and bookmark the page for when questions come up in the future.

Week 28: Today, the Teaching Tips looks at one type of strategy for addressing both the increasing need for our students to study and work with the course material and their waning energy (as well as our own) as the semester comes to a close. The strategy we consider today is promoting self-explanation in class as a model for study behavior:

  • Start with Select the Principle. Self-explanation – or forcing oneself to match what you’re doing with the why you’re doing it – is part of a series of activities in which students take on the role of an instructor after developing some comfort with the material. It is one version of the classic “you haven’t learned something until you can teach it” concept. As instructors, we know that doing this is more difficult than students perceive it to be, so it is important for us to scaffold this type of behavior, even when it comes to asking students to explain something to themselves. A good introduction to the concept of self-explanation is to start by relating it to something more familiar, like a multiple-choice question. The trick is to push students to go beyond simply selecting and instead focus on elaborating on the principle behind their selection. The products of this strategy can be something that students keep for themselves, share with a partner (more on this below), or submit as an “exit ticket” for the day.
  • “Why Are You Doing That?” The primary version of self-explanation builds on that ol’ Teaching Tips favorite of metacognition. Consider introducing an activity in which students take something that they are doing for your course and answer the question “Why Are You Doing That?” The goal of self-explanation, of course, is to go beyond “… because you assigned it,” and to get your students to articulate the choices that they are making as they use what they are learning in your course. This strategy is particularly useful if you have assignments that are already divided up into parts and scaffolded, as you can get your students thinking in depth about very specific decisions that they are making and skills that they are developing in your course.
  • Towards Peer Instruction. Before you close your email in protest that the “peer” of “peer instruction” clearly violates the “self” of “self-explanation,” I want to point to peer instruction as the logical next step to promoting the value of explanation for learning. As great as classroom response systems like clickers are for quick assessment of student learning, they can be even greater when you add explanation to the equation. Try asking students to explain their answers to their neighbor before resubmitting an answer to the same question, especially for material that is central to your course. There is significant research to support the benefits of this strategy for memory and student learning.

All of these strategies come out of one of our Faculty Literary Circle books, Small Teaching by James Lang.  You can review past literary circle books here – thanks to the helpful suggestion of one of the faculty from this semester! Keep an eye out for Fall 2019 Literary Circle sign-ups soon!

Week 27: Today, the Teaching Tips in written form step aside to highlight two pieces of media that highlight some recent favorite topics of the Teaching Tips.

Below, you’ll find a Tech Tidbit on how Canvas can help get you started thinking about adaptive and mastery learning with Canvas MasteryPaths. And, in the normal Teaching Tips slot, we highlight the Teach’n Tips Podcast and its newest episode on emphasizing diversity and a growth mindset in STEM courses:

T’n T, the Teach’n Tips Podcast, returns with a conversation with Dr. Iglika Pavlova from Biology on a recent course design change that she made to address diversity and a growth mindset at the outset of her large-enrollment introductory course in Biology. Join the teaching tips guy as he talks with Iglika about what went into making such a significant change, what resources helped the most, and some initial insights for the impact that the changes are having on student learning.

Click here for Episode Eight of the Teach’n Tips Podcast!

If you’re interested in more from the Teach’n Tips Podcast, you can check out old episodes here and subscribe to the podcast for new episodes! If you have ideas for podcast episodes, or if you’d like to record an episode with us, let us know at

Week 26: There was an interesting chain of emails on the listserv for the national organization of educational developers in higher ed. The topic was “Using the ‘Dr’ title, especially for women professors” and the subsequent discussion made some interesting points. The following bullet points aren’t so much teaching tips as they are food for thought on the topic of preferences for the use of honorifics in higher ed:

  • What should you call me? We’ve talked in the past about student identities and approaches to creating an inclusive environment for different identities, but another consideration is what the faculty member expresses as the preferred form of address. I’ve known faculty who insist that students use a title that recognizes the work that goes into getting a doctorate, but I’ve also known faculty who correct students that refer to them as “Professor” in order to highlight that lecturers get treated differently by the system of higher education. Similarly, some maintain the formal use of honorifics, while others find that it helps them interact with students if they encourage use of their first name. Up until recently, I would have always thought of that decision as a personal preference that was up to the instructor.
  • The personal decision in context. While personal preference obviously guides this decision for an instructor as it does in all cases, the series of responses from faculty in a variety of positions across the country in this recent email chain was illuminating for how these decisions spill over as our students experience different preferences across courses. The inherent respect that being a white, cis-gendered male instructor carries in the classroom affords that person the ability to adopt a casual, “first-name basis” tone with students without significant concerns of undermined authority. However, such a tendency might also lead to other faculty with identities that have historically been marginalized by academia to be seen as cold or distant if they insist on the title that correctly acknowledges their status in institutions of higher education. These decisions are bound up in issues of power and, ultimately, it may not be as cut-and-dry as personal preference.
  • Forms of address matter. There is no way to make a categorical claim about how different forms of address will matter to any individual instructor, but it is important to recognize that they do matter in ways that reverberate beyond our own encounters with students. There are many different influences on why we feel more or less comfortable with a particular option – background, disciplinary norms, etc. – and those things may be worth sharing with your students, especially as interactions tend to become increasingly informal in the age of social media. Whatever you decide to use in your courses, consider sharing with your students from the outset why the way that we address each other matters and the respect that goes along with doing so.

If you’re interested in more about the conversation that sparked this week’s “teaching tip,” a colleague wrote a blog post about the discussion, which you can find here. For more on authority and identity in the classroom, consider this paper from the University of Michigan. It is too late in the semester for this to make a difference, but hopefully it helps start the process for future semesters. It certainly helped me to reflect on my own practices. If you like this kind of “teaching tip,” let us know at (and if you don’t like it, then let us know that as well!)

Week 25: One of the key reasons for using games in your classroom is to continue to push students to take responsibility for their own learning and demonstrate their learning in the context of a game. Of course, playing games is also a fun change-of-pace from other classroom activities, but today’s teaching tips focus on promoting and fostering learner autonomy:

  • Power shift. One of the most straightforward ways to promote learner autonomy, and perhaps also the scariest as a faculty member, is to enlist students in decisions related to their learning. This article from James Lang suggests several ways to “offer students the chance to assert some measure of control over their own learning,” including generating exam questions or a class constitution that sets the ground rules for engagement. The goal here is not to throw things in front of our students and let them figure it out, but to continue to highlight the responsibility that they have for their own learning. It is important to be transparent and explicit about why giving them power over decisions in your course is important to you.
  • The power of choice. One way to accentuate autonomy even further, while also supporting diverse learners, is to give students choice in how they demonstrate their learning. If students can demonstrate that they have achieved the learning outcomes with a research paper or a community-engaged group project, then it can be empowering and motivating to give students the option. While this approach is not to be taken up lightly, and students will still need plenty of direction to keep them from choice overload, there are several good reasons to consider student choice as part of a future course redesign.
  • Expect failures alongside the successes. Things will not always work out the way you expect when you design in a way that promotes student autonomy. The learning process is messy, and it won’t come as a shock that the secondary education system may not be the best path to cultivating autonomous learners. If you plan to design your course in ways that give students more power and control over their own learning, then you also will want to think about how to handle it when things do not go well. Students feel lost, fall behind, or do not put any thought into choices that they make – again, nothing new here, but we need to be particularly prepared with plans for dealing with these issues if we decide to employ strategies that foster autonomous learners.

If you are interested in learning more about how games help address the goal of autonomy and agency in student learning, then we hope you can stop by one of our sessions in the Faculty Center. If you cannot make it, or if you have a specific idea in mind that you want to explore in depth, consider reaching out to us for a consultation here. We would love to work with you on your ideas for promoting learning in fun and meaningful ways!

Week 24: Since breaks can be a great time for generating new ideas, these teaching tips focus on trying to get students over the fear of failure and feel encouraged to engage in creative problem solving. Not all disciplines will want to apply creative thinking skills all of the time, but it is an important capacity for our students to develop. As such, it is useful to think about ways of promoting creative problem solving in the classroom:

  • Reward Taking Risks. It is one thing to say that you want students to be creative when addressing a problem in a class, but it is another thing to reward it directly. The fear of failure will constantly push students towards doing things “by the book,” but you have the power to encourage them to seek other options through your standards of assessment. “Taking Risks” is one of the dimensions of AAC&U’s VALUE rubric on Creative Thinking, and finding ways in the scoring of an assignment to encourage something like “Taking Risks” provides an important incentive toward this goal.
  • Reflection is Key. From an assessment standpoint, it can feel difficult to grade based on broad, amorphous concepts like creativity. Rubrics are a great place to start for making things more transparent for you and your students, but student reflections are a crucial tool for rendering creative processes into something that is assessable. You might prompt students: “What was the problem that you had to overcome?” or “What conventional and/or insufficient solutions did you reject as part of solving the problem?” Assignments that emphasize student reflections can be invaluable for teasing out your students’ effort while assessing creativity.
  • Creativity Requires Foundational Knowledge. “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist” – Pablo Picasso, maybe? (The teaching tips guy is not a huge fan of pithy quotes that are variously attributed to famous figures to make the quote sound even wiser.) Nevertheless, the sentiment of the “quote” is a worthwhile reminder: creative problem solving requires that students also demonstrate a solid foundation in the basics. For this reason, assignments that promote creativity should follow, and emphasize, mastery of core concepts and skills. It is possible to use the same assignment to assess students on these dimensions, both mastery and creativity.

If you want to see more on creative problem solving, I encourage you to check out the entire AAC&U VALUE rubric on creative thinking.  While you likely won’t want to copy the rubric entirely, it can be good for idea generation, especially as you are thinking about new assignments to fit your learning outcomes. As always, the UTLC is excited to help you with any ideas that you have for assignment (re)design, whether it emphasizes creative problem solving or something else. Visit our website today to sign up for a consultation!

Week 23: These teaching tips look at how to encourage students to shift their focus from the letter (or number) on the page to the enduring potential for learning and improvement. Also known as an “error analysis exercise,” today’s tips suggest using exam wrappers to promote metacognition following an assessment:

  • Ask about preparation. Start with questions that draw students’ attention to how they prepared this time – time spent, study strategies used, etc. – to reinforce the agency that students have over the assessment process. Although this exercise will often be used to shore up deficiencies, try to avoid exclusively framing these questions in a negative light. Emphasize space for students to reflect on what worked well for them in preparing for the exam as well.
  • Identify sources of information for questions missed. There are plenty of reasons for missing questions on an exam – preparation, anxiety, misreading – but students shouldn’t see the wrong answer as the end of the engagement with the material. Give students the chance to go back and identify the source for the correct answer and have them try to identify what got in their way this time.
  • Identify error patterns and generate a plan based on strengths. On top of cataloguing their errors, exam wrappers can also encourage students to make a plan for the next assessment as well. One form of this is asking students to identify a concrete strategy for the most improvement on the next assessment, based on any patterns in their errors on this exam. Try to use the language of strengths to promote student motivation going forward, such as “What strategy worked well for your preparation for this exam? How might you use this knowledge to prepare next time?”

If you want some examples of questions for an exam wrapper, you can check this resource from Duquesne or this one from Carnegie Mellon. As always, feel free to request a consultation with the Teaching Innovations Office if you would like help with constructing an exam wrapper, or for any number of other things. All the best for a pleasant Spring Break from the Teaching Tips!

Week 22: As we approach the beginning of March and Spring Break, we return to an old favorite of the teaching tips: mid-term student feedback. This time, we try to put a new spin on it by looking at one of the tools that you might use for collecting feedback, alongside some general best practice tips. You have lots of tools available to you for collecting feedback, including old-fashioned pen-and-paper or Canvas, but one easy tool for everyone is using Google Forms to collect mid-term student feedback:

  • Focused closed-ended questions and clarifying open-ended questions. Whether online or not, best practices for mid-term student feedback indicate that you should provide a mix of closed-ended or Likert scale questions for a quick overview of student experiences, especially in large-enrollment courses, and related open-ended questions that can help clarify trouble areas and give students more of a chance to share. Google Forms will seamlessly switch between response types – sometimes predicting exactly what you need – to allow for Multiple choice (one answer only), Checkboxes (multiple possible responses), Linear scale (Likert), or Paragraph (free response).
  • Allowing for anonymity. It can make a difference for the quality of feedback for students to know that their names won’t be attached to their opinions. Google Forms can facilitate this by separating student responses from handwriting differences, but you want to make sure that you turn off e-mail collection and UNCG sign in requires. Under Settings (the gear in the upper right-hand corner), you can make sure that the boxes for “Collect email addresses” and “Restrict to users in UNCG and trusted domains” are unchecked.
  • Overall class participation incentives. If you want to incentivize students with a small reward, but want to maintain anonymity, then you can set a course-wide reward for a certain percentage of the class completing the feedback form. “5 bonus points on the mid-term exam if 90% of the class completes the feedback!” Google Forms gives you summary statistics of all responses for an easy overview. Of course, whether or not you give an incentive, you always want to include explicit and specific responses to student feedback in future class sessions. Being clear about how you attend to their feedback can help to make sure that your students know that you are paying attention and interested in helping facilitate their learning.

