Teaching Tips

2020 – 2021

Week 19:

The events of the past few months have been challenging in a number of ways. We have to understand that our students, just like us, are carrying these experiences with them into the classroom. As we start a new semester that holds uncertainty, it is important that we take a fresh look at how we can approach our teaching from a trauma-informed perspective. 

  • The experiences vary: Each one of us experienced and is experiencing events in different ways. We come with a broad range of positionalities. Take a moment as the semester begins to consider how different positionalities have experienced everything in the past 10 months from the pandemic to racial injustice to the recent events in the Capitol. Consider how the emotions of these experiences will take up space in the learning environment.

  • There will be unexpected responses (Minahan, 2019):  Trauma manifests in a number of ways – but specifically, this can mean that students do not respond to your teaching, prompts, or even their peers in ways we have come to expect. Take a breath and do not take any of it personally, but do acknowledge it and address these responses.

  • Be Consistent: Students have grown to expect the unexpected (Imad, 2020; Minahan, 2019). Therefore, consistency and predictability will be paramount for students to feel comfortable and supported. You must be clear with students about decisions you make (upfront) to help them prepare for major changes to the course and the learning experience. Explaining why you are making a change can help a student process and respond in a calm manner. 

To learn more about how to address teaching from a trauma-informed perspective, visit the Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning Resource from the TIO.


Week 18: This week’s tips look forward to some potential considerations as we put Fall 2020 behind us. There certainly can be the temptation to submit final grades and say “Adios!” to the whole semester, but we want to share some ideas that may help save time and hit the ground running for next semester. This week’s tips focus on preparing to build off lessons from this semester:

  • Note to self. You may have been taking notes all semester about what was working well and what was not, but now is a good time to aggregate and summarize any notes that you have for the benefit of your future self. It may be helpful to divide these into general notes for teaching any course under the current circumstances and specific notes for leading that specific course. You know best what method of note-taking works best for you, but here is one idea in case you’re looking to adopt a new approach: consider using the screen capture tool in Canvas Studio to review your own course briefly, making a video with your fresh reflections that you can return to when you are ready.

  • Focused change. Regardless of how well you feel that the semester went, you may, like the teaching tips guy, have the temptation to tinker with various aspects of your course design. As part of your note-taking process, try to limit your focus to one or two changes that will make the biggest impact on student learning. Review the instructions for an assignment type for which students seemed to have the most trouble, or target times in your presentations where you could engage your students more in discussions or other forms of interaction. We are all learning a lot about what works and what does not for teaching and learning under these circumstances, so it is helpful to remind ourselves that we cannot do it all right now, nor should we try to do so. The best way to implement and measure the effectiveness of changes we make to our courses is to do so in a focused manner.

  • Rest and recuperation. Not so much a tip as a reminder, but your ability to meet the challenges and possibilities of the next semester will depend on allowing yourself to recover from this one. It has been a difficult time for so many reasons, and we at the Teaching Innovations Office hope that you find time for self-care and enjoy the upcoming holidays.

As you make any notes or plans as the semester ends, you can also visit the On-Demand Teaching Support on the Teaching Innovations Office website or reach out for a virtual consultation. We are always happy to help with reflection on your semester experiences and briefly generate ideas for the future.


Week 17: This week, we look at specific tips to keep in mind when constructing effective online summative assessments:

  • Setting an approved synchronous communication channel. Under past face-to-face, synchronous exam circumstances, at least one person would be available to respond to a raised hand and questions in the classroom, and we need to think about how to replicate that experience virtually. One option is to use a function that is built-in to Canvas, such as Discussions, as the go-to channel for asking exam-related questions. Zoom might work here as well, but may be more prone to access issues than simply using Canvas Discussions. As with all of our advice, the main advice is that you clearly communicate in advance that this is the channel for questions during the exam period. One important note is that this strategy will not work if you’ve chosen to use Respondus LockDown as part of your exam integrity efforts, as students will not be able to navigate away from the browser window.

  • Exam integrity options. Speaking of exam integrity, knowing about Respondus LockDown Browser and Monitor is an important consideration, but knowing about other less invasive alternatives is also important. This recent guide from Learning Technology covers ways in which you can randomize questions using a question bank and groups, randomize answers, set time limits, and hide answers until a certain date and time. Different forms of assessment have different costs and merits relative to student learning and academic integrity, but consider these options if you need to have multiple choice and other automatically-graded questions as part of a summative assessment.

  • Testing the test. Whether or not you are trying out new settings as a part of administering summative assessment online, it is always a good practice to test the different functionality. Fortunately, this can be done fairly easily using Student View and Preview in Canvas. Using these tools allows you to catch any potential issues well in advance, which means you can reach out to any of the available technical support with plenty of time to spare.

  • Backup plans. Most of these tips are Canvas-centric, but it is important to have plans in place for potential issues for you and your students if you are using Canvas. Last week, we talked about staggering start times to help avoid overloading servers, but we also want to encourage you to think about having copies of exams that can be shared using something like Google Docs, or a good old-fashioned Word document, as a backup. Hopefully, the need for this is limited or non-existent, but being prepared for the corner cases will help the exam period proceed more smoothly.

The inspiration for these tips comes from the recently-published knowledge base article from ITS Learning Technology on Best Practices for Online Assessment, which was recently published. This resource includes tips for both setting up and administering final exams online, including resources for accommodations. Learning Technology will also have drop-in final exam preparation support coming up on Friday (11/20), which you can check out here.


Week 16:  This week, we look at what you can start doing now with your students to prepare students for the end of the semester and online final assessments:

  • Practice makes possible. If your type of assessment invites it, try to set up a practice assessment under real-life conditions. This advice particularly holds for timed exams, and that counts exponentially if you decide to use some technology like Respondus LockDown Browser for proctoring. There are a lot of moving pieces and technical challenges for students, and it will help them with both content and process to have practice. It can be easy to forget the amount of anxiety that summative assessment can cause, and we want to limit as many of the additional stressors as we can in preparing our students during these exceptional circumstances. Think about how you could add the opportunity to take a practice exam online, and incentivize it, in the coming weeks. 

  • Establish clear expectations, and limit the need for restrictions. Another advantage of practice is that you can address any and all expectations that you have as an instructor for how students will conduct themselves during the assessment. Articulating clear, specific expectations helps to guard against all but the most flagrant of academic integrity issues. Furthermore, consider alternatives to using technology to try to address the problem of academic integrity by building your assessments such that some of the most common restrictions — closed book, no collaboration, etc. — are reduced in importance. More on constructing assignments in the Teaching Tips next week.

  • Staggered and flexible timing. For synchronous assessment, like exams, you and your students may also be worried about unreliable internet connections and server load. One element of preparing for these potential issues, especially for larger enrollment courses, can be setting up staggered exam start times to spread out the demand. An additional benefit here is that, in the event that you get a panicked email from a student or two, there is some built-in flexibility to when the exam can begin for a student. Multiple versions of an assessment opens up different challenges, but we will return next week with some suggestions related to constructing exams online.

As a reminder, there are still many helpful resources available on UNCG’s Keep Teaching website that apply to wrapping up the Fall 2020 semester on a positive note, so make sure you look at strategies and resources available there. As always, you can also reach out to the Teaching Innovations Office for a virtual consultation. We are here for you as we all continue to meet the challenges of this work at this time.


Week 15: Many of our students may be feeling discounted by the messages being spread related to the election this week, so today’s tips focus on strategies for establishing a tone of inclusion in the learning environment:

  • Ground rules and community agreements. We have talked about this idea in the tips before, but setting ground rules before engaging with difficult topics is a good first step. It is important that these rules are at least somewhat collectively determined as well, and the more direct student input, the better. In larger courses, you may need to start with some established parameters, but the goal is that the ground rules reflect a shared commitment, which requires a focus on student voices. A few potential starting suggestions to get students talking include: “Address the statement, not the person making it” and “Avoid saying ‘all’ when you mean ‘some’ or ‘some’ when you mean ‘one.’” We have some tips about building these sorts of community agreements, as well as more examples of these starting points, here.