Since mid-term student feedback is such a favorite of the teaching tips guy, you can find plenty of additional tips related to getting the most out of this practice in our Past Teaching Tips on our website. If you’re looking for even more, then there are tons of resources online related to mid-term student feedback, like this one from Texas. If you’re looking for more ways that online content can help transform your teaching, then check out all of the online-related opportunities in the newsletter below!

Week 21:We’ll take the week of Valentine’s Day as a prompt for thinking about one of the ways that we can care for our students. It may not be the primary focus of the work that we do in the classroom, but it is still important to know how to help with students in distress and suicide prevention:

  • Know the signs. The Counseling Center website lists five signs of that may mean someone is in emotional pain and might need help: (1) personality change, (2) agitation, (3) withdrawal/isolation, (4) poor self-care, and (5) expressions of hopelessness. As faculty, we have regular contact and can identify some of these changes as the semester progresses. These signs won’t always be obvious, but general expressions of support can always be a way to demonstrate that you care about your students. If you’re worried about singling out a student, offering an open invitation to the whole class can be as effective at demonstrating care.
  • Know the resources. Whether or not you identify students who may need help, it is important to be prepared with a few suggestions when you offer a caring word to your class. Most of us are not mental health professionals, nor should we be expected to be, but there are plenty of resources on campus ready to step in. Consider reviewing the list of services offered by the Counseling Center or looking over their Faculty/Staff FAQ.
  • Learn more. The Counseling Center offers an online training program that focuses on how to identify people at risk of suicide, recognize the risk factors, and respond to/get help for people at risk. If these tips leave you looking for more support, then consider signing up for the Ask. Listen. Refer. program.

There are more opportunities this week for developing our skills for supporting our students in a variety of ways. In addition to the Counseling Center’s Ask. Listen. Refer. online program, you might consider the UNCG Still Cares or Supporting LGBTQ+ Survivors of Violence workshops going on later this week. Check out the Teaching and Learning Across Campus section below for more details.

Week 20: Today’s teaching tips reflect on how differentiation can help focus on equity in the classroom:

  • Focus on need. Differentiation is about providing different possibilities for learning at different levels of need in the learning environment. It is a challenge, as a single instructor, to be multiple things for multiple people, but strategies for differentiation, including adaptive learning software, can help the instructor focus on providing options that meet the learner at their level of need.
  • Focus on competency. By focusing on the end goal – the learning outcome – differentiation helps to keep the focus on attainment of skills and competency, rather than assessing based on getting it right the first time. Different learners will take to different topics and skills at different rates, so differentiation embraces this idea as it tries to move all learners towards competency.
  • Focus on a growth mindset. At the core of focusing on need and competency is the promotion of a growth mindset in learners. Not everyone starts out at the same place, and not everyone moves at the same rate, but everyone is capable of learning the material in our courses. Differentiation is about making that prospect less daunting for our students across different levels of preparation.

We hope that you’re able to join us for more on the exciting possibilities for adaptive, differentiated, and personalized learning at UNCG.

Week 19: This week we return to the topic of when tempers heat up as students engage with each other and the course material, especially in response to an upsetting comment. Here are a few reminders about addressing “hot moments” that arise in the classroom.

  • Attend to your own reactions. It can be easy for a faculty member to feel responsible for immediate action, especially when a “hot moment” is initiated by an offensive statement, but it is also important to allow yourself a pause (and, perhaps, invite the class to take a pause with you). Before you can help your students work through the complicated responses to a difficult dialogue in your course, it can be helpful to take the time to measure your own thoughts and feelings about what just happened.
  • Clarify and change the conversation to experiences. Once you’ve taken a few deep breaths, it can be helpful to have your first intervention take the form of a clarifying question: “Can you tell us more about what you mean when you say…?” Students may tend to want to respond in general terms and blanket statements, so it can be helpful to prompt students to speak in terms of lived experiences. Encourage students to adopt “I think” and “I feel” language as they work through the difficult moment and any offensive comments.
  • Create a space for students to chime in and continue to engage. As important as the instructor is in recognizing and acknowledging the impact of a “hot moment” on the learning environment, it is equally important that the students do the work of recovering an inclusive space for learning. This advice does not mean that students should be compelled to respond, but look to engage them in activities that support their reflection, such as the options suggested here on facilitating difficult dialogues.

If you want to learn more about the types of actions that can upset an inclusive classroom environment, and what you can do in response, consider signing up for one of our DiversityEdu modules. Many of today’s tips come from a well-known resource on inclusive teaching from Harvard’s Derek Bok Center, but there are a number of great resources to help you be prepared in case these types of issues emerge in your classroom.

Week 18: You may have a clearly-established policy about using technology in your courses that you’ve already shared with students, or you may still be working out what works best for you. No matter where you are at in the big technology debate, we hope that this week’s teaching tips will give you some fuel for thinking about considerations for realistic and effective policies for technology in the classroom.

  • Focus on eliminating distraction. Devices that connect students instantly to the world around them are powerful and tempting resources. They can be fantastic tools for learning, and they can be formidable barriers to learning. Your technology policies can reflect both of these possibilities in order to make clear why you choose to, or choose not to, limit the use of technology. You can also consider giving students choice based on what they think will constitute distracted use of technology in your collective learning environment. You might want to first share an article like this one in Computers & Education that talks about the effects of distraction and multi-tasking on performance.
  • No “one size fits all” solution. Some faculty choose to designate “device-free spaces” towards the front of a classroom for students that find them to be distractions. Other faculty find that there is no reasonable need for a laptop or phone in their seminar, and instead emphasize the power of handwritten notes for retention and memory. You might decide that you want to fully embrace technological solutions for interaction and web-based content in your course. You have the necessary perspective to assess the balance between learning and distraction in your context.
  • Issues of equity and inclusion. Note that some students may require technology support for accommodations for their learning, which should be accounted for in any technology policy, especially if you opt to restrict use under most circumstances. If you are intending to make extensive use of technology in the classroom, try to make use of partnered or group activities that do not require everyone to have a device, since it is important to avoid assumptions about access to, and facility with, expensive technology.

If you have specific policies that you’ve found work well for you, then we’d love to hear about them, and would like to include them as resources for other faculty in our On-Demand Teaching Support, if you’d be willing to share them! Today’s teaching tips were inspired, once again, by the CST Communication in the Classroom series of tips, in collaboration with developing instructors enrolled in CST599. Marianna Levithan assembled a resource that thoughtfully engages with the debates surrounding technology in the classroom, which you can access (along with the rest of the series) on our website.

Week 17: In honor of Reading Day – and in recognition that many may not be fully engaging in the activity for which the day gets its name – this week’s teaching tips focus on issues and strategies related to students doing the assigned reading:

  • Is it worth it? The biggest obstacle for students reading is the perception that it is not worth their time. Luckily, faculty have significant control over that assessment. The most straightforward strategy here is to implement some form of reading quiz at the start of class, or prior to class via Canvas, that will encourage students to engage with the reading before class. This strategy works even better if the reading check is woven throughout the class period to keep students engaged. The more that students are required to do with the reading in class, the more likely they are to see the value in doing the assigned reading.
  • Reviewing without restating. Although it is well-intentioned to summarize important parts of the course content for students in class, it is also a surefire way to communicate that students do not need to do the assigned reading in order to get the salient points. It is as important that faculty avoid these negative incentives for reading as it is that we provide positive incentives in the learning environment. Try to devise ways for students to apply what they’ve learned from the reading in order to review the key points, rather than focusing on restating those same points.
  • Higher order reading. It can be easy to overlook that many of our students do not ever get taught how to read at a level that college coursework requires. You may see significant gains simply by providing some structured activities early in the semester that guide students on what successful reading looks like in your course. Whether that means instruction on how to outline important points, using concept maps for key concepts, or other creative approaches that work for your discipline, it is important to recognize that students might not be getting much from the assigned reading because higher order reading is a skill in itself.

There are plenty of options out there for specific activities that will help students to do the assigned reading. Consider this resource from Temple University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching. As always, the Teaching Innovations Office is happy to consult on particular strategies that can work for your specific course as well.

Week 16: This week, we turn to a couple tips related to online course design, which we hope might help you as you begin to think about changes to make for your next semester. Here are a few suggestions from our Online Learning Level One course on the different modes of engagement in online courses:

  • Student-student. A critical piece of engagement in online courses is peer-to-peer interaction. Most instructors will gravitate towards the Online Discussions tool to mirror in-class discussion, but you can also use Collaborations to get students working together on a single document or the Peer Review tool in Canvas to promote learning from one another. A clear rubric and participation guidelines that recognize the realities of online learning are essential, especially for bringing student-student engagement into an asynchronous course.
  • Student-faculty. As with everything online, it is worth pausing to think about how much student-faculty engagement is taken for granted in the physical classroom environment. So much of the semester can be shaped by the initial class sessions, and it is important to recognize the value of setting the tone for student-faculty engagement at the outset of an online course as well. An introductory video and course navigation video (or slides) can go a long way to bridging the gap.
  • Student-content. Active learning is not limited to the possibilities of a physical space. It is as important in the digital space to design active learning experiences that align with your learning outcomes for your students. Consider mixing in different ways of getting students to engage with course material, from reflection papers to case studies to concept maps (or other ways of making comparisons and contrasts across sessions). Figure out what might work best for your learning outcomes, and then let the UTLC and others help you make it work!

There are lots of options for learning more about online engagement and course design. Online Learning Levels One and Two will return in the spring semester. You can also check out the link and description on our site for upcoming session on peer reviews for online courses if you are interested in delving deeper into online course design with the help of colleagues.

Week 15: Today’s teaching tips come to you all the way from Portland, Oregon, where many of the folks from the UTLC participated in the annual national faculty development conference. Perhaps it is the proximity to Portland State, which has a robust e-portfolio project for their undergraduate studies program, but today’s tips share some of the benefits for authentic learning from using e-portfolios as a high-impact practice.

  • Real-world relevance. E-portfolios facilitate the documentation of experiential learning out in the world, so students are able to apply their learning to realistic and social contexts. When students get out and do things with their learning, the e-portfolio is a place for them to return and demonstrate the impact of that effort.
  • Sustained investigation. Furthermore, e-portfolios allow for complex learning experiences to engage students over time and across their time as a Spartan. A course e-portfolio can be a great way for students to reflect on their learning across a semester, but e-portfolios really shine when they compel students to orient their newly-developing skills towards something like a capstone project across a longer period of time.
  • Agency and reflection. Across contexts and over time, e-portfolios require students to be active and reflective learners as they collect and connect their learning over time. An e-portfolio serves as an evolving record of the way that students engage with the curriculum and their lived experiences as learners, but it also helps to develop autonomy.

Consider joining the High-Impact Practices Committee in the Faculty Center if you are interested in learning more about e-portfolios and similar ways of capturing experiential learning and capstone experiences. You can also read much more about e-portfolios on the AAC&U website.

Week 14: As we look forward to the end of the semester, today’s teaching tips also look forward, as we consider the power of making predictions for student learning.

  • Predictions, connections, and attention. Our growing understanding of the brain indicates that making predictions helps promote the increasing density of neural connections between concepts, facts, and skills. This density of connections helps with both retention of facts and the ability to apply information to other contexts. Prediction activities are a great way to hook students’ attention as well, which furthers the impact of these strategies on student learning.
  • Polling predictions. No, not those polling predictions! One easy way of building predictions into class – especially large enrollment classes – is through polling and response systems. Class polls can be a great way of starting discussions, while also helping everyone feel more comfortable collectively with the work that goes into learning. The usual benefits of anonymity in answering in learning activities also apply here. Furthermore, unlike those polling predictions, research shows that it doesn’t matter if these polling predictions are wrong, because…
  • Value in the process. Retention and retrieval of learned material increases whether or not the students’ predictions are correct. It is the process of making a prediction that appears to have the positive effects on memory, so one need not worry about generating a divide between students depending on if they get a prediction correct. In fact, these predictions can be a great way to impart upon students the value of learning from errors. It is essential, however, that these predictive activities have immediate feedback so that incorrect predictions are quickly displaced.

These tips come out of James Lang’s recent work, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, which is one of the books for our Spring Faculty Literary Circles. As you’ll see below in the newsletter, our Fall Literary Circles just concluded, but you can already sign up for this book and more in the Spring semester!

Week 13: In this week’s teaching tips, we pull a set of tips from one of our Faculty Literary Circle books, James Lang’s On Course, which has tips for a variety of issues that face new faculty. In the past, we’ve received questions about the average amount of prep time is for teaching in your first year, but some of the tips in Lang’s book can apply to anyone thinking about strategies for managing the class prep time:

  • Active waiting and preliminary notes. Robert Boice uses the term active waiting to identify three elements of preparing for any individual session – preliminary notes, planning before perfecting, and taking advantage of short, occassional planning time. All three of these reminders emphasize that planning does not happen in one fell swoop, so having a set document in which you will record small, spur-of-the-moment notes about a particular course is a great way to plan in the spaces between. A seemingly insignificant thought at the end of your Friday may blossom when you have another 20 minutes to sit down on the next Wednesday, so pick a method for those small preliminary notes that works for you.
  • Planning before perfecting. Resist the urge to have a complete background of sources on a given topic before you plan on how to present the key ideas to a class. This reminder becomes even more pertinent when you are less comfortable with the particular content. The temptation is to read and read, but it can be immensely helpful to think about a topic through the lens of the constraints of one or two class sessions. You will run into far greater constraints on your ability to help students to learn effectively than needing an exhaustive grasp on the literature.
  • Short, occasional planning time. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, abandon the search for a mythical block of time in which sitting down and grinding out a plan for a class session will seem like the perfect solution for filling that time – it will rarely come! Start early to give yourself more lead-in time, but do so with an awareness that plans will come in small bursts to which you will want to attend. Not only will this help to avoid a last-minute scramble to prepare, but it also allows for rich illustrations or practical examples to emerge over the course of everyday life.

For more on helpful tips for new faculty (or for some new ideas for any faculty), check out the On-demand Teaching Support section of our website, which has some new resources in a new tip series provided by instructors from CST 105. We will be offering a literary circle for James Lang’s On Course in the spring, but you can check out a copy from our SoTL library at 1100 W Market St in the meantime.

Week 12: This week’s teaching tips were inspired by a resource created as part of the CST Communication in the Classroom Series for our online On-Demand Teaching Support. We are delighted to share some of the insights from the research done by these developing instructors, so check out the other resources on the website. One of the resources focuses on public speaking anxiety and how to help students develop speaking skills in any course:

  • Low stakes and scaffolded. As with any learning outcome in which students may be afraid of failing – which is to say, all learning outcomes – practicing public speaking in a learning environment is intimidating. Luckily, the same tools that work to alleviate anxiety in other contexts can work for developing speaking skills, so work on building low stakes formative assessment and scaffolding into the process. Have students record themselves talking about a topic without an audience, or get them presenting information in front of one peer or a small group.
  • Start with something familiar. Lead with an activity that gets students talking about anything – the best meal they had this week, their favorite spot on campus, etc. – before working on speaking about course content. This activity also can be done with pairs or small groups. It may be helpful to have students share responses first, and then have students share another student’s story, instead of their own, in a larger, public speaking context. This twist can both encourage active listening and help reduce initial anxiety about presenting a topic.
  • Combine movement with speaking. Get students out of their own heads and moving around. You may think this only works for warmup in a drama class, but the energy that comes with moving around can remedy a multitude of concerns in the learning environment. I have seen this work to great effect for whole class sessions in course role-playing games, but it can also be employed in smaller doses as well. Get them up and moving, then you may find that they are better disposed to work toward learning outcomes related to speaking.

Thanks to Sarah Britt for the research and inspiration for today’s topic. Check out more tips in Sarah’s resource, or others like these, in the CST Communication in the Classroom Series in our On-Demand Teaching Support section of our website. Some of the contributors to that series will also be at the EDI Dialogue Panel on diverse classrooms this Friday, the 26th, so consider joining us then as well!

Week 11: In this week’s teaching tips, we pull a set of tips from one of our Faculty Literary Circle books, James Lang’s On Course, which has tips for a variety of issues that face new faculty. In the past, we’ve received questions about the average amount of prep time is for teaching in your first year, but some of the tips in Lang’s book can apply to anyone thinking about strategies for managing the class prep time:

  • Active waiting and preliminary notes. Robert Boice uses the term active waiting to identify three elements of preparing for any individual session – preliminary notes, planning before perfecting, and taking advantage of short, occassional planning time. All three of these reminders emphasize that planning does not happen in one fell swoop, so having a set document in which you will record small, spur-of-the-moment notes about a particular course is a great way to plan in the spaces between. A seemingly insignificant thought at the end of your Friday may blossom when you have another 20 minutes to sit down on the next Wednesday, so pick a method for those small preliminary notes that works for you.
  • Planning before perfecting. Resist the urge to have a complete background of sources on a given topic before you plan on how to present the key ideas to a class. This reminder becomes even more pertinent when you are less comfortable with the particular content. The temptation is to read and read, but it can be immensely helpful to think about a topic through the lens of the constraints of one or two class sessions. You will run into far greater constraints on your ability to help students to learn effectively than needing an exhaustive grasp on the literature.
  • Short, occasional planning time. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, abandon the search for a mythical block of time in which sitting down and grinding out a plan for a class session will seem like the perfect solution for filling that time – it will rarely come! Start early to give yourself more lead-in time, but do so with an awareness that plans will come in small bursts to which you will want to attend. Not only will this help to avoid a last-minute scramble to prepare, but it also allows for rich illustrations or practical examples to emerge over the course of everyday life.

For more on helpful tips for new faculty (or for some new ideas for any faculty), check out the On-demand Teaching Support section of our website, which has some new resources in a new tip series provided by instructors from CST 105. We will be offering a literary circle for James Lang’s On Course in the spring, but you can check out a copy from our SoTL library at 1100 W Market St in the meantime.

Week 10: In today’s teaching tips, we look at one of the most common tools for classroom assessment techniques – polling and response systems. Often just referred to as “clickers,” this tool can be a great way of keeping students engaged in a class session, especially for large enrollment courses, while also getting a quick sense of how well they are understanding the course content. Here are a couple tips for getting more variety out of clickers:

  • Beyond recall for higher-order thinking. Quick polls work great for testing recall, so it’s no wonder that this is a popular way of using the technology. However, polling can just as easily be used to ask questions that engage with practical applications, critical thinking, or encourage metacognitive reflection on learning. If it’s something you want to assess, then there is probably a way to approach that goal through a response system, and there are plenty of creative ideas out there.
  • Try questions without one right answer. Again, sometimes it is important to check for understanding, but response systems can be a great way to start discussions for course content in which there might not be one right answer. Try a “choose the best answer” question and then transition into an activity in which students talk with a neighbor about the different arguments for and against different answers.
  • Find time for a variety of goals. If you find that you mostly use clickers to check attendance, or that you only use response systems for in-class quizzes, then try to think about other ways to integrate the technology into your lesson plans. Design warm-up polls to make use of the beginning of class, or use clickers to solicit mid-term student feedback. There are lots of options, so consider using the resource below – or the many others like it online – for some ideas. There’s even an idea for a “Choose Your Own Adventure” classroom game.

For more on this, or for a longer list of ideas, you can visit this resource from Vanderbilt University. For more on the nuts and bolts of implementing a classroom response polling system, consider joining us on Monday, Oct 22 at 11 am for a demo session with ITS Learning Technology on Polling & Response Systems.

Week 9: In this week’s teaching tips, we pull a set of tips from one of our Faculty Literary Circle books, James Lang’s On Course, which has tips for a variety of issues that face new faculty. In the past, we’ve received questions about the average amount of prep time is for teaching in your first year, but some of the tips in Lang’s book can apply to anyone thinking about strategies for managing the class prep time:

  • Active waiting and preliminary notes. Robert Boice uses the term active waiting to identify three elements of preparing for any individual session – preliminary notes, planning before perfecting, and taking advantage of short, occassional planning time. All three of these reminders emphasize that planning does not happen in one fell swoop, so having a set document in which you will record small, spur-of-the-moment notes about a particular course is a great way to plan in the spaces between. A seemingly insignificant thought at the end of your Friday may blossom when you have another 20 minutes to sit down on the next Wednesday, so pick a method for those small preliminary notes that works for you.
  • Planning before perfecting. Resist the urge to have a complete background of sources on a given topic before you plan on how to present the key ideas to a class. This reminder becomes even more pertinent when you are less comfortable with the particular content. The temptation is to read and read, but it can be immensely helpful to think about a topic through the lens of the constraints of one or two class sessions. You will run into far greater constraints on your ability to help students to learn effectively than needing an exhaustive grasp on the literature.
  • Short, occasional planning time. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, abandon the search for a mythical block of time in which sitting down and grinding out a plan for a class session will seem like the perfect solution for filling that time – it will rarely come! Start early to give yourself more lead-in time, but do so with an awareness that plans will come in small bursts to which you will want to attend. Not only will this help to avoid a last-minute scramble to prepare, but it also allows for rich illustrations or practical examples to emerge over the course of everyday life.

For more on helpful tips for new faculty (or for some new ideas for any faculty), check out the On-demand Teaching Support section of our website, which has some new resources in a new tip series provided by instructors from CST 105. We will be offering a literary circle for James Lang’s On Course in the spring, but you can check out a copy from our SoTL library at 1100 W Market St in the meantime.

Week 8: In today’s teaching tips, we think about how telling stories can be an important part of encouraging engagement through active listening while lecturing. Research on the observed connection between emotional engagement in stories and learning posits a variety of possible explanations for the benefits of storytelling in the classroom, including the idea that stories promote high cognitive engagement, even when the body is passive. Here are a few tips for using storytelling in your courses:

  • Plan for the broadest impact. Storytelling is an important part of effective lecturing. They are often some of the most enduringly memorable parts of a learning experience. However, we also need to be attentive to the diverse group of students with whom we work when deciding on effective stories. My favorite college basketball example might work great for some students, but could be meaningless or alienating to other students. You will never have the perfect story for all students, but a reflective strategy for your use of stories in a lesson can significantly increase the impact.
  • Presentation matters. Great storytelling is about more than just the details of the story. Movement, dramatic pauses, visual aids, inflection and character voices can all contribute to the emotional – and, thus, pedagogical – impact of a story. This doesn’t mean that you need to go practice in community theater before you are ready for the big time in front of your class, but it is important to remember that effective storytelling is a skill that you can practice and develop.
  • Check for understanding. Regardless of how well you do with presentation, it is always a good idea to check for understanding with a small formative assessment. Of course, this practice will be beneficial no matter how you present course material, but a quick check-in question about the importance of your story for the course content, given ten minutes or so after your story, can be a great test of how well storytelling is enhancing student engagement in your lectures.

For more on this, you might check out a copy of Dynamic Lecturing, which you can find alongside many other great options in our SoTL library at 1100 W Market St. If discussions are more your style, then we have great options for that instead with the most recent episode of our “__ On College” video series on dealing with unexpected moments in the classroom!

Week 7: The third episode of the T’n T podcast is out now with a discussion of student mental health in relation to diversity, student learning, and student success at UNCG. We mentioned the power of pronouns last week, and that comes up again in the podcast episode, but here are some more tips related to how students see themselves in course content (and how they may not):

  • Representation in content. Sometimes issues of student engagement are related to how well students can see themselves engaging in the type of work that the discipline demands. In addition to other aspects of classroom climate, consider how your course content – readings, examples, etc. – may or may not be inclusive of student experiences. For example, a biology class that only mentions male biologists or a literature class that only includes literature by Caucasian writers can be interpreted as a statement about who belongs – and does not belong – in the field. For students developing their sense of identity, purpose, and competence, these subtle, unintended messages can influence their motivation to engage with the material or continue in the field.
  • Acknowledge the state of the discipline. You may address this issue by finding other readings and examples that promote an inclusive environment, but you can also simply acknowledge, and critically examine, the historical development of your field. The primary and secondary literature for a course may not be particularly diverse, but that material can still allow for a discussion of why that is. Not only can this help to promote inclusivity, but it also demonstrates to our students that our disciplines are vital and changing enterprises, which can spark interest and promote engagement.