  • Focus on specific behaviors. One essential tip for establishing meaningful ground rules for discussion is to be wary of vague language and platitudes as part of defining desirable and undesirable behavior. Students will often, with good intentions, repeat general ideas like “show everyone respect” or “treat others as you’d like to be treated,” but it is important that you guide them to identify specific behaviors that matter for having those respectful discussions. A quick way to encourage this is to follow-up with a simple “and what would that look like in our class?” This practice encourages them to reflect on their behavior while also making it easier for individuals to intervene and speak up when problematic acts occur.

  • Check-in procedures. Even with well-defined behaviors within the ground rules, it will take effort to make sure that all students feel more comfortable with identifying positive and negative behavior during difficult dialogues. You can take the lead on opening up the space for that to happen: “Is everyone comfortable with how we have been addressing this issue with respect to our ground rules?” Regular check-ins can also be a part of continuing to frame discussions in the context of the learning outcomes for the course. Of course, check-ins are also an important way to revisit the ground rules if they are not meeting the goals of the class. You may find, however, that simply devoting some time to talking about ground rules will do some heavy lifting when it comes to establishing a more inclusive environment for your students.

If you are looking for more support related to this topic, you can check out the rest of the 2020 Election faculty resources on our website here. As always, you can also reach out to the Teaching Innovations Office for a virtual consultation. Take care of yourselves, and let us know if we can help.


Week 14: Today’s tips include reminders related to preparing for facilitating potentially difficult dialogues with students:

  • Unplugging and self-care. While it is nearly impossible to unplug completely right now, make a plan for how to balance civic engagement with self-compassion. Whether it is making time for meditation, a cup of tea and a book, or the Great British Bake Off, remember to give yourself permission to recharge as part of your plan for the upcoming weeks. If you’re looking for support on how to do that, check out resources like this Election Stress Kit from UNCG’s Counseling Center. There is lots to do, no matter the election outcome, but that work will not all be done next week. Plan ahead based on your current capacity in order to attempt to maintain a balance during the amplified stress of the election.

  • Consider your preferred framework for approaching difficult topics. When approaching difficult topics, especially those related to questions of equity, most of us have a preferred framework through which we try to engage those topics. Academic detachment is a comfortable framework for many, with a focus on treating issues as a matter of inquiry and a focus on what we know from the scholarship, but there are other options that might more readily describe your preferred framework, such as civic humanism or liberation pedagogy. Of course, you can move between these as well, but knowing which frameworks are comfortable for you will help you better manage your energy, and the energy of your class sessions, in the coming weeks. Check out this resource for more common strategies that may be helpful as you prepare. You may even want to use your preferred framework as a starting point for a community agreement on how you and your students address election issues.

  • Address the whole student. Regardless of your preferred framework, it is important that you avoid being dismissive of any pain or trauma that comes out of the next few weeks for any of our students. We all know that these times are challenging at a baseline, and the psychological, emotional, and physical investments in political outcomes and the impacts on our wellbeing will only exacerbate those challenges. You may not be comfortable with your course as a place for addressing any resulting trauma, but you want to recognize – whether it is during a synchronous class session or through a Canvas message – that you know this will be a difficult week and remind students of the resources that are out there (again, referring to the Campus Weekly article is a good way to share resources). Consider ways in which you can be flexible about the demands on students this week, as it will be hard to know who may be affected and what that looks like.

If you are looking for more support related to this topic, you can check out the rest of the 2020 Election faculty resources on our website here. There are tools and skills there that faculty develop over years of thinking critically about inclusive classrooms, but they can also be thoughtfully deployed in times like these even if you have not used similar strategies in your classroom in the past. As always, you can also reach out to the Teaching Innovations Office for a virtual consultation.


Week 13: In case you missed the note from last week’s Library Columns newsletter, we all now have access to the Chronicle of Higher Education through University Libraries. Here are some tips pulled from the most recent article on approaches to maintaining the attention of the distracted minds of students:

  • Use names. We start off with a simple one, but using student names accomplishes multiple related goals at the same time. When students feel like a random face in the crowd, then their motivation to stay engaged and attentive decreases. A 2017 study of a high-enrollment biology course found that 85% of students surveyed said that the instructor knowing their name mattered to them. In that study, a 25% increase in students feeling recognized by their instructor was achieved simply using name tents in a lecture hall, but one of the actual advantages of our current circumstances is that using names is actually easier to achieve in a digital space. Names call attention and help students feel recognized, so consider how you can use them more regularly in any size class (although ideally not just via cold-calling quizzing strategies).

  • Emphasize proficiency over deficiency. In addition to using names, there are other ways to bring out the individuality of learners that help to keep them engaged in the course. One such way is to promote a lens of proficiency and experience over one of deficiency. So many students feel that the learning process is one of making up for a lack of knowledge, but the way that you frame lectures, activities, and assignments matters for how students perceive themselves as proficient learners. Consider adding prompts throughout the rest of the semester that, in addition to telling students what to do, also invites students to reflect on related experiences and skills they already have from other aspects of their lives that can inform the types of questions or problems that they are encountering in this course.

  • Help refresh commitments to students’ purpose for their learning. Now is a great time to engage your students in an activity that returns their focus to the question of why learning is important for them right now. Students are making a huge commitment to continue learning with the challenges of doing so right now, and it can be helpful for you to give them some time to remind themselves of that, while also helping them put that commitment into the context of your course. Some questions for a brief in-class activity might be: How does this course fit into your plan for using your UNCG degree? What is one thing you have learned so far this semester that you hope to continue to value after this semester (which could be about the course content, yourself as a learner, or something else)? What are you willing to (re)commit to doing in order to meet your goals for this course and this semester? These types of questions pair particularly well with the process of mid-term feedback, but there are plenty of other contexts for getting your students to think about the purpose of their learning.

You can check out the full article on student attention from James Lang in the Chronicle here, and you can check out more from this great resource made available by University Libraries while you are there. Of course, check out the rest of the UTLC newsletter for more resources right here at UNCG, including, as always, the opportunity to reach out to the Teaching Innovations Office for a virtual consultation.


Week 12: Today’s teaching tips return to the old favorite of mid-semester feedback with a focus on responding to data collected through mid-semester feedback:

  • Ask and you shall receive. The core advice for mid-semester feedback is that you should only be asking questions for which you are interested in acting on the feedback that you receive. For example, you should not ask about assignments unless you are willing to make some changes to them based on the student feedback. In practice, this means that careful consideration of your questions in advance is important. Specific questions lead to more focused feedback, which makes the task of following up on the feedback more manageable.

  • Stay balanced. Make sure that you are not just focusing on making changes based on negative feedback, both for your own well-being and for your students’ learning. Often soliciting feedback is treated as a source of concern, but it is also a time for students to tell you what is working for them and what they would like to see emphasized going forward. It is important to ask questions that allow for this type of positive feedback as well. Additionally, we always encourage mid-semester feedback to include at least one question about what students think they’ve done well and what they could improve upon in their own approach to the course for the remainder of the semester. This practice opens up a more balanced conversation about improving student learning going forward.

  • Quick, visible follow-up. The most important part of showing students that their feedback matters is picking some actionable feedback to address as quickly as is reasonable. If students are saying that they need more structure in their breakout room conversations via Zoom, then consider making changes to how you set up those conversations – perhaps with one clear goal/product per breakout session – and then be clear that this change is addressing student feedback when you introduce the change. Not all changes are conducive to quick changes, but showing your students that you are being critically reflective about their feedback lets them know that their voices are heard and their suggestions are being considered as you work to support their learning.