Check out the newest episode of the Teach’n Tips podcast for more reflections on these issues, or read about more possible issues and solutions like these on Carnegie Mellon’s Solve a Teaching Problem page on how students respond to course content.

Week 6: Today, we hosted our second VOISES panel (see below). These panels give faculty the chance to hear about the experiences of students who identify with marginalized groups. Today’s panel embraces first generation student experiences, but here are a couple general insights that emerged from our panel on LGBTQ+ students.

As you think ahead to your fall semester syllabi, here is a quick tip on using your syllabus to help students practice retrieval of key concepts.

  • Pronouns matter. The dominant theme from the first panel was just how much care is communicated to students when they see their faculty recognize the importance of pronouns in their email signatures and at the start of the semester. What may seem like a small gesture to us can communicate much more to students, especially those who identify as transgender or gender non-binary. Here is a link to a UNCG resource that you can include in your email signature about the importance of pronouns. The students made it clear that this is the biggest little gesture you can make.
  • Inclusive practices reverberate. Students consistently identified current students and their accounts of experiences with diversity and inclusivity at UNCG as essential to their decision to join the UNCG community. Positive inclusive experiences that benefit one student are being communicated to a range of current and future students.

Week 5: Today, we welcome Sarah Rose Cavanagh to UNCG for a talk and workshop based on her book, The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion. To whet your appetite, here is one of my favorite reminders from the implementation practices that she recommends on conveying interest and optimism towards students and course material:

As you think ahead to your fall semester syllabi, here is a quick tip on using your syllabus to help students practice retrieval of key concepts.

  • Interest and Optimism from Immediacy. Related to being mindfully in the moment and connected with your students, immediacy pertains to behaviors that are both spoken and unspoken and convey to students that you are interested in them, the material, and the process of learning. Although we may often think of these things as natural, it can be helpful to focus intentionally on how our verbal and nonverbal behaviors demonstrate immediacy.
  • Nonverbal immediacy. Eye contact, leaning forward, smiling, a relaxed posture, use of gestures, a variety of vocal tones, and movement around the classroom – all of these things contribute to a sense of immediacy. It would be overwhelming to try and examine all of these behaviors, but try to isolate one or two at a time. Think about what behaviors you notice when someone is presenting at a conference, for example, that convey interest and optimism, and try to intentionally embody those behaviors in your classrooms.

Be sure to check out her book here for more information.

Week 4: This week, we consider a way to focus students’ attention on their own learning process through a simple strategy for metacognitive reflection.

As you think ahead to your fall semester syllabi, here is a quick tip on using your syllabus to help students practice retrieval of key concepts.

  • Know/Don’t Know/Will Do Charts. Using three simple columns, students reflect on what they know about a topic, what they don’t know yet about a topic, and what they will do to improve their understanding. This exercise can be done at the end of a class session, a unit of content, or other milestones during the semester. Also note that this need not be about memory and recall. Your students’ “Don’t Know” column could all be about higher order learning domains like application and creation as well.
  • Intervention in the “What I Will Do” While this exercise is primarily about the value of metacognitive practices for the learners, it can also be a helpful guide for the instructor. If you collect these charts, you can get a quick assessment of where students feel like they are in their learning, but you can also attend to what students plan to do to learn more. Use this opportunity to help direct students to best practices for reviewing and improving on existing knowledge. Bonus points if you can (anonymously) highlight particular students’ “What I Will Do” strategies as strong examples for the class!

For more, you might look at this detailed guide from Vanderbilt for thinking about the role of metacognition in student learning. It contains references to several resources and studies about the value of metacognition.

Week 3: While we are in the thick of the dog days of summer, here is a reminder of what we have to look forward to when things ramp up again in August.

As you think ahead to your fall semester syllabi, here is a quick tip on using your syllabus to help students practice retrieval of key concepts.

  • Syllabus as retrieval tool. The syllabus may have a variety of meanings for our students, but you can help shape the perception that the syllabus can be a valuable tool to help students study and practice retrieval of foundational knowledge for your discipline. If you find that your syllabus only makes an appearance on the first day of class, then consider using it at the beginning or end of class sessions to promote reflective retrieval practice.
  • Promote regular exercise of retrieval. You can return to the syllabus throughout the semester by regularly ending (or beginning) class sessions with a brief exercise in which you point to an earlier date and ask students to write down key concepts or skills that they learned in that session. You might collect those written thoughts as an “exit slip” for you to review to assess your students’ comfort with the material, or you might use them as part of an informal closing discussion for the day. Either way, this small exercise can help with both study skills and awareness of the syllabus.

If you want to review more tips for retrieval practice, you might check out James Lang’s Small Teaching in our SoTL Library at our 1100 W Market St office.

Week 2: We start the semester with some thoughts about student motivation, perception of the value of learning, and how we communicate value throughout the semester. The following exercise idea comes from a colleague at Temple University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching:

    • Communicating the value of your course. Imagine a student can choose between your course and another course to fulfill a requirement. Using only a discussion about the value of the course, convince this student to take your class. Try writing down your argument. Think about how course content connects to student interests, the skills students will learn, the habits of mind they will develop. Then, build this imagined discussion of value into this first week of class.

Communicate value day one and beyond. Don’t let the benefits of this reflective exercise end with the first week of class. You may start communicating that value on day one through your syllabus, but also find ways to return to it throughout the semester. You may see your students’ motivation increase as they make clear connections in their learning.

For more, you might look at this guide from Carnegie Mellon to help you with some key strategies for approaching student motivation and engagement.

Week 1: As we conclude our series of UTLC Summer Institutes this week with our Course Design Incubator, we look at a couple key dimensions of learner-centered design:

  • The Role of the Instructor. The designation of “guide on the side” is old hat at this point, but it bears repeating that the role of the instructor is to present the students with the tools and the direction that they need to take control of their own learning. The primary role of the instructor in a learner-centered design model is not access to content knowledge, but rather the instructor assists the learner in developing the necessary foundations for applying their understanding beyond the scope of any given semester. This role of the instructor relies on beginning with a clear sense of the learning outcomes in mind, which may open up the possibility for radically different (and fun!) forms of instruction.
  • The Responsibility for Learning. An emphasis on the responsibility of the learner for the learning process goes hand-in-hand with the changing role of the instructor in learner-centered design. This shift in the responsibility for the labor of learning will likely meet with resistance, especially when compared to familiar forms of memorization-based learning from primary and secondary education. Part of that resistance is simply a result of the fact that learning is a challenge. Try to find ways to recognize the challenging qualities of the learning process in your preparations and course design – even something as simple as speaking in terms of a growth mindset, as in Carol Dweck’s work, with respect to learning.

You can read more about the dimensions of learner-centered design in Developing Learner-Centered Teaching by Phyllis Blumberg, which can be found in our SoTL Library at 1100 W Market St. Best of luck for a happy and productive summer!

Click here to view past tips from the 2017-2018 Academic Year

Week 29: Dr. Karen Vignare, Executive Director of the Personalized Learning Consortium at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, gave an open talk on adaptive learning practices and software. In that spirit, these tips present “3 E’s” as basic questions for assessing whether a technological solution is a good fit for your course (leaving aside the question of cost, for now).

  • Enabling. Does the technology enable new opportunities for enhancing student learning that would otherwise be impossible or very difficult? If you could not do it without the technology, and it is important for student learning, then technology might be a no-brainer.
  • Effective. Does the technology help address specific learning outcomes more effectively? Whether it saves time or provides new paths to better learning outcomes, technology should always be clearly linked to improvements in student learning outcomes.
  • Enduring. Does the technology help develop skills for life in a digital world? Not every technology solution should be the next “Proficient with Excel” on a student’s resume, but consider whether your course engagement with technology can have a lasting impact on a student’s life in an increasingly virtually-connected world.

Week 28: As we move into April and the feeling settles in that everyone would rather be somewhere else, we share a mnemonic for improving the likelihood of getting students to prepare for class.

The mnemonic is RAISE:

Reason. – Have a good reason for them to prepare, which means class time cannot just review the prepared material. If students think that you will give them what they need in class, then they will not prepare.

Accountability. – One way to emphasize the “reason” is to hold them accountable for their preparation, whether ungraded or graded. Accountability could mean ungraded pre-testing to get a sense of how well students are understanding the material, in-class quizzing for a grade, or more specific in-class activities that make use of prepared material.

Interaction. – Many of the best in-class activities take student preparation and encourage students to engage with the material together during class time. One good example would be to have students prepare to work through case studies during your class sessions.

Student-facing. – It can be helpful to remind ourselves occasionally that our favorite material is often targeted at experts. As much as possible, we should try to choose readings and other preparatory material that limits jargon (or spend some time to clarify the jargon in advance).

Efficient. – Given competing demands on time, students are more likely to prepare if they feel like their efforts will be efficient. Sometimes inefficiencies are unavoidable or desirable, but then you need to focus more on emphasizing the Reason or the Interaction to increase preparation.

Students are more likely to come prepared if you attend to these five conditions. It is not a panacea, but RAISE can be a good heuristic for putting ourselves in the position of the learners in order to reflect on their motivation to prepare for class.

Week 27: The end of the semester is rapidly approaching, so this week we will look at strategies for dealing with the horror that is grading. These tips look at both saving time and communicating effectively in grading.

  • Rubrics in Canvas. Rubrics are a great way to communicate your expectations in advance as part of your assessment. Rubric categories highlight for students what you will attend to as you grade. If you haven’t tried them already, rubrics work nicely with Canvas’ SpeedGrader function. Here is a link to the recent webinar from UNCG Libraries and the UTLC on creating rubrics. You can also check out the On Demand Teaching Support on our website or schedule a consultation with us for examples of best practices in using rubrics for grading.
  • Copy/Paste Macros as Digital Shortcuts. If you find yourself giving the same feedback over and over – and if you grade digital copies of assignments – then you might consider using “macros” for repeating those common comments. In its most basic form, you can simply create a “common feedback” document from which you can copy/paste those regular comments into Canvas.If you are looking for an advanced version of this, Google Docs has a tool called “Automatic Substitution,” which allows for you to replace shorthand expressions with full phrases. For example, you might set a macro to replace “ref1” with “You need to cite your source for such a claim,” or one that replaces “type2” with “Be careful of the implications of a type II error here.” You can find this tool under Tools > Preferences…You can save yourself grading time with these new ways to repeat yourself!
  • Audio Feedback. If you can articulate your comments faster than you can write or type, then consider attaching audio feedback for your grading. This strategy may not work for all types of assignments, but in cases for which it is appropriate, it can both save time and add a personal touch to feedback. Canvas allows you to upload files as part of your comments in SpeedGrader.

You can read more in depth ideas from this article at The Chronicle of Higher Education, or consider scheduling a consultation with us.

Week 26: Whether it is the aftermath of Spring Break or the snowfall in March, we may all find ourselves in need of some refocusing and thawing out of our brains. In today’s tips, we look at some tips for approaches to making use of reviewing material in class.

  • Metacognitive Reflection on Review Strategies. We know what study strategies worked best for us – and it is helpful to teach those strategies to your students explicitly – but it can also be helpful to encourage students to reflect on their own practices when it comes to studying and reviewing material. The week after a break can be a good time to ask students to engage in metacognitive practices related to their study habits.
  • Model Review Strategies as a Regular Practice. It may sound trite, but even your best students will benefit from some time to review previous material. Of course, this is something they should be doing on their own, but you can model good habits through small, regular in-class review activities.
  • Crowdsourcing Review Lists. If you are looking for a specific strategy, try asking students to make a list from one to ten (or choose any number) on a sheet of paper. Then, have them write something that they recall from an earlier class session next to “1.” After a reasonable amount of time, ask students to pass their lists in one direction and write something different from “1.” under “2.” Keep going until the list is filled. Students will now have a list of review points (of varying quality) to take with them, and it is a good way to start class by looking back to important material.

You can read more about strategic studying through metacognition in this story about a study out of Stanford. There are a few more specific strategies in this article from Faculty Focus, or consider scheduling a consultation with someone at the UTLC for a more personalized approach to your goals!

Week 25: As we move into Spring Break, we make a timely return to a familiar practice. Just as it is better to avoid focusing the assessment of your students on a high-stakes final assignment, it can also be helpful to solicit feedback from them before the end of the semester. To that end, let’s look at the practice of gathering mid-term student feedback.

  • Targeted Assessment. Have a goal in mind when you decide to collect feedback. Are you trying a new classroom engagement strategy and want to know whether students find it helpful? Did you reorganize your course material and want to see if students are able to follow the flow of the course? Although mid-term student feedback could helpfully mirror the course evaluation process, if that is appropriate for your context, student feedback need not be copies of course evaluations.
  • Responsibility of the Learner. Mid-term student feedback is an excellent place to encourage some reflective self-assessment for your students. You communicate that you care about their learning, but also emphasize that learning takes work on the part of the student. If you ask What parts of the lectures do you find most helpful for your learning? then you might pair that with What is the most effective strategy that you use to be prepared to actively engage in lecture?
  • Signs of Attention. If you are going to ask, then you should also be prepared to reflect on student feedback and communicate insights from the feedback. As you review feedback, think about clearly visible ways that you can demonstrate attention to feedback in your upcoming classes. The more that you can show students that you are considering their thoughts, the more good will you generate for the rest of the semester.

There are a variety of strategies for collecting mid-term student feedback, depending on what your goals are. If you want specific strategies, you might try some of the ideas on this page from Northeastern University, or consider scheduling a consultation with someone at the UTLC for a more personalized approach to your goals!

Week 24: In case you missed it, the world is in the middle of celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter. This week, Teaching Tips reflects on the endearing know-it-all, Hermione Granger, by looking at strategies for when one student seems to have every answer in a classroom.

  • Passing permission. Whether it’s a foam ball, a goofy hat, or the good ol’ fashion conch shell, you may find it useful to use a physical “permission” pass that students must have in their possession to speak. You may find this infantilizing, depending on the context of your course and how you present the restriction, but it can be a light-hearted way to emphasize the importance of giving others the space to speak in a learning environment. It also empowers students to take control of the discussion as they pass the object to their peers.
  • Active listening activities. You can promote active listening in the structure of some of your in-class activities. For example, if you use Think-Pair-Share activities, you can establish a rule that students can only share something insightful that their colleagues shared with them, instead of reporting back their own thoughts. This article from BYU’s Center for Teaching and Learning describes rules for small group discussions that encourage this type of listening.
  • Outside channels. Sometimes the direct conversation can be the best remedy, so you may need to speak with the enthusiastic student after class or in office hours.  However, you should endeavor to begin any such conversation with an appreciation of a student’s preparation and engagement before explaining the importance of giving other students the space to formulate their own responses.

You may not have the issue of an overenthusiastic student at all, so the Teaching Tips will look other types of classroom issues in the future. In the meantime, you can learn strategies for a different type of classroom management issue this Friday at the UNCG Cares Training on students in distress. (See below for more info.)

Week 23: We are using the occasion of Valentine’s Day to take a break from thinking about pedagogy and, instead, to offer a pause and a reflection on some tips aimed at helping your teaching as well as the rest of your well-being. Today’s tips focus on the topic of self-care in academia:

  1. Identify what you need, then how to meet that need. There is no “one-size-fits-all” self-care plan, but there is a common thread to all self-care plans: making a commitment to attend to all the domains of your life, including your physical and psychological health, emotional and spiritual needs, and relationships. It is important to identify practices that contribute to your well-being. It is equally important to identify obstacles that can prevent you from engage in those practices regularly, and to plan strategies for addressing and overcoming those obstacles.
  2. Rely on your core productivity habits. Morning meditation? Afternoon exercise? Evening e-mail embargo? Daily writing session? Weekly social engagement? Habits can be important healing practices, catalysts for productivity, and sources of strength for helping others. As we attend to the demands from teaching, research, service (and the pressures not marked on an academic CV), it is important to fortify the plans for accountability and support systems that care for the things that best care for us.
  3. Chocolate demonstrates significant antioxidant activity. I mean, who can argue with an article that’s been cited over 160 times, right? We could all use the help of some delicious antioxidants this week!

If you are interested in resources for self-care, the University of Buffalo has a comprehensive site on strategies for assessing, planning for, and tending to self-care needs. You might also enjoy this article from Inside Higher Ed about the need for self-care in today’s political climate, which provided some of the ideas for today’s tips.

Week 22: Today we take a look at important components for getting the most out of student learning outcomes (SLOs). As we get more precise with our student learning outcomes, we may find that they become many times more useful to our students as guides for their learning experience.

  1. Get Back to the Action Verbs. It can sometimes be easy to fall into the trap of saying that the student “will demonstrate” every learning outcome in a course – I’ve certainly used that phrasing multiple times. Instead, try to be more precise while using action verbs to give the students a clearer sense of what they will be expected to do to demonstrate their learning. The tried-and-true resource here is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, if you are looking for ideas.
  2. Measures. It is important to make explicit the link between the methods of assessment and the observed evidence of learning on the part of the students. Ideally, the SLOs will specify a measurable behavior that results from the action verb. SLOs framed in this way can help students follow the connection between the learning outcomes and the assignments that you use to assess their learning.
  3. Better Yet, Multiple Measures! Try to identify more than one method for assessment for an SLO whenever possible. An SLO that allows for multiple methods of assessment can help to value the many ways that students learn and provide the opportunity to demonstrate learning in different ways.

Week 21: Asking the right questions for an active discussion

Not saying this happened to me recently, but sometimes you just cannot seem to get students engaged with a discussion in the way that you thought they would. We know that some form of discussion can have a significant impact on helping learners process new information, so how can we better facilitate that in our classes? Sometimes it can be an issue of how well students read and prepare for class, but sometimes it is about asking the right questions for an active discussion.

  1. Exploration, not Recollection. Discussions work best when you are trying to help students recognize the complexity of a topic. Asking questions centered around fact-based, right-or-wrong answers can induce anxiety in the class that leads to paralysis. Other strategies, such as anonymous polling classroom response systems (“clickers”), are better methods for tracking comprehension. Try approaching discussion material by asking students to apply their understanding to a particular context, or to compare across topics or contexts.
  2. Break it down. Sometimes the questions that we ask to prompt discussions can seem much more daunting to students than we intend, which again can lead to paralysis. It can be a good practice to break discussion questions down into smaller sub-questions. These will be discipline-specific, but you can always start with broadly applicable questions like “what is the problem here?” or “what tools do we have for understanding this problem?”
  3. Silence. It has been said many times before – but it bears repeating – that silence is not a bad thing in discussions. It may be an indication of undesirable anxiety, but it may also be students taking time to think about a problem. You may even want to indicate to your students how valuable silence is by saying “I’m going to give you a little more time to think about it” after the first, most enthusiastic hands are raised.

Week 20: Although UNCG serves a broad range of ages in our student population, many of us are worried – or frustrated, or any number of other troubled emotions – about how to teach in a context that seems to be defined by the term “millennial.” Today, we add a few thoughts to the conversation about “teaching millennials.”

  1. Millennials are not monolithic. Many strategies for teaching in today’s environment emphasize the need to communicate with millennials on their terms. While it is absolutely important to adopt the perspective of the learner when designing and leading your course, it is an error to assume that a particular group of students will all respond to a course in the same way. It is as important as it has ever been to vary the opportunities for learning and demonstrating learning in the classroom.
  2. iAmDistracted. Many of the issues under the umbrella of “teaching millennials” relate to the devices that open the digital social world to students while they are in class. Banning technology altogether may be ineffective or detrimental to students who need assistive technology for learning. Instead, consider finding ways to bring students around to adopting positive approaches to learning with technology.
  3. Tech-onstitution. Effective strategies for encouraging positive approaches to learning with technology will depend somewhat on class size, but one popular strategy is to enlist students as soon as possible in writing some guidelines for what class engagement looks like – a “class constitution.” You need not limit this to technology-related behavior, but it is a good place to start a class conversation about what a positive approach to learning looks like in that course. Of course, you may need to guide the conversation more if the importance of Netflix and ESPN become topics of conversation!

If you are interested in reading more, especially about the literature on the neuroscience around these issues, make sure to check out this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Week 19: This week, we look at the benefits of low-stakes writing.

  1. Writing Stretches. You stretch before you exercise – or, at least you used to… maybe you stretch in the middle now? I’m not sure, but this isn’t the HealthyUNCG Newsletter. Low-stakes writing can be like stretching. It should not be the main activity, but it helps your students perform better when it comes to the heavy lifting. Try giving your students a low-stakes writing prompt to get things started in an upcoming class.
  2. Following the STEM. Low-stakes writing may seem like a humanities-centric practice, but try asking your STEM students to write out the steps (or, better yet, craft a narrative story) of the journey that their brains took to work through a problem in your course. This type of activity offers a change of pace to keep students engaged, but it also promotes meta-cognitive reflection on learning.
  3. Grade it? Read it? Just Do It! Use of low-stakes writing is not meant to be a burden on students or faculty. We need not assess the writing for it to be beneficial, since many of the benefits are based on keeping students engaged and thinking about their learning. You can look at a few examples for each activity, or you could have students share with each other in-class.

For more tips like this, you might check out McKeachie’s Teaching Tips in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning library in our new office space at 1100 W Market St, Suite 100F! There is plenty of “A” Lot parking, space for meeting or quiet working, and all the snacks and coffee you could want!

Week 18: Last week’s Teaching Tips emphasized the benefits of promoting a growth mindset from the outset of a course, and this week the Newsletter highlights an opportunity for STEM faculty to participate in a Faculty Incubator focused on a framework for doing precisely that. Check out the Call for Participation at the end of today’s Newsletter!

This week we tackle the daunting task of learning students’ names. We know that it can have a significant impact on classroom climate and student success, as it reinforces the critically important faculty-student interactions, but it also can be difficult to achieve alongside the other demands at the start of the semester. Here are a few strategies that might help:

  1. Name Tents Make Sense. Sometimes the simplest solutions just work, and, if your class is small enough, having them make name tents out of notecards folded in half for the first couple of weeks is all it takes for the instructor to get the names down. It has the added bonus of helping the students address one another as human beings, instead of as anonymous fellow prisoners!
  2. Take Small Bites. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” Sometimes all you can do is make a good faith effort, especially in large classes, so focus on nailing down a few names just before each class. It will give you a foundation upon which to build while showing the class that you care about them as individuals.
  3. Get to Know the Canvas ID Photo Roster. Many strategies include the use of photos, including the now-ancient-seeming use of a Polaroid camera to make photo flash cards with names on the back, but Canvas (with the help of Banner) provides a helpful ID Photo Roster that makes a significant difference when trying to learn names by brute force!

Consider more strategies out of these resources from Carnegie Mellon, University of Nebraska, and University of Virginia in order to find something that works best for your classroom.

Week 17: We start off the semester with a couple tips aimed at things an instructor can do starting from the first day of class to maximize the opportunity for success for all students in the classroom. Our initial communication with students can do a lot to foster inclusion from day one.

  1. Promote a Growth Mindset. Too often our students learn to approach their coursework with the mindset that all mistakes are bad and reflect poorly on them as individuals. It can make a big difference to start the semester by acknowledging that learning is a process through which we all progress, and not a determination of innate abilities. It is even better if you can design opportunities to demonstrate lessons learned from mistakes into your assessment for the course.
  2. Beware the Hidden Curriculum and Assumptions about “Studenting” Skills. As instructors, it can be easy to overlook the things about being a student that seemingly came so naturally to us – the skills of being a student – but many students arrive without experience in contexts that developed core skills for success in higher education. As much as possible, try to note norms and best practices in your syllabi and early classroom conversations. If it makes sense for your course, try to acknowledge and reward the demonstration of successful strategies as early as possible.

There is no shortage of resources online about how we can foster an inclusive classroom, such as this article from Wash U or this blog post from Saint Louis University. But not all good advice for inclusive classrooms comes out of St. Louis, so let us know if you have any favorite resources that you want to share with your colleagues, or if you have concrete strategies that you employ in your classrooms. The UTLC is overhauling its website, including space to recognize some of the exceptional teaching that our faculty are doing right now!