If you have more questions about soliciting or implementing mid-semester feedback, then you should feel free to reach out to the Teaching Innovations Office for a brief, virtual consultation, which could even include a virtual classroom visit. For more ideas on this topic, consider these resources from Inside Higher Ed and University of Texas for more on effective mid-semester feedback.


Week 11: Today’s tips draw on scholarship on cognitive load theory to reflect on understanding the limits, and playing to the strengths, of educational videos in online learning:

  • Limited capacity and the need for active processing. Human brains have limited capacity in their working memory, and overwhelming that capacity leads to cognitive overload. Inputs like sounds and images demand a portion of that capacity, and need to be resolved in the working memory for more space to be made. As a result of these human limits, we need to be thoughtful in our educational videos that we focus the content directly on the learning outcomes and construct time for active processing of new learning. Short videos (6 minutes or less) help avoid cognitive overload, while also opening up the space for active processing. Of course, it is important to remember, especially right now, that it is never just our courses that are taking up space in our students’ working memory, so we have to be even more cognizant of the stressors on that limited capacity.

  • Extraneous load, weeding, and learning goals. With these limits in mind, and as we think about the role of educational videos in our courses going forward, it may be helpful to consider our videos from the perspective of weeding. Now, none of us wants to think of any of our course content as weeds, but the point of the metaphor is that each educational video should minimize the amount of extraneous load, elements of the video that are not germane to the learning goals. By weeding out extraneous load, we provide the space for the budding new learning to occur. When reviewing your course video content, consider what might be removed so that targeted learning makes space for active processing. 

  • How will learning be reinforced? More targeted, shorter videos do not mean less learning, because they also require that we design space for rewarding students for doing the work of learning, processing and applying new understanding. In a face-to-face setting, many of us have favorite ways to integrate active learning into class sessions, whether that be group discussions, clicker quizzes, or any number of creative activities. The same need to work with new material continues in online spaces, but they need to be emphasized and rewarded for students to see them as important pairings with the video content.

We have shared this resource in the past, but if you are looking for distanced ways to reinforce learning, then consider browsing this curated list of active learning options from LSU – separated into online asynchronous, online synchronous, and distanced face-to-face columns – as you think of ways to help students continue to work towards the learning outcomes for this semester. For more on cognitive load and educational videos, check out these resources from Columbia and Vanderbilt.


Week 10: This week, one of our colleagues shared a resource from SAGE with student-focused tips for setting yourself up for success with online learning. The teaching tips wanted to both share that resource, which includes a pdf that you can share directly with students, and some of the key messages to share with students on staying motivated and engaged in an online course:

  • Find your space. It is important to find ways to set aside space, both physically and mentally, for doing your work, although we want to recognize that this is harder than ever for students, instructors, and everyone else. For one person, this might mean the ritual of easing in with a cup of coffee and emails, while someone else might go to a separate room and use an app to limit distractions. Different strategies will work for different people, but encourage your students to find what works for them when it comes to dedicated work-time. (Also, feel free to share your own strategies and be open with your own struggles with giving dedicated time to work right now!)

  • Ask for help. We have talked in the past about encouraging students to use the resources available to them, from the Counseling Center to the Libraries to ITS and more. Many students may not see these as part of their regular portfolio of skills, especially if they don’t know people who have used them, so you can be a powerful ally in demonstrating the ways that these resources matter and sharing with students how other students have profitably used those resources in the past (when appropriate). As we said last week, students need modelling of these skills more than ever due to a relative lack of connection with their learning peers.

  • Check in with me. We all likely have experienced the challenges of individual students seeming to disappear from a course since March, for any number of reasons. It is important to share with students the importance of regularly checking in, which is a place where leading by example can go a long way. The more present an instructor is in a course with things like announcements, brief check-in videos, and/or posts on the course discussion boards, the more that type of engagement will be normalized for students. However, it also helps to remind students that it is even more important to be engaged when things are not going well for you, which is the harder thing to do. We are here to help them through their learning challenges and, as we said above, there are many campus resources to help them address other challenges as well, but remind your students that you can only help if they reach out.

Thanks to our colleague for sending out this helpful resource. If you’re like me, you may have found yourself reading the teaching tips and thinking that the advice included helpful reminders to yourself as well. If you have helpful tips and resources to share with your colleagues, then please feel free to reach out to us (utlc@uncg.edu). We know how important our colleagues are as a resource, especially as we all adapt to these new circumstances, and we value all of your contributions to making UNCG a great place for student learning. If you want to chat about things that have been helpful to you, or if you want to chat about recent issues that have come up, consider joining us this morning for our Coffeehouse with your colleagues (more below).


Week 9: Today’s tips focus on the struggles of UNCG students during this semester and how we can use course feedback to promote student learning skills:

  • Absence of familiar models for gaining student learning skills. Most new college students have to adjust to a different approach to learning than the one that they grew accustomed to in the K-12 setting, but now all students are having to adjust to learning in new contexts without reliable learning models from their peers. One of those essential learning skills is time management, and students often rely on observing other students’ behaviors in order to shape their own strategies for time management. In the context of the pandemic, many of our newer students lack those models from their peers, while many of our experienced students may be struggling with new pressures related to learning from home or learning online, which may leave them feeling stuck and powerless. Consider how you might alter activities, assignments, and assessments in your courses in order to give students opportunities to reflect on, and compare, their approaches to preparation and practice for learning in your course.

  • Use guiding questions on effort and agency. One essential element of these student learning skills is an awareness and embracing of control over one’s own learning. Students can be prone to adopting a perspective that class performance and grades are something that happen to them, and the world around them is exacerbating this lack of agency right now. One strategy is to debrief activities, assignments, or assessments by asking specific guiding questions that focus on time and effort. How long did you spend working on this assignment? How did you spend your time dedicated to this activity? What were things that you could change in your preparation for similar assessments in the future? The middle of the term is a good time to invite students to reflect on these issues of effort that reflect student agency in learning.

  • Imposter syndrome and the need to frame normal learning challenges. Of course, alongside asking students about their own effort, it is also important that you give them the tools they need to set those expectations appropriately for various tasks in your course. How long should they be taking on an assignment? What resources will be the best use of their practice time? In this new context of a lack of learning models and diminished sense of agency, students may be particularly vulnerable to imposter syndrome and a general feeling that they don’t belong in higher ed. It is important that both the structure of your course and the language that you use reflects that learning is a process – a difficult, lifelong process – and that struggles are an essential part of that process, especially as we all adjust to these new conditions. Words of reminder and encouragement from the authority in the classroom can go a long way to affirm the challenges of learning and help students to feel empowered to meet those challenges.

Thanks to the members of the Advising Council who took the time to talk with new faculty and share their insights gained from working with students on their learning challenges. If you want help thinking through changes that you might make to empower your students and advance their learning skills, you can always reach out to us in the Teaching Innovations Office for a consultation that addresses your specific ideas and needs.


Week 8: Today’s tips aim to help you think through ways of reducing assessment anxiety and helping students connect to their peers for assessment preparation:

  • Emphasize Low-stakes Testing Preparation. One of the best ways to help reduce anxiety related to assessment is to give students low-to-no-stakes testing options in advance of the larger assessment. Whether this takes the form of Canvas multiple choice quizzes, synchronous in-class polling responses, or self-graded practice resources, it is important to give students ways to try, potentially fail, and reflect on what they need to do differently. The more that you can help shape that opportunity for reflection, the better, so build in time for reflection after one of these practice assessments. It is also important to emphasize that confusion, clarification, and revision are central parts of the learning process for everyone.

  • Facilitate Study Groups. Students may be feeling more isolated than ever – both in their learning and in general – but there are things that we can do to facilitate their coming together to practice for an upcoming assessment. Even if you don’t already use them for your course, consider assigning groups through Canvas for the explicit purpose of studying for an upcoming assessment. These groups can be directly tied to discussion boards, or they might just be ways for the group to schedule Zoom sessions for themselves outside of class. Some students may be ready to make this effort on their own, but the structure and impetus coming from the instructor will help more students to take the opportunity to learn with their peers.

  • Incorporate Peer Review. If your course is more focused on students developing a product or artifact of their learning, such as papers or presentations, then you might consider how you can add peer review opportunities to your course. Certain types of assignments in Canvas can facilitate peer review directly, but you can also use the same types of groups from the above tip to facilitate exchange of drafts that are not tied to a specific assignment in Canvas, using tools like those found in Google Drive. Peer review opportunities will both improve student learning and increase the likelihood of a better end-product if students are given more opportunities to show their work and explain the decisions that they made. Peer review can also help students to break larger assignments down into more manageable chunks, which will help them practice time management and other student skills.

All of these options for helping your students to work with their peers can be facilitated synchronously and asynchronously, so you should be able to find an option that fits in with your current modes of engaging with your students. If you need help thinking through the logistics of collaborative review and learning in your course, you can always reach out to us in the Teaching Innovations Office for a consultation that addresses your specific ideas and needs. Also, this is the last week that we will ask that you consider filling out our Fall 2020 Teaching and Learning COVID Response Check-in Survey (more below), so that we can continue to provide the resources that you need most right now through our newsletter and other opportunities. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to give us feedback so far.


Week 7: If you find that one of your challenges is student engagement with asynchronous course material, then today’s tips provide some reminders for producing effective prerecorded course material:

  • Prerecord tutorials, not lectures. When prerecording narrated slides, or any other recording for your classroom, try to keep each individual video as short as possible for your learning goals. (The data from e-learning platforms recommends no more than 6 minutes.) Of course, you can produce several videos that might stand in for lecture time, but you do not want your videos to replicate lectures. Recorded lectures might work as a solution to some hybrid learning models, but if you choose to prerecord, try to think in terms of tutorial videos. Consider how you might organize your existing course material into discrete chunks that focus on a particular learning goal. These chunks can be the foundation for tutorial videos. Also remember that, when describing any elements of your tutorial that are visually represented on your slides, you should try to describe what is one the slide and why it is important to your learning goals. This practice helps with accessibility of your digital content, and it helps all of your students develop the skills for effectively using your tutorials as a resource.

  • Use available technology resources. It might be tempting to record audio directly onto the slide software that you already used to make your slides, but there are too many technical issues that make using a program like Powerpoint for narration undesirable. ITS Learning Technology recommends that you record using Canvas Studio or Panopto, both of which integrate directly with Canvas and facilitate narration in ways that are more flexible, less hassle, and, most importantly, less prone to technical issues. There are several resources from ITS already, like these Panopto videos, but you can also reach out to them for specific training if you find that you need help getting started.

  • Build to ongoing engagement. Since tutorial videos are more targeted in their content delivery, they open up the space to ask students to do more with what they just learned, which is the foundation of active learning. Another benefit of options like Canvas Studio is that the software includes built-in options for simple engagement in the form of quizzes and in-video commenting, but you may have your own favorites for getting students to engage with your disciplinary material. Zoom sessions facilitate classics like Think-Pair-Share, while Canvas Groups and Discussions allow for peer feedback and more enduring discussions of course materials. Check out this list from Louisiana State University for more ideas about distanced active learning. It won’t be identical to face-to-face active learning, but there are still synchronous and asynchronous models for getting students to work with course material, rather than just being passive recipients of the course material.


Week 6: Today’s tips consider approaches to early-semester feedback and making potential changes to your syllabus:

  • Syllabus as a Contract. Some schools of thought treat the syllabus as a contract, and there is merit to this approach. We communicate our expectations of students through the syllabus, and they can expect us to hold to those expectations in turn. However, especially in these unprecedented circumstances, it is important for us to all recognize that we are working with new approaches to learning – some of which may not work out the way that we intended. Instead of adhering to the idea of a contract unyieldingly, then, we may consider adjusting things in the interest of student learning. 

  • Early-Semester Feedback. One approach to making adjustments when you feel that something isn’t working is to open it up to the students through requesting their feedback. This is an exceptional semester, so in addition to our usual recommendation for collecting mid-semester feedback, it may be valuable to use the start of September to request some early-semester feedback about what is working and not working with your hybrid, distanced, or otherwise-adapted elements of your course. For ideas on how to do this, check out past teaching tips about collecting mid-semester feedback, or these examples from Brown University.

  • Use All Channels of Communication. If you decide that you need to make a change to the course syllabus, it is important that you over-communicate these changes. Use your synchronous sessions, Canvas announcements, message board posts, and other alerts in big, bold font, even more so than seems necessary. Redundancy here may seem tedious, but a change to the syllabus cannot be overstated. In terms of what to say, make sure that you are explicit about the change, the rationale behind it, and how it impacts the students. You should also open up fora for student feedback, which brings us to…

  • Be Generous, Open to Feedback, and Keep Student Learning Front and Center. If you do choose to modify the syllabus mid-semester, then it is essential that you find ways to do so that only help students and their learning. If you need to change a group assignment to an individual assignment because the technology is not going to facilitate what you had in mind, then it is imperative that you listen to students and are thoughtful about how such a change impacts their plans. Any and all changes should benefit students and enhance student learning, and you should be able to communicate that in dialogue with your students.


Week 5: Today’s tips include some reminders about decisions and resources for accessibility as part of continuing to adapt your courses:

  • Accessible Text, Images, and Headings. As more and more of our content becomes shared digitally, it is important to remember the basics of creating accessible digital content. Size, spacing, color, font, and document type for text, as well as alternative text for images are all fundamental considerations for course slides, readings, handouts, etc. 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 through Headings, which make it easier to navigate content. As with all accessibility tools, these decisions help everyone to navigate your content more easily, and it is particularly helpful for screen readers and other assistive technology. Check out the page on accessible online content from accessibility.uncg.edu.

  • Captioning and Note-taking. It can be important to provide synchronized text of spoken words and sounds for both pre-recorded and live content. Please note that, while live captioning may be a capability of software like Zoom, it is not automated and the feature requires that someone is adding those captions in real-time. Even if you do not have a student in your class requesting accommodations related to captioning or note-taking, it can be a helpful practice, especially for this semester, to set up a rotating set of note-takers for your course, in order to help account for unexpected changes and absences. If you have a need to support specific accommodations, then we encourage you to reach out to OARS.

  • Testing Changes. Social distancing demands have necessitated changes in how OARS facilitates exams, including limited time slots and room capacity. If you have any students who will need exam accommodations, take the time to review the new guidelines on their website and make sure that your students are aware of these changes as well.

We have robust resources available through accessibility.uncg.edu and the OARS office, so make sure that you take advantage of those, especially as circumstances continue to evolve in responses to COVID. We all are jugglers right now, as we try to keep all of the balls in the air for adapting to these circumstances, but there are also plenty of helping hands. Let us know if we can help point you in the right direction for available resources. We also ask that you consider filling out our Fall 2020 Teaching and Learning COVID Response Check-in Survey (more below), so that we can continue to provide the resources that you need most right now.


Week 4: Today’s Teaching Tips focus on a few practical lessons from your colleagues, based on questions and feedback over the past weeks. Here are some common challenges and adjustments for virtual and distanced learning:

  • Virtual Discussions in Canvas. Some of your colleagues have opted to use a virtual, asynchronous approach to discussion using the in-video comments in Canvas Studio, inserting comments in Google documents, or using Canvas discussion boards. Several of your colleagues have sung the praises of these modes from the past, and we have reports of early success this semester already. However, it is important to note that, when it comes to Canvas Studio comment discussions, the comments do not transfer across courses, even if you make your own comments outside of the course itself. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot use the comment feature to annotate videos for use in future semesters. Nevertheless, this can be a powerful tool for engagement, and instructors are finding solutions like creating a master Word document for easy copy-and-pasting of reusable comments.