Week 16: All good things must come to an end. It has been a good semester for us at the UTLC, and we hope the same is true for you. Nevertheless, this time of year is a good opportunity to take stock of what went well, and what we want to improve on, with respect to our teaching, research, service, and the other aspects of our academic lives. Here are a few tips for making the most out of reflecting on your semester, especially if you are wrapping up a course that you anticipate teaching again in the near future:

  1. If at first you don’t succeed… Nothing goes exactly as you planned – whether this was the first iteration of a course or the hundred-and-twenty-fifth – and now is the time to make notes of things to remember for future versions of the course. Was there an assignment that did not quite align with your learning outcomes? Maybe there was a discussion topic that did not resonate in the same way that it has with students in the past. Course design is an iterative process, and that process will be more fruitful if you have timely notes about what you might want to change. When you finally get a moment away from all of the other demands on your time to return to thinking about design, you will have an easier time with identifying how to make the next version of the course even better.
  2. Thinking about your portfolio. It is always worth thinking about how a teaching portfolio might help you as you move through your career. Did anything that you did this semester produce exceptional artifacts of your teaching practices? How might you document the effort that you put into your teaching and the effect that effort has on student learning? Whether you are a graduate student thinking about the job market for the first time, a lecturer looking to document teaching experience, or someone thinking about promotion and tenure, you may benefit from taking this time to choose some clear examples of your teaching from this semester and jot down a sentence or two about why each example is important to you.

There are many great resources online for developing a teaching portfolio, like this one from the University of Texas. If you have questions about iterative course design or teaching portfolios, as always, you can make an appointment with the UTLC in order to discuss what options might work best for you and your situation.

Week 15: Is it that time already?! As the semester draws to a close, we take a moment to reflect on the time at the end of every class session. Even on our best days, we are unlikely to be so engaging that students forget about their next commitments, and our students have many demands on their time. However, that does not mean resigning ourselves to giving up the end of class as time for early packing up. Here are some tips for maintaining focus at the end of a class period:

  1. Express a clear policy of respecting one another’s time. You, as the instructor, will not keep them past the end of the class period. They, as students, will not “check out” early. If you have an attendance policy in your syllabus, you can directly link this respect for time into the conditions for being present in class, but it is important to have clear expectations no matter how you communicate them.
  2. Be explicit about sticking to that policy. This will likely mean being flexible enough to give up on some material that you hoped to cover, but emphasize your commitment to make the most of your time in class while being respectful of everyone’s time. Your transparent buy-in will help to support their buy-in.
  3. Give them something to do. The urge to move on mentally to the next thing on the schedule can occur more readily if the student is receiving a summary of the day’s topics passively, so try to build interactivity and engagement even into those last minutes of class. This activity may take the form of overall reflection on learning, or metacognition, or it might be targeted at a particular learning outcome. The more regularly your students are engaged in the last minutes of class, the less likely they are to succumb to the desire to pack up early.

Articles like this one from The Chronicle of Higher Education have sample activities for promoting reflective activity at the end of class. As always, you can make an appointment with the UTLC in order to discuss what options might work best for you and your classrooms.

Week 14: Here are some thoughts about how online discussion boards can fit into your course design in today’s tips.

  1. Always Be Opening. Alec Baldwin would not approve of this one, but it is a better way to craft your participation in the discussion board for your course. It is great to be a regular presence in your discussion boards, but you want your posts to prompt more discussion, not shut it down. Try to avoid answering questions outright. Instead, frame your responses in a way that invites the students to contribute.
  2. Will this be on the test? It can be beneficial to indicate to students that you will pull test questions from thoughtful discussion board posts. Although this method is unlikely to inspire an intrinsic motivation for discussing the course material, it is a surefire way to increase the attention given to your discussion boards. Of course, you will need to follow through on this claim when it comes time for assessment!

Please consider the course opportunity below, Online Learning Level One, if you are considering teaching online for the first time, or if you are looking to rework an existing online course. For more ideas, you might consider this resource from Elon.

Week 13: After the Halloween sugar rush comes the crash, and since we cannot make a policy of handing out energy drinks to our students, here are some ideas for injecting a bit more active learning in your classroom to fight the late-semester crash and improve learning outcomes. Active learning activities can be a great way to explore new content or review from previous sessions.

  1. Trick or Tweet. In this activity – a variation of the “speed dating” active learning activity – students compose “tweet”-length summaries of topics, concepts, paper/project ideas, etc. about which you want them to think. Then, they rotate through short (~3 min) conversations with several of their peers about their tweets. The goal of the activity is to get feedback on understanding of the material or assignment ideas from many different sources, while also encouraging students to constantly get up and move. Make sure you have a plan in place for how this would physically work in your classroom setting!
  2. Think-Pair-SCARE! The most common way of getting students engaged in a class session is likely the “think-pair-share” model in which students reflect on a topic, talk with a partner, and then report back on their discussion to the class. It remains a great way to allow students to thoughtfully engage with their peers, while also ensuring that the instructor can clarify or synthesize student understanding when groups report back in the “share” phase. However, why not use Halloween as an excuse to spice up the basic activity? Perhaps you want to incentivize the “share” phase with some leftover Halloween candy for thoughtful responses, or maybe you want to use the activity to have students reflect on what course material has scared them the most thus far.

Here is a guided list of similar activities from DePaul. For more on the relationship between our brains, engagement, and learning, consider joining us for today’s workshop with visiting facilitator, Todd Zakrajsek. For recent research on the positive effects of active learning in STEM courses, we recommend this meta-analysis in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Week 12: At our previous High-Impact Practices Brown Bag Lunch, there was a lively exchange of ideas with members of the General Education Task Force and High-Impact Practices Committee focused on how to continue to improve general education at UNCG as the faculty Task Force reviews the General Education Program. Here are a couple reminders aimed at helping to alleviate potential frustration that students may have with required coursework by focusing on transparent communication.

  1. Why do I have to take this class? Teaching a General Education Core course can be rewarding and challenging for a number of reasons. Often, a GEC course is a great opportunity to introduce students who are outside of your majors to your discipline. However, this is often the challenge – students like to ask why they have to take this course? It is always helpful to start each semester explaining to your students how *this* course fits into the GEC curriculum, why GEC courses are important, and what the Student Learning Outcomes really mean. Students do not always see how the pieces fit together – so telling them explicitly why GEC is important to your course, and why it is important to UNCG, is key.
  2. Content *and* Skills. Another way to help students feel like their GEC courses are relevant to them is to focus part of your course activities and assessment explicitly on the development of skills that transcend disciplines – critical thinking, effective communication, engaging different perspectives, etc. It may be easier to get students on board if you specifically reward evidence of the cultivation of skills in your course. Helping students to see how learning the course content goes hand-in-hand with skill development can have a significant effect on students, and it re-emphasizes the enduring importance of these courses as students continue on as life-long learners.

Please consider joining us as at this morning’s Coffeehouse if you want to talk about the General Education Review or general education more broadly. Also, consider signing up for a session or three on Reading Day with Stephen Brookfield as a way of thinking about how to make small additions to your courses to meet the above goals and more!

Week 11: Sometimes instructors can be afraid of moments in the classroom, but these boogeymen are all in our heads. So, in preparation for Halloween, here are a couple tips for dealing with ghouls and ghosts that sometimes feel like they haunt the classroom.

  1. “It’s quiet… too quiet.” Sometimes we can be too quick to fill the silence in our own classrooms. Silence does not necessarily mean a lack of comprehension, and can be important for students as they wrestle with complicated ideas and concepts. If you find yourself wanting to fill the silence, try counting to ten in your head before proceeding.
  2. “What’s your favorite scary movie?” This one applies especially to new faculty and graduate student instructors. Expertise does not mean omniscience, and challenging questions can be a good way of teaching students about researching answers on their own. Try to feel comfortable saying: “That’s a great question. Would you mind seeing if you can find a good resource on that on Google Scholar or a scholarly database?” or “Did anyone else have a similar question with the reading? Did you find an answer?” This approach will not always fit, but similar approaches can turn challenging questions for which you do not have an answer on hand into opportunities for encouraging inquiry.

If there are other classroom creepies that go bump in the night for you, the UTLC is happy to help you find the silver bullet or clove of garlic to help keep those monsters away. Let us know what we can do to help!

Week 10:Today we look at Classroom Assessment Techniques as a strategy for gauging learning on the fly.

  1. Assessment as Learning Happens. Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are simple, low-stakes (usually non-graded and anonymous), in-class activities that are designed to give you and your students immediate feedback on the learning process. They can help an instructor be flexible in the classroom by indicating when students are struggling and in need of more time on a topic and when students are ready to forge ahead.
  2. Herding CATs. A couple common CATs are: 1) Muddiest Point, in which students have a couple minutes to briefly articulate a point of confusion in the lecture/reading/homework, and 2) Directed Paraphrasing, in which students attempt to summarize an important concept or argument in their own words such that someone who is not in the course might understand the point.

There are many resources for CATs online, like this one from Carnegie Mellon, and this one from George Washington, which have many more strategies and detailed descriptions. You can also schedule a consultation with the UTLC to get focused feedback on ideas you have for your particular courses.

Week 9: As we return from the break, we want to reflect on how to boost – or, if you have been doing exceptionally well already, maintain – attendance and motivation for the rest of the semester.

  1. First Five, Last Five. If you find the first five minutes of your class means “wander in” and the last five means “aggressively pack up your things,” then think about how to build engaging material into that part of your class time. Carrot and/or stick approaches might be useful to you here. If it works for you, try to begin and end your classes with interesting anecdotes and/or engaging activities, but you may also find that pop quizzes that sometimes appear at the beginning and sometimes appear at the end of class are a helpful tool.
  2. Avoid Slide-ing Motivation. We do not want to deny our students resources that may help them succeed in our courses, but posting slides after class can be a precarious practice. If providing slides on Canvas is pedagogically important to you, then design your slides in a way that encourages attendance. If your slides deliver the same content as your class session, then students are strongly discouraged from making the effort to be present. Incomplete, or mysterious, slides that promote student input, reflection, and annotation can be a good way to make your slides useful in class and after class.

For more on small changes that can have a big effect on attendance, motivation, and engagement, check out the “Small Changes in Teaching” series from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Week 8: As we roll into Fall Break, here are some reflections on the practice of mid-term student feedback for taking the pulse of your course. Midterm student feedback can help both students and instructors make sense of how the course is going with relatively little effort.

  1. Keep your survey short. Gathering feedback should not be a burden on either you or your students. You are looking for general trends, not detailed responses. One strategy for focused feedback is the “Keep Doing, Quit Doing, Start Doing” survey, which encourages students to identify only those things that stand out the most.
  2. What can I do? What can you do? Try to introduce some form of reflective self-assessment into your mid-term student feedback. These surveys can be a nice way of saying “I care about your success in this class, but you also should be reflecting on your own approach to this course.” Self-assessment is a good way to gently remind students of their own role in their success.
  3. Reward feedback while maintaining anonymity. Feedback works best when it is anonymous, so that students feel free to say what is on their mind, but it is best if you can incentivize feedback as well. One strategy is to give the whole class some small extra credit when a certain percentage – say 80% of the class – has completed their feedback.
  4. “I’m listening…” After you have had a look at the feedback, try to implement some small, but clearly visible, changes as soon as possible. Even the smallest effort can let students know that you are listening to their thoughts and concerns. It can make a big difference for how your students approach the second half of the semester.

If you want to learn more about mid-term student feedback, Michigan State University has compiled an extensive list of resources for implementation. Of course, if you are interested in more in-depth strategies for implementation, we also encourage you to reach out to the UTLC if you are interested in exploring these or similar strategies.

Week 7: Several upcoming and recent UTLC events focus on team-based and cooperative learning. Today’s teaching tips explore group quizzes as a strategy for reinforcing the collaborative nature of learning through your assessment.

  1. Two-Stage Quizzes. Group quizzing is somewhat of a misnomer, since the strategy often relies on first quizzing students individually first, then having students convene in groups to answer the same questions collaboratively. Students in each group must justify and convince the entire group to agree on a group response to the question that they just answered on their own. Instructors can vary the structure and incentives, such as the weighting of each version of the quiz, in order to meet desired goals, but this strategy transforms a standard form of assessment into a tool that emphasizes collaborative learning.
  2. Using Group Quizzes to Supplement Other Group Work. This assessment strategy works best when it builds on effective group learning strategies established in the rest of your course. Students will get the most out of their groups when your course emphasizes group work skills throughout. Group quizzes, in turn, help to reinforce other group work by giving students concrete evidence of the individual and group improvement that occurs by working together over time.
  3. The Pedagogical Value of Justification and Consensus-seeking. In addition to the emphasis on the collaborative nature of learning, group quizzes also can increase retention of course material by requiring students to justify the logic of their responses to other learners. In this way, students practice reflecting on their learning and effectively communicating their understanding with their peers as a part of their regular assessment.