  • Breakout Rooms. Breakout rooms in Zoom may be the most commonly-used feature for interaction in this new environment, and most everyone has positive things to say about what they enable students to do at a distance (including making small group conversation easier than in face-to-face contexts!) However, especially in large classes, you may find that a handful of students miss the invitation to join breakout rooms or struggle with their connection to Zoom. One difficulty for faculty is that there are so many different devices that students may be using to access Zoom, which means that they may have different Zoom interfaces than you do. This can make it hard to help your students troubleshoot, but, helpfully, Zoom’s own support documents provide instructions specific to each type of device. Here are two documents for joining breakout rooms and updating Zoom software with all types of devices. 

  • Attendance through Zoom Reports. Synchronous Zoom sessions can be a good way of approximating the immediacy of the classroom environment, and many faculty are using them in this way. Another helpful feature that you may have missed is the Usage Reports feature that is enabled for meetings that you host via Zoom. These reports can show you all of the unique participants and how long they were present in the session, and that document can be exported as an Excel document for easier record-keeping. Note that presence in a Zoom room is not the equivalent of participation, so you may want to hold students accountable in other ways, but this feature can be a great start. Check out this video from the Adapt 2020 conference for the steps needed to use this feature.

Thanks to our colleagues for these helpful insights into these challenges and successes. 


Week 3: This week, we continue the theme of expectations and guidelines, but this time we turn to some examples of reminders for etiquette in synchronous virtual spaces like Zoom meetings:

  • The Basics. The basics may seem obvious to us, but they need to be clearly articulated for our students. These include: (1) Be aware of your surroundings, including potential for interruptions, backgrounds, and other privacy concerns. We know that not everyone can find a private space right now, but students need to minimize distractions for themselves and others when possible. (2) Mute your microphone when you are not actively participating, and follow class protocols for participation, such as raising a hand or waiting for breakout rooms. Finally, as this reminder from DePaul’s College of Education puts so bluntly, (3) Clothing is NOT optional. Be clear about the simple guidelines that you expect students to follow.

  • The Specifics. Along with the basics, you can also establish other rules of engagement for your course along with guidance. For example, if you want to insist that students have video for class participation, then you might also consider sharing tips for video conferencing, like this fun video from UNCG Online. Remember to plan for flexibility when setting up ground rules for any class interactions, as we discussed in last week’s Teaching Tips, as reliable access and other circumstances will differ across our student population. There is room for setting high expectations and being understanding of particular situations, but early and frequent communication is key.

  • The Emergency Options. We can make plans and share expectations, but we also need to be prepared for those times when things go awry. Familiarize yourself with the available emergency options for hosts with whatever technology you use. These include mute all buttons, removing participants directly, and locking the meeting in Zoom. Knowing these features in advance will pay off if the situation arises and you can use them reflexively. Feeling prepared for major disruptions can help us to be more patient as we deal with the minor issues. 


Week 2: As the start of the semester approaches, and we all think about the new constraints on teaching, today’s tips get straight to the point with tips on things to consider, and prepare for, in relation to teaching and learning with masks:

  • Projection. As one of my colleagues has said, teaching with a mask is much more difficult than saying thank you through your mask at the grocery store. It is more akin to exercising with a mask on, and we need to prepare for the challenges that come along with it. It will be more important than ever that you communicate this reality to your students from the beginning and agree upon class community guidelines that will allow for people to hear and be heard. This can be done just like you would if you were framing discussions around difficult topics in your class, with plans for how to identify and address the violating behavior if/when it happens. Additionally, if you find that you usually need water during a class session, then it is important to consider how you will handle needing to take breaks for that with a mask and using containers with straws. 

  • Backchannels. If your plan for hybrid or online teaching allows for it, consider how you can keep backchannels open for communication that permits student questions to be answered in ways that do not rely on them calling them out. As we’ve said, it will be more important than ever that any synchronous environment is kept free of chatter, but that does not mean that you want students to stop asking with questions. You have many tools at your disposal, from Canvas tools like Discussions to Zoom chat, but you will need a plan for noting and addressing those backchannels. This task might be the role of a GA, or it could be something that you check at regular intervals during a class session, but the goal is that you and your students have clear alternatives to conventional in-class communication.

  • Framing student expectations. On the point of communication, it is important for us to recognize that this situation will be as uncomfortable for students as it will be for us as instructors. Fortunately, we already have resources at UNCG for helping students adjust to the differences and challenges of online learning, which will be pertinent to these new circumstances. Consider sharing resources like Ready to Learn and Online Student Orientation with your students, in addition to any specific guidelines to help students succeed in your specific approach to teaching and learning during the response to COVID. 

For more on setting up ground rules, consider joining us for the 6th Annual Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Institute, which covers the topic of Community Agreements and more, or you can check other resources like this one from Cornell University. You can get more ideas about masks from this resource from University of South Florida. Remember the resources from Ready to Learn and Online Student Orientation for helping to prepare your students as well.


Week 1: As we think about keeping students engaged in new models of learning, today’s tips reflect on promoting self-regulated learning across multiple learning environments:

  • Do you know how hard it is to lead? Novices and experts view their learning differently. Unlike expert learners, novice learners often fail to set proper goals for monitoring their learning. As a result, they rely on external indicators of comparative performance and feedback. Self-regulated learning attempts to structure learning experiences to help students develop the skills involved in the learning process. Plan. Practice. Evaluate. The important point here is that novice learners struggle with this learning loop, and so our course design decisions are important sources of aid for self-directed learning in this way.

  • What comes next? As you think about the fall semester, think about your assignments and assessments that students often struggle the most to complete in an effective manner. Consider how you can structure those aspects of your course differently to help students to structure, practice, and reflect on their own learning. You might stagger deadlines to help students with planning for a major assessment, scaffold learning with smaller, low-stakes assignments to give students more practice, and/or build in more required reflections that build on feedback that you give to students. All of these things can be done as part of reworking a course in a transition to online or hybrid learning environments. Once you’ve made these changes, be explicit about how these decisions are made to help students take control of their own learning and become more autonomous, self-regulated learners.

  • You’ll be back. The goal of self-regulated learning is to enhance student motivation, which will help students persist through challenges with their learning in your course and beyond. It is not a quick fix, and there are innumerable competing forces for students’ attention and motivation, but there are clear steps that can be taken to help students with the struggles that all novice learners face. Self-regulated learning is essentially tied to learner beliefs about their ability to learn and overcome challenges, similar to Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets. The decisions we make to promote proactive planning, intentional practice, and regular reflection will help our students to continue to face learning challenges in their lives.

  • You’re my favorite subject. Student motivation and self-regulated learning just happens to be the favorite subject of the teaching tips guy, and it is a topic that has been pushed to the forefront, alongside many others, by the necessities of our current condition. As you continue to think about the work involved with planning for, and working through, the fall semester, I encourage you to also reconnect with the things about teaching and learning that bring you joy. Also, take time to sprinkle in some musical joy to your life as well, and we will work together to get through these taxing times.

For more on self-regulated learning, we encourage you to check out this brief literature review from VCU or this overview from Faculty Focus, which is also a great resource for sharing with your students. If you haven’t already, you might consider self-enrolling in our Hybrid Experience Workshop for help with thinking about how to implement strategies that promote self-regulated learning by taking advantage of the hybrid environment that many of us are adopting by necessity. If your focus is more on online courses, you might also check out the second cohort of the workshop facilitated by the UNC System, Designing Effective Online Courses. Check out those opportunities and more below, and be well.