If you want to learn more about group quizzes, check out this resource site from University of Iowa and studies such as this one in Advances in Physiology Education. If you are interested in more in-depth strategies for implementation, we also encourage you to reach out to the UTLC if you are interested in exploring these or similar strategies, or join us at an upcoming workshop.

Week 6: Today’s entry (re)introduces you to the strategy of “interleaving,” an evidence-based technique to increase concept retrieval and student mastery of course material.

  1. Interleaving Rather Than Blocking. Whereas blocking involves practicing one skill at a time before the next (for example, “skill A” before “skill B” and so on, forming the pattern “AAABBBCCC”), in interleaving one mixes, or interleaves, practice on several related skills together (forming for example the pattern “ABCABCABC”). One prominent explanation for the benefits of interleaving is that it improves the brain’s ability to discriminate between concepts. With blocking, once you know what solution to use, the hard part is over. With interleaving, each practice attempt is different from the last, so rote responses don’t work. Instead, your brain must continuously focus on searching for different solutions. That process can improve your ability to learn critical features of skills and concepts, which then better enables you to select and execute the correct response.
  2. Mix in Old Material with New Material. Although interleaving is largely a strategy for reviewing material, we can build some interleaving into our class sessions as well. The more that we can build the review of previously-discussed material into later lectures or discussions, the more our students will benefit from the effects of interleaving on mastery. Try adding a brief quiz question on old material to help demonstrate to students the value of reviewing material in this way.

If you want to learn more about interleaving, see this site from University of Arizona and this article from Scientific American.

Week 5: Here are a couple of reminders about how to maximize the impact of group work in our classes:

  1. Allow sufficient time for group work. Recognize that you will not be able to cover as much material as you could if you lectured for the whole class period. Cut back on the content you wish to present in order to give groups time to work. Estimate the amount of time that subgroups need to complete the activity. Also plan for a plenary session in which groups’ results can be presented or general issues and questions can be discussed.
  2. Monitor the groups but do not hover. As students do their work, circulate among the groups and answer any questions raised. Also listen for trends that are emerging from the discussions, so that you can refer to them during the subsequent plenary discussion. However, be unobtrusive and avoid interfering with group functioning; allow time for students to solve their own problems before getting involved.

We have shared this resource from the University of Waterloo in the Newsletter before, but there is so much great stuff there for thinking about how to use group work more effectively!

Week 4: Here are a couple tips for presenting content online, whether you are leading an online course or experimenting with content delivery for a flipped classroom:

  1. Write a script for each concept. Speaking off-the-cuff may work in a classroom, but it doesn’t online. Scripting forces you to organize the presentation of your material—to make sure you don’t leave anything out or throw in anything extra. It also gives you time to think about the most effective approach to convey material in the highly visual online environment.
  2. Rework your PowerPoint slides to act as a storyboard for your script. Your PowerPoint slides should contain mostly visuals; you’ll need to reduce text to a few words per screen at most. Animations (like your recorded PowerPoints) are good at conveying visual information; they aren’t good at conveying text information. Any text that appears on the screen should be the “take-aways” or critical notes you would expect students to take, not explanations or nice-to-have details.

You can read more tips in this article from Faculty Focus.

Week 3: As we get into the rhythm of the semester, it can be jarring to get a question about something that you thought had been clear for weeks. Here are a few helpful ways of reminding ourselves about the clarity of our explanations to our students:

  1. Pace at the speed of the learner. Explanations suffer when we get caught in the too-much- content, too-little-time bind. Not all students learn at the same pace. Some get it the first time they hear it; others need to hear it, hear it in a different form, think about it, and then hear it again. This calls for purposeful decision making regarding the importance of what’s being explained. If it is a foundational concept or an idea that integrates a whole content chunk, then it should be presented at a pace that enables understanding by as many students as possible.
  2. Reconstitute or repeat without hints of frustration or doubts about the learner. Hearing an explanation and not understanding it is frustrating. Having to ask to hear it again and still not getting it is embarrassing. At that point, most students (and a lot of the rest of us) just fake it. We nod, smile, and say thank you as our minds race, still trying to figure it out. An explanation is justifiably called “clear” only when it results in understanding.

You can read more tips in this blog post from the Teaching Professor at Faculty Focus.

Week 2: Here are two strategies for getting the most out of the start of a class session:

  1. Open with a question. Try to have a significant question for the day on the board or an opening slide. It gives students something to consider – other than their phones – while you wait to start class, and it can help orient them for the day. You might even let students give preliminary answers for a few moments, and then again in the closing minutes, to help them recognize how their understanding has deepened over the class period.
  2. Reactivate prior knowledge. Ask what your students might know about the day’s material from previous courses or experiences. Asking students to tell you what they already know (or think they know) has two important benefits. First, it lights up the parts of their brains that connect to your course material, so when they encounter new material, they will process it in a richer knowledge context. Second, it lets you know what preconceptions students have about your course material. That way, your lecture, discussion, or whatever you plan for class that day can specifically deal with and improve upon the knowledge actually in the room, rather than the knowledge you imagine to be in the room.

You can read more in this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Week 1: Here are two strategies for writing quality multiple-choice questions:

  1. Reflecting, Reflecting… This semester ends and a new semester begins. Sometimes it can be hard to squeeze in a moment to think about the last semester and what went well and not so well. In fact, we often get caught in a cycle of constant completion with little room for change. Make time to not only reflect, but recharge after the semester. Sometimes a quick weekend away from the computer and e-mail is what you need to come back ready to look through your notes, think about your assignments, and try new strategies.
  2. Think through the design. Course design is rarely something we are taught – some lucky few have had courses or mentors to help them think through designing a course from the ground up. Course design is essential to quality teaching – a great teacher with a poorly designed course can be immobilized in their work. There are a number of approaches to designing your course, however, redesigning a course can sometimes be harder. What to keep? What to change? all loom in the distance. The best strategies start with your learning outcomes. Looking at the learning outcomes for the course and thinking through how you will measure those outcomes can help you develop a road map for the activities in your course.

For more strategies, check out Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching and their list of teaching strategies (click here). And join us for a day with Dr. Todd Zakrajsek as he presents forward and accessible approaches to course design and assessment (May 3, see description below).

Click here to view past tips from the 2016-2017 Academic Year

Week 22: Here are two strategies for revamping your course for fall:

  1. Think about when you should use multiple-choice. In reality, sometimes multiple-choice is the best testing method, sometimes it is not. There are many reasons to use multiple-choice questions – from class size to mastery level. Take time to think through why you are using multiple-choice questions, it will help you write the questions to meet your end goal.
  2. Write the stem first. The two hardest parts of writing a multiple-choice question are the question and the answer. Creating a good question with appropriate answer choices can be daunting. Start by thinking of who your students are and adjust to meet their learning. Course make-up can vary from semester to semester, so taking a moment to think through the current cohort of students can help you develop test questions that allow them to demonstrate their learning. Next create a stem – this will allow you to focus the question on a single definite problem. Writing out the question with all the necessary supporting information can help you structure the question and the answer. Then write out the correct answer to the stem. Once those are complete, it will be easier to write the incorrect response choices.

For more strategies, check out IDEA Paper #16 from IDEA (Click Here)

Week 21: Here are two strategies for closing out the semester:

  1. Prioritizing when everything is a priority… During the last few weeks of the semester – everything seems to be knocking on our door (literally and figuratively). How do you prioritize when everything is a priority – you start with a plan each day. Taking a few minutes every morning to assess and plan what really needs to get done today, tomorrow, and this week, can help you feel less overwhelmed and help you focus on today’s priority. That includes this tip from Inside HigherED (2010) – Ruthlessly assess what grading ACTUALLY needs to get done”.
  2. Back-up, Back-up, Back-up. As the semester comes to an end, many of us are focused on getting through the day-to-day. It is crunch time. So, it is important to remind ourselves to back up our teaching materials – I mean literally. Creating copies of your Canvas materials, cull through old lecture and class materials, and make sure you have all you need for locking the course up for the semester.

For more strategies, check out this blog from the Chronicle of Higher Education (Click Here) or Inside HigherEd’s article on Crunch Time! (Click Here)

Week 20: Here are two strategies for creating instructional videos:

  1. Lights, Camera, Action. Creating instructional videos can be a great way for your students to see you in online courses, hybrid courses, and even face-to-face courses. They provide quick, easily accessible introductions to course content. When developing an instructional video – think about how you can “chunk” content into small manageable bites for your students. Good instructional videos tend to be on the short side and highlight the most pertinent information.
  2. Look at the camera. The first few times you record a video of yourself teaching, it can be hard to not look everywhere but at the camera. Think about what your students will see and stay focused on where the camera is located. Two tips offered by last week’s Faculty Focus: position the camera a little above your eye line so that you are looking up toward the camera (then no one has to stare up your nose) and consider putting something above the camera (a photo, an object) that you can focus on.

For more strategies, check out Faculty Focus. (Click Here)

Week 19: Here are two strategies for using rubrics in class:

  1. They save time! Time, it seems we never have enough of it – and grading… Rubrics are useful for helping you grade and evaluate student work. By creating a rubric you have more clarity on what you expect from the assignment. That speeds things up in two ways – one, you can better explain your expectations to students and get the work product you really want; two, you can easily identify your expectations when grading the assignments.
  2. It helps students evaluate their own learning. How many of us have been asked – is this on the test? Why do I have to do this assignment?… By creating a rubric and sharing it with your students you are helping to provide clarity through the learning process. If students can see in concrete ways how concepts apply to a broader assignment, then they are more likely to understand their own learning process and progress.

For more strategies, check out Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. (Click Here)

Week 18: Here are two strategies for using peer feedback in class:

  1. Tell them what to look for. In reality, many students just do not know how to give feedback, or receive feedback. However, the peer review and feedback process can be one of the strongest learning experiences for our students. So, we have to show them how to provide quality peer reviews. First, we need to give students guidelines, examples, and rubrics. Walk them through how you provide feedback. Carleton College – Science Education Resource Center provides students with a quick guide to giving and receiving feedback.
  2. Help them see the value. Many students see peer feedback as something arbitrary. Their peers are not the experts, so how can their feedback be any “good”? In reality, we have to walk the students through. Talk about the value of the peer review process in your own scholarship. Remind them that peers can see and explain things in ways you cannot. More importantly, remind them that the learning process is much more than a graded assignment. The more value they see in peer review and feedback, the better their own feedback will be for their peers.

For more strategies, check out Carleton College’s site on Student Feedback.(Click Here)

Week 17: Here are two strategies to get back into it after spring break:

  1. How do I keep them engaged. Those weeks after spring break can seem like a balancing act between entertainment and teaching. Regaining momentum so close to summer (and with our current weather) can be challenging for us and our students. The key is to get the students back into the swing of things and remind them that we still have half a semester to go. First, think about the last major topic you introduced before spring break. Is there a way to review that topic? A video, a game, or even a guest speaker? Any of these can break up the hum-drum approach, but also puts the class back on track.
  2. Take a moment for you. I know it can seem cliché, but spring break is just as much about you as it is about your students. Faculty need a break too – so take some time over spring break to recharge and regroup. The energy you bring to the classroom is essential to student success, and can allow you to re-engage with the material in new ways. So, take a moment to read that book that has been siting on your coffee table and come back ready for the last half of the semester.

For more strategies, check out Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. (Click Here)

Week 16: Here are two strategies to support effective discussion in your classroom, particularly on tough topics:

  1. You set the ground rules. Many of us that use discussion-based learning do so from instinct. However, many of our students, who may even excel at discussion-based learning, have not cultivated the skills of discussion at this scholarly level. Keep in mind that setting ground rules is necessary – not only for classroom management, but also to be inclusive of all the learners. The rules become more necessary as your class size goes up. Think about your expectations of students’ responses… how would you define a good critical, scholarly response? Share this with the students, role model the level of engagement, and be clear on the question you are asking.
  2. Am I a referee? In short – no. However, a good academic discussion will likely bring a number of responses to the floor. You do need to be prepared for dealing with conflicting views – their’s and your own. You also need to help the students understand how different views are valued in the academy. For students – at all levels, you may have to explain how to take a critical self-look at personal biases that may be impacting the conversation.