2019 – 2020

Week 29: As we all continue to work on decisions related to the uncertain circumstances for the fall, we wanted to remind you to keep in mind aspects of your course design – regardless of the delivery method – that would benefit from attention to universal design and accessibility. In that vein, today’s tips reflect on universal design for learning (UDL) in the age of COVID:

  • Variety in Presentation. For universal design approaches, thinking about the presentation of content is about how different students approach the “what” of learning (and how we, as instructors, can help account for those differences). Familiar modes of sharing content – lectures, discussions, textbooks, etc. – are being disrupted more than ever by the necessity for social distancing, which can also be an opportunity to think about how we can introduce new variety to our course content. Variety, in this case, is not about so-called “learning styles,” because we do not want to think about some things as being for some students and other things for others. Variety in the ways that our students approach our course content is valuable for each and every student, especially with the constraints of COVID. Consider pairing course readings with audio-based alternatives, or link an article with an infographic. As our lives and familiar modes of learning get disrupted, it is more important than ever that we intentionally seek out multiple ways that students can approach learning course content.

  • Choice in Demonstration. Just as variety in approaches to content matters in doing the work of learning, so too does variety in ways of demonstrating learning matter. In the context of universal design for learning, we often refer to this as providing students different ways to show the “how” of learning. The conditions of COVID limit some of the options that rely on direct contact to demonstrate learning, so it is even more incumbent upon us to reflect on the various ways that our students can demonstrate the learning that we ask of them in our student learning outcomes. Are there any assessments for your course that could be approached by a research paper, an op-ed piece, or a short documentary? This approach may not work for all learning outcomes, but the more flexibility that you can open up for your students, the better it will be for their learning.

  • Frequency of Communication and Clarification. Both variety and choice, as goals that emerge from the principles of universal design for learning, can help our students as we all adapt to these new circumstances. However, all of the choices that we make for design and delivery of course content are not useful to our students unless their presence and purpose are clear. We encourage you to be more vigilant than ever about building redundancy into the ways that you communicate with your students. Take extra pains early in the semester to identify your communication channels, and then be consistent in using those channels. The structures that we provide for supporting our students’ learning are more important than ever.

For more on Universal Design for Learning, you can check out resources on the accessibility.uncg.edu website. You can also search the core materials of the UDL framework, developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), on their website. You may also get more ideas from this recent article in the Chronicle (h/t Mika Davis, ITS Learning Technology). If you have questions about how to make this work in your particular courses, we invite you to reach out to us for a consultation.


Week 28: As we prepare for the reality of remote learning environments, we all are working to design and facilitate opportunities for quality learning given these constraints. In order to help your thinking on hybrid learning, today’s tips focus on creating a social presence in your hybrid course:

  • “Being There.” Social presence involves the ability for learners to engage and communicate as part of the learning process, a sense of “being there” (Lehman and Conceição 2010). When we place an importance on establishing social presence in any learning environment, we recognize that all learning takes place in a context. In a face-to-face environment, we might experience social presence differently depending on whether students are raising their hands to ask questions or if heads are buried in laptops. For a hybrid course, that learning environment will have hurdles for establishing social presence that we may not have to think about in a face-to-face setting, so we have to think about the tools we have for maintaining that sense of “being there.” 

  • Ground rules and “netiquette.” Before class begins, it is important that you establish the specific ground rules for communicating across the many tools at your disposal, which is important in any learning environment. Our students often need help understanding how to appropriately engage in new contexts – professional email etiquette, for example – and these new hybrid contexts are no different. If you are using technology, it may very well be unfamiliar to your students, which means it may be uncomfortable for them to use effectively. As you learn to use these tools yourself, think about how you can simultaneously build a resource to introduce effective and proper use to your students. You want to tell students, and ideally show them as well, how you would like for them to engage with you and their peers.

  • Show how virtual contributions matter. It is one thing to set up discussion boards and streaming video options, but it will take intentional effort to make sure the students see that these new modes of engagement matter for their learning. Try starting class by bringing up posts that students make in the virtual environment when you have a chance to see the students face-to-face, or summarize key issues that emerge from a Canvas Studio quiz that students had to take before showing up to class. Connecting their virtual and in-class learning early and often will set the tone that their presence both physically and virtual continue to matter for their learning in these challenging circumstances.

Today’s tips build on Katie Linder’s work about hybrid learning, The Blended Course Design Workbook. If you are interested in learning more about hybrid instruction, including more tips from Dr. Linder’s work, then keep reading below about our upcoming workshop on The Hybrid Experience, as well as more virtual opportunities for the remainder of the summer and fall.


Week 27: As we move into an uncertain summer, and as we think about what our courses look like in the summer and what they might look like in the fall, the Teaching Tips look back to tips associated with last year’s TOPPS. These tips focus on facilitating more productive online discussions:

As with most things with online learning, it is much more difficult to change elements of online discussions on the fly. Since forums become increasingly chaotic as enrollment grows, it is important to keep two things about the structure of online discussions in mind: (1) stated pedagogical purpose and (2) clear expectations for civil discussions.

  • Structure with Purpose. You are more likely to get productive discussions if you articulate and emphasize the importance of discussions for student learning. It helps to promote genuine engagement if you relate discussions directly to the overall assessment of course learning outcomes, rather than simply stating that discussions are a required part of the course. Spending time on clarity of purpose can be as important for productive online discussions as clear technical instructions for things like deadlines or how to respond to a post.

  • Structure with Expectations. Another important aspect of structure is setting expectations for the interpersonal dimensions of participating in class discussion forums. The internet does not provide us many positive models for digital discourse. It should not be assumed that your students will know how to engage with fellow students in the online environment, so it is important to detail appropriate etiquette and best practices for participation. Also – as much as we may wish we didn’t have to – it is important to include the consequences for uncivil or antisocial behavior.

  • Visibility. If participation and engagement continue to be an issue, as they often are, then consider how frequently you are visible as an instructor in discussion forums. Instructors both demonstrate that the activity is meaningful and model high-quality participation, reflecting both purpose and expectations. Regular check-ins are preferable to intermittent flurries of responses, in terms of improving student participation through instructor visibility, so try to squeeze in a post or two as regularly you can.


Week 26: As we work our way through to the end of the final exam period and begin an exceptional May, without our standard commencement activities and other celebrations, the Teaching Innovations Office wants to encourage you to take time for self-care and reflection. In that spirit, today’s tips share some simple prompts for addressing anxiety and burnout as we move into the summer:

  • (Re)articulating purpose. The circumstances of COVID-19 have required most of our actions in the past months to be reactionary for the most part. The daily tasks of our collective response can feel like they are driven by forces outside of our control. This lack of agency can be counteracted by reminding ourselves about the things that bring joy, meaning, and purpose to the work that we do in academia. As we move into the summer, take some time to reflect on these things. What do you value most about your teaching and research? Why do you find that meaningful, and how might you continue to embody those values?

  • Striving for balance. What fills your cup? What energizes you, and what can you do from home that can recreate the energizing moments from your prior daily activity? The drastic changes in the current conditions of our living and working necessitate a shift in the way that we structure our lives as we look for balance in the demands on our time and energy. One suggestion is to be deliberate in identifying the specific rituals that help ease into the day and then wind down, as the conditions of any given day allow. The core of all of the advice on burnout is doing the best you can in each moment and being okay with what that is.

These prompts come from a recent piece from InsideHigherEd, Beating Pandemic Burnout. Check out the article if you are looking for further ideas and prompts for these challenging times. Remember, as always, that you have a multitude of resources all across the UNCG community. One such resource is the upcoming Adapt 2020 Virtual Conference, if you find yourself ready to start thinking about the possibility of more online teaching and learning in the future. See below for more details on Adapt 2020.


Week 25: Here are a few tips for including remote teaching as part of intentional reflection at the end of the semester:

  • Critically reflective teaching. The teaching tips have talked about Stephen Brookfield’s work in the past, but now is a good time to remind you that self-reflection is the first pillar of his work on critically reflective teaching. It might be tempting to write off Spring 2020 as an aberration, but it may be even more important that we use the lessons of the move to remote teaching as the foundation for engaging in critical reflection on our teaching. Brookfield says that self-reflection allows us to “become aware of the paradigmatic assumptions and instinctive reasonings that frame how we work” (Brookfield 2017), and the experience with remote teaching can be a powerful tool for engaging in that practice.
  • What mattered most. COVID-19 has pushed us to think about the things that matter most in all aspects of our lives; however, with respect to remote teaching, how did the challenges of this semester focus your attention on those key learning outcomes for your courses? What did you do to emphasize those goals with the changes to engaging with your students? Try jotting down a few notes for yourself about these things. We may experience a similar situation in the future, but even if we are fortunate enough to avoid it, these takeaways can be valuable focal points for future course revisions that improve student learning.
  • Enhanced teaching portfolios. Spending time thinking about how you can include your remote teaching experience as part of your teaching portfolio is an important part of both reflection and professional development. How did your experiences with remote teaching reflect your teaching philosophy? What new tools or approaches did you adopt in order to make sure that you were as consistent as you could be with commitments to excellent teaching? As the semester wraps up, consider what you might add to your teaching portfolio to reflect the things that matter most to you as an instructor.

There are many online resources about reflection, whether it is Stephen Brookfield’s work or guides for teaching portfolios (like this one from Stanford University).


Week 24: As we approach the last full week of classes, we understand that you’re probably dedicating a lot of your time and energy to conducting final assessments in the world of remote teaching. Here are a few tips for planning end-of-course experiences that consolidate learning and emphasize community:

  • A Lasting Last Day. Although there are many administrative things that need to happen at the end of the course, it is also important that we take the time to help students consolidate the learning that they have done across the semester, especially in a semester that was as unavoidably disjointed as this one was. As you plan for the last contact that you will have with your students, think about these other possible goals: (1) returning to an emphasis on the purpose and learning goals of the course, (2) opening reflective opportunities that look both backward and forward, (3) reinforce the long-term learning toward academic and professional goals that your students have.
  • Faculty Contact Time and Community. In Vince Tinto’s work on student success, Completing College, the most important factor in student success is meaningful contact between a student and their instructors. Of course, this contact includes instruction, but it is equally important for a student to feel seen beyond instruction in order to help students feel that they are a part of a learning community. Unfortunately, these trying times are likely to make it more difficult than ever for our students to place a priority on education, which makes it all the more important that we, as instructors, help to make the end of the semester into a time that reinforces the very connections that will help students in these times.
  • Reflection Questions. You may have reflective activities that you use throughout the semester, and if so, you should try to continue to use those. Some common options include: (1) a quick question asking students to link their learning back to their expectations for the course, especially if you asked for expectations as part of the first day; (2) a reflection on one thing that the student can do in the world with their learning this semester, even if that is something about overcoming obstacles; or (3) a brief letter to future students about what they will learn and the challenges that they will overcome in the course. All these questions, and many others, help students to start the do the work of making connections across the learning that they have done, and will continue to do.
  • Synchronous and Asynchronous Delivery of the Last Day. Although we are constrained in what we can do with remote teaching, there are still plenty of opportunities to connect with your students for a concluding learning experience. If you have found that synchronous sessions in Zoom or WebEx have been appropriate for your class, then you may find that these sessions allow for these activities to be done in those applications with your normal interactions, whether that is open discussion or polling systems. If you have included asynchronous elements into your remote teaching, then you might consider the ways in which discussion boards lend themselves to different types of reflective activities. No matter what else you choose to do, consider filming a brief video that says goodbye and thanks the students for working through a challenging semester in whatever way you would have otherwise done without COVID-19.

You can check out this brief article from Kennesaw State for more about concluding classes in a meaningful way. As always, remember to be kind to yourself and draw on the abundant support resources that we have in place at UNCG. Best of luck to you as we enter this final stretch. Be well.


Week 23: Be kind to yourself in these challenging times. No one could not have anticipated these circumstances, and no one expects for your course to become a fully-fledged online course overnight. In order to drive that home, we pair this week’s tips with a video on remote teaching from the Teaching Innovations Office.

For today’s tips, we draw from the keepteaching.uncg.edu site to help focus your efforts as you are getting started with moving to remote teaching:

  • Focus on realistic goals for the course. Focus first on your student learning outcomes for the course, and prioritize assignments that measure those outcomes. Review your course calendar and think about how the structure can stay in place and what needs to change. Teaching multiple courses and changing the delivery method can be a daunting task in a short period of time. Make your learning outcomes the priority, but realize how students get there may need to change.
  • Be mindful of your students’ individual circumstances. Some students may face challenging disruptions that prevent them from performing their daily duties to the extent that they cannot leave their home, do not have access to a computer, have limited or no Internet connectivity, or may not be able to complete course responsibilities as planned.
  • Review your course syllabus. Specific policies and requirements may have to change due to the new format, such as attendance policies, assignment formats, and deadlines. Either republish your updated syllabus or create a brief addendum for students to review. Students need one place to review how the course is changing. Remember, all of their courses are changing, so provide a streamlined way for students to see your new expectations.

Remember, be kind to yourself and draw on the abundant support resources that we have in place at UNCG already. See below for some important resources to keep in mind as we work together this week. Be well.


Week 22: As you help your students prepared to continue through to the second half of the semester, the teaching tips continue to help you think through competency-based learning. Today’s tips continue the series with insights on the merits of a focus on building efficacy and self-reliance through reflection for developing competency:

  • Self-assessment, self-regulation, and efficacy. Novice learners struggle with the very capabilities that help them develop competency – the ability to self-assess and self-regulate during the learning process. This problem is often tied to the issue of efficacy, which is to say that learners struggle to remain confident in their ability to follow through to their learning goals. Our students need for us, as instructors, to support both their path, through our content expertise, and their efficacy, through an attention to how our course structures work to motivate.
  • Practice reflective conversations. The ability to reflect productively is not a given, regardless of whether you are teaching a freshman seminar or a graduate course. One way to give your students structured practice is through reflective conversations. It is important that these practice reflections have narrow, focused targets, which can be achieved with specific question prompts. These questions should include both process-based – what was done – and perception-based – how they perceived the task – prompts. Reflective conversations give practice with the skill while helping to normalize more complex reflective behavior.
  • Frameworks for connecting current competency to future proficiency. It is important to keep learning outcomes in your students’ minds when you frame different reflective activities. One helpful way to do that is to include a connection to future proficiency in any reflective activity. How does X skill relate to your ability to do Y in the future? Why is your current competency a necessary step along the path to proficiency? As important as it is to get students to engage with the individual, affective experience of being a novice learner, it is equally important that our reflective activities consistently orient our students towards concrete learning outcomes.

We will conclude our exploration of competency-based learning next week with some tips related to using rubrics to assess competency. In the meantime, we encourage you to reach out for a consultation or classroom observation if you want feedback related to competency-based learning (or for any other reasons). You can also stop by our offices at 1100 W Market to browse our Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Library for ideas from works like Proficiency-Based Instruction. Otherwise, please check out some of the opportunities for March, including a new student-led workshop on Indigenous Pedagogy, facilitated by students from our own Native American Student Association (NASA) on March 28th.