For more strategies, check out The IDEA Center’s – IDEA Paper #49 (Click Here).

Week 15: Here are two strategies to incorporate self-regulated learning into your classroom:

  1. Don’t they already know this? One of the first questions we all have – did they not learn how to do this before showing up to my class? The reality is most students have not had the opportunity to learn how take ownership of their own learning. In fact, many students come to the classroom with little to no understanding, ability, or experience in the learning process. So, there is some benefit to the faculty member taking a moment to talk about strategies that help students be successful – from how to read a college textbook to “when should I really take notes” – all could be helpful.
  2. What are the steps of self-regulated learning? Right around now many students start to realize that their way of preparing for class is not working. Helping students think about their learning in three steps can be useful: setting goals, developing strategies, and reflecting on the outcome. We can help students set goals and develop strategies – often if they just came of office hours. However, incorporating this into your course benefits a much wider set of students (who may not know they need the help yet). The other piece is helping students reflect on the outcomes – many of them (and us) forget to that reflection is a key part of the learning process.

For more strategies, check out Carleton College’s SAGE 2YC Program (Click Here)

Week 14: Here are two strategies to get students reading what is assigned:

  1. Get to the root of the problem. Is it a matter of compliance or capacity? When you have been reading as long as we have, it can be a challenge to remember that many students are new to reading scholarship for learning. Chat with your class about the difficulty of the readings, share some tips on how to read a college text or textbook, and remind students that reading scholarly work can be challenging the first time through. Encourage your students to seek resources, such as the Student Success Center, right here on campus.
  2. Make sure you are using it. We can all remember a class or two when we bought the textbook and never opened it… don’t be that class. Consider how the reading will be used in class, on assignments, and with assessments. Try to assign the reading as close as possible to the time it is being used in the class. And spend sometime connecting the dots for students in the first few weeks – the more they can see connections between the reading and the course content, the more likely they are to get the readings done.

For more strategies, check out IDEA’s Idea Paper #40 – Getting Students to Read: Fourteen Tips (Click Here)

Week 13: Here are two strategies to use when teaching large courses:

  1. Create opportunities for individuality. A large class makes it easy for some students to disappear into the crowd – creating opportunities for the students to showcase their individuality can go a long way. Such as gathering index cards with information from who they are to where they want to go, greeting students as they come in, or spending a few minutes before class to talk with different groups of students. These are opportunities for students to connect with you in smaller groups and can improve course participation and attendance.
  2. Set the tone. We know this is true of any class, but it is especially important in large classes. You can set a tone of conversation and curiosity by the questions you ask or your delivery. Letting students know up front how you expect each class meeting to go, how much participation you need from them, and why you are setting the class up this way can help the students get comfortable with you and the course despite its size.

For more strategies, check out UNC-C’s Survival Handbook for Teaching Large Classes (Click Here)

Week 12: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom as you finish this semester and prepare for the next:

  1. When will I ever use that? Sometimes students can be frustrated with difficult concepts that they do not see quick connections with the “real world” beyond the University. Never mind that they are already in the real world, but sometimes they struggle to see how a concept applies beyond the classroom. Helping students apply concepts to the world around them provides needed context, as well as lasting investment by the student. A quick example of application to Academic Service Learning can help students make connections between challenging concepts.
  2. Have you graded that yet… Students turn in a paper, project, test – and expect immediate feedback. However, this is not reality when giving quality feedback – or with other looming demands. Letting students know upfront an expected timeline for grading can save you questions of “When are we getting a grade for that?” and help your students in a number of ways. From helping them learn that waiting is part of life to calming their fears, providing a timeline can save you both. Consider putting a timeline in the syllabus, and if you are delayed in grading (which sometimes we are) share that with the students.

For more teaching tips, visit the Walker Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Tennessee- Chattanooga (click here).

Week 11: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom for incorporating the common read:

  1. Make the students do some research. Having students identify topics and ideas from the reading that they can relate back to the course is a great way to help students understand that courses and disciplines do not occur in a vacuum. Ask the students to then develop a presentation, lead a discussion, or reflect on these applications in class. The key is getting students making connections between the events of the book with the topics they are studying.
  2. I can counter that… Discussion can get repetitive quickly if students have been discussing the book and topics in other courses. A great way to get a new conversation going is to assign the students into groups and ask them to argue a topic from the book from a variety of angles. More specifically, assign those points and counterpoints to the groups (don’t leave it up to the students). This often forces them to think about the topic in various ways.

Find more information on how to incorporate a common read into your course by visiting the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s site (click here).

Week 10: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when teaching as part of General Education:

  1. Why do I have to take this class??. Teaching a General Education course can be rewarding and challenging for a number of reasons. Often times, a GEC course is a great opportunity to introduce students outside your majors to your discipline. However, this is often the challenge – students like to ask why they have to take this course? It is always helpful to start each semester explaining to your students how *this* course fits into the GEC curriculum, why GEC courses are important, and what the SLOs really mean. Students do not always see how the pieces fit together – so telling them explicitly why GEC is important, and why it is important to UNCG, is key.
  2. What employers are saying. Every few years AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities) conducts an employer survey with Hart Research Associates. They survey employers across the nation about what they are seeing or seeking in college graduates. The message has been consistent – employers want students who can communicate, work as a team, take initiative, make ethical decisions, and solve problems. Reminding students, and ourselves, that a college education is more than a sum of completed courses is important and key to their success.

Find more information on why general education is important at the AAC&U LEAP (Liberal Education & America’s Promise) Project site. Find literature, employer surveys, and high-impact practice information by clicking here.

Week 9: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom for more inclusive teaching:

  1. It’s always key to start at design… Many times great teachers struggle because of how a course is designed more than how a course is delivered. The design of a course is essential to students and instructors being successful by setting a foundation that is specific, deliberate, and reflective. This is also true of inclusive teaching. Spend some time reflecting on how your course, materials, and content are constructed. Did you choose a reading because that is typically what is read in the field? Could you offer an alternative perspective? Do you have students work in groups? Have you started asking them to share with each other their own experiences? Are there spaces where you could change assignments, adjust readings, or shift the conversation to one that is more inclusive? Small changes can add up to big changes.
  2. Shifting the conversation. Several weeks ago we took a look at Tara Yosso‘s work on cultural wealth. Are there other ways to bring in multiple perspectives into your classroom? Often presenting your students with diverse philosophies, multiple truths, or even shifting your own language to more neutral descriptions of gender, race, ethnicity, etc. helps students begin thinking about the world in different ways.

Find more tips on inclusive teaching from the University of Western Washington’s Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment. Download their Inclusive Teaching Toolkit (click here).

Week 8: Here are two strategies to use after the exam:

  1. Why are we reviewing the test? It is important to help students think about why we review an exam. Often times, reviewing the exam is an opportunity for the student to think about how they prepared (or did not) for the exam – and make changes in time for the final.
  2. Thinking about what you don’t know, you know… There are several strategies for reviewing an exam. One strategy is to help the students think about the questions they found challenging or missed – then think about what they have in common. Is there content that the student needs to think about differently? Is there a style of question they need to practice? Helping students think about their learning is key.

Find more tips on “after the exam” in this week’s Faculty Focus Blog from the Teaching Professor (click here).

Week 7: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when facilitating discussion:

  1. This isn’t just free time? One of the most forgotten strategies for using discussion is telling the students why you are using discussion as a teaching method for this course. A lot of students think “class discussion” means they are not learning – since you are not lecturing. However, sharing with them the value of discussing concepts with their peers, gaining new perspectives, and developing a deeper understanding all come back to helping them succeed in your course.
  2. Don’t jump the gun. Sometimes as instructors we are so comfortable with a topic that it is hard to remember that students need a moment to formulate their answer. Even when students look back at you puzzled or with apathy – do not give in and answer your own question. A common strategy is to have students think about the question on their own, writing down their response or jotting a few notes. Others reframe the question when students seem to be struggling to come up with a response. You cannot be afraid of a little awkward silence.

Find more tips on effective group work at the Washington University in St. Louis’ The Teaching Center (click here).

Week 6: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when utilizing groups:

  1. Why do we use groups? Many students (and faculty) have reservations about using group work in the classroom – sometimes one person does the heavy-lifting. It is important to share with your students why group work matters, why you are using it as a strategy in this course, and your expectations for division of labor.
  2. Five is a magic number. Deciding how big or how small a group needs to be can be part of the challenge. Try to avoid even numbers, as it allows students to pair off. Triads can often find someone on the outside looking in. Groups of five tend to be the magic number for in class group work. For online group work, larger groups are best – seven to nine.

Find more tips on effective group work at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence (click here).

Week 5: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when developing active learning:

  1. Solve a problem. Independent, critical and creative thinking are developed when students are asked to analyze and apply material. Case-studies, role plays, and opportunities for students to “apply” the course content to larger problems is an excellent way for students to be actively engaged with the material.
  2. Talk to your peer. Asking students to talk about topics and course content with each other is a key step in learning and student success (Tinto, 2012). Finding ways to put students in dialogue with the material and each other is key to active learning. Small group, peer-to-peer, etc are great ways to get students thinking.

Find more tips on active learning at Standford University’s Teaching Commons (click here).

Week 4: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when thinking about student motivation:

  1. Teach by discovery. Developing activities for students to engage in the process of discovering knowledge is a key way to make your class a can’t miss opportunity. Activities that require students to discover, develop, and apply concepts is a great way to get students engaged, but also provide them with content they cannot get anywhere else. Think about team-based activities, case studies, role plays, problem-based activities as possible ways to move your classroom to discovery-mode.
  2. Making Choices. We all stay more engaged in activities that we feel we had some choice in doing. The classroom experience is no different. It might not always be possible, but as opportunities arise for flexibility – offer students control over how they demonstrate their understanding of the course material. This could be in allowing the students to choose project topics within the context of the course, or allowing students to decide how a project or assessment of learning is delivered (e.g. paper, presentation, or video). The more control students have in demonstrating their learning, the more engaged they will be.

For more tips on motivation – check out Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching’s Guide on Motivating Students (click here).

Week 3: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when using active learning:

  1. Share the heavy lifting. Students often look to us as the fountain of all things knowledge, but in reality we want them to engage with the learning process. By sharing the heavy lifting of learning from you as the faculty member to the students in the classroom – you are shifting from “teaching to learning” (Barr & Tagg). This can be done through a number of approaches – but the key is to have students be active in the learning process. (for more – check out the work of Robert Barr & John Tagg)
  2. Engaging students. There are a lot of ways to engage students in the classroom – both positive and negative. However, it may be easiest to start with clear expectations with how to define engagement. Providing students with clear expectations on participating in the learning process is a quick way to help them actually engage. Moreover, think about diversifying how students engage – add opportunities for students to shine in a way that makes sense to their learning style (verbally, in writing, in small group, etc). (for more – check out Maryellen Weimer’s blog for Faculty Focus).

Week 2: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when thinking about culturally responsive teaching:

  1. Establishing Inclusion. Helping your students set up groups and collaborative projects is often a quick way to get students engaged in class. Start by helping the groups set up ground rules for positive shared learning experience. This is also great for courses that use a lot of discussion. (for more – check out the work of Wldowoski & Ginsberg)
  2. Using the Cultural Wealth. Our students are coming to class with a variety of personal experiences and talents – many of which do not easily fit on a test. Moving to a mindset that includes what students bring to the classroom can change the classroom experience. Keep in mind all the potential capital students bring – family, aspirations, social, and resiliency. (for more – check out the work of Tara Yosso).

Week 1: Here are three quick tips to use in any classroom:

  1. Use the silence: A good journalism trick – if you wait long enough, someone will eventually fill the silence and usually with something they find pretty useful.
  2. Get feedback from your students mid-semester: Asking students what’s working, what’s not, and what other techniques might help them learn better is a quick way for you to get instant feedback on your teaching. It’s also a great way to help your students become reflective on the learning process.
  3. Model learning: Moving from the all-knowing sage on the stage can be hard, but it is a good reminder to our students that learning is lifelong process. Let the students in on your thoughts as you decide how to convey material. An important part of the learning process is sharing with students the struggles of balancing what they need to know with all you know.

Looking for more? The Walker Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Tennessee: Chattanooga has 25 more teaching tips. Click here to read.