Week 21: We continue through our tip series on competency-based learning to reflect on how we build lessons in a way that allows for the development through a variety of patterns of thinking and different types of learners. You may already be familiar with modeling strategies and gradual release of responsibility to the learner (or, if not, you can check out more on that here). Today’s tips iterate on that model by bringing attention to a reflection-focused framework for modeling learning to emphasize the development of skills and proficiency:

  • Where they’re at. The goal of modeling learning is to help students see the path to mastery over the learning outcomes, but the difficulty comes when students struggle to see the path across the gap from novice to competency. One helpful thing to keep in mind when modeling for your students is to give them time to reflect on their current state of understanding up front. This practice allows them to define their own relationship to the content, which can make the path forward easier to accept. One of the classics here is the “think, pair, share” activity, which allows students to take stock of their current position relative to the material or skills in the course. It is important that this personalized piece celebrates both the things that learners know and do not know yet (or can do/cannot do yet).
  • Where they’re going. Once students have taken the time to reflect on where they are at relative to a skill or competency, it is important that the examples of mastery demonstrate both quality outcomes and processes. Again, the goal is to help students feel more comfortable with the steps that it will take to achieve competency. Some disciplines are more traditionally associated with this type of modeling, but all courses benefit from including this progression from novice learner reflection to expert example and guidance. This process-oriented modeling, along with celebrating the learning process, is important for helping students to be reflective about their own processes as they struggle with mastering new skills.
  • Shared learning to get there. Following expert modeling, students need the time to perform and reflect on their performance, which is when formative feedback and assessment become essential. This phase of lessons often is presented in the form of homework, which allows for individual practice with the skill, but it is also important to find ways to continue to return to the shared process of learning, as students can benefit from the collective experience. As such, it can be valuable to include these experiences as a regular part of collaborative course time, when possible. Early on, this will likely take the form of direct repetition or imitation, but eventually you will build upon the skills to promote critical engagement and higher patterns of thinking as students work towards your learning outcomes.

Next time, our series continues with a series of tips related to the barriers to self-reflection that students experience as they work towards competency. We hope you have a productive and/or restful break, and please take a chance to check out some of the opportunities on the other side of the break, including a new student-led workshop on Indigenous Pedagogy, facilitated by students from our own Native American Student Association (NASA) on March 28th (see below for more details).


Week 20: Today, we turn to the learners themselves as we take a look at Walcott and Lynch (2006) on patterns of thinking in learners. These tips introduce their five patterns of thinking as a hierarchy of problem-solving competency in learners:

  • Confused Fact-Finder. This pattern of thinking approaches all problems as if there is always a “correct” answer. Google is the be-all, end-all of understanding, which diminishes the value of both recall and critical thinking. This learner will have the “just tell me the right answer” mentality when approaching learning activities and will need help to begin to explore uncertainty and ambiguity.
  • Biased Jumper. The next pattern often begins with a conclusion and sees the learning process as finding evidence to support that conclusion. Rarely does a learner with this pattern of thinking consider multiple perspectives, and often conflicting information is ignored or dismissed. Unlike the Confused Fact-Finder, the Bias Jumper recognizes uncertainty and complexity in the learning process, but the learner tends to see all evidence as equally valid, which can lead to an indiscriminate amassing of opinions as knowledge.
  • Perpetual Analyzer. In part a reaction to growing out of the Biased Jumper, a Perpetual Analyzer has become aware of potential biases to the point that they become preoccupied with detachment and balance. There can be a sort of paralysis that comes from an overwhelming sense of relativism. While they recognize qualitative differences in arguments, they can be reluctant to select and defend a particular argument.
  • Pragmatic Performer. The Pragmatic Performer looks to break out of the mire that bothers the Perpetual Analyzer by focusing and prioritizing information relative to a purpose. Learning is useful in reference to the goals of the learner. This learning pattern embraces the assessment of information and evidence as the learner works through a decision process. The primary limitation for this pattern for Walcott and Lynch is that it tends to forestall future revision after it makes a decision, which brings us to the…
  • Strategic Re-Visioner. The most complex pattern of thinking builds on the lessons from the previous levels in order to recognize the provisional character of the Pragmatic Performer’s decisions, while still embracing the importance of conclusions arrived at through academic rigor. This pattern of thinking should leave the learner both confident in their ability to assess new information and open to adjustment as conditions change. The goal is to help our students arrive at this pattern of thinking with respect to the areas of inquiry about which they are passionate.

We hope you find the framework of these patterns useful as you think about how to help the different learners in your courses. Next week, we will build on these patterns of thinking as part of tips for how to design learning activities and assessments in a way that helps students to develop across different levels of competency. In the meantime, you can check out more from Walcott and Lynch in their College Faculty Handbook resources on their website.


Week 19: Happy February! Today our Teaching Tips present some tools that we hope will help with some occasionally overlooked dimensions of setting up group work:

  • Discuss Past Experiences. If you are just getting started with group work in your courses, it may be worthwhile to open with a discussion of students’ past experiences with group work, both good and bad. It’s always helpful to know where your students are coming from, and it can be a great starting point for discussions about group norms and expectations. Alternatively, you could ask students to anonymously submit past successes and concerns via a notecard at the end of a class before you begin group work.
  • Let Learning Objectives Drive Structure. Group work can be a powerful learning tool, but it is not always the best choice, nor should group work always look the same. It is important to think in advance about what role group work would have in helping students to reach your learning objectives. It may help to plot out several possible activities and then decide between different options (or maybe you’ll have different groups take on different challenges!) Check out this list if you want some ideas for the different types of tasks that small groups could do.
  • Formalize the Logistics. Do your best to avoid starting group work with “get into groups of four and discuss X.” Students generally need more direction on the logistics. Have a clear plan for how to divide up groups – sometimes random numbering will work, but more committed work will benefit from intentional grouping – and give your students clear guidelines for timing and the expected final product of their work. Check out this video about how to create progress bars in Powerpoint, if you’re interested in trying to do more with structured group work.
  • Set Challenging Tasks. If you find students tune out or get off task during group work, then consider how challenging the group work tasks are. They don’t need to prove the theory of general relativity in a class session, but try to make sure that your course’s group work highlights the way in which complicated problems can be addressed productively by groups. Once you determine your learning objectives, try to find a sufficiently difficult task for higher-level work towards that end.

Week 18: Today we bring you some Teaching Tips that focus on specific tasks that can help you assess student learning on the fly with low-stakes (or no-stakes) writing assignments as assessment during a class session:

  • For Recall: Focused Listing. Students take 5 minutes or less to quickly jot down recent concepts, especially as they relate to a major course theme or learning outcome. Often, the instructor will write (or project) a major theme on the board, then students attempt to list as many related course concepts as possible. Additionally, students may be asked to quickly justify the link between these concepts. The goal is to pair a recall activity with the task of synthesizing different sets of information. Consider collecting these quick assignments and highlighting some of the best examples at the beginning of the next class session to recognize student effort.
  • For Application: Student-Generated Test Questions. At any time during a class session, you can invite students to spend a few minutes in groups to write test questions that could test for understanding of a recent topic. You will need to spend some time early on to detail what makes for a good test question – look here for a good resource– but repeated use of this tactic should take less time to set up. Consider using some of these questions in your exams to reward students who take the exercise most seriously.
  • For Reflection: Process Analysis. Students take 10-15 minutes, particularly following the submission or return of an assignment, to outline the process that they took in completing an assignment. This can be used for reflection on a wide range of assignments, from labs – reflecting on procedure, expected results, and deviations – to creative writing – reflecting on brainstorming, revision, and significant writing habits. The goal is to get students to return to their work and reflect on their performance with a focus on their own effort. Consider talking about process consistently – before, during, and after – in relation to the assignments in your course.

Hopefully you can use these small assignments – or others like them, such as those on this list of Classroom Assessment Techniques from the University of Kentucky – to get feedback that helps you assess student learning in-class.


Week 17: Happy first week of classes! We are excited about sharing a host of early-semester opportunities along with some tips for promoting office hours and other resources for student success:

  • The importance of office hours and instructor contact. We may take an awareness of the purpose of office hours for granted, but it is important to remember that this is not the case for all students. Furthermore, we know about the critical importance of ongoing faculty and student interactions from the literature on student success, and the concern over persistence is particularly acute for students from marginalized backgrounds. While it can be tempting to rely on a line in our syllabi and a brief word on the first day of class to convey expectations for using office hours effectively, the reality is that students need more (and more specific) encouragement to make use of that resource.
  • Give them a nudge with suggested topics. Of course, we don’t want students to come to us without purpose, but sometimes they need help with identifying the types of questions and concerns that are appropriate for bringing to you in office hours. To that end, try ending a few early class sessions with a review of key topics that you link to types of office hours questions that might arise. The point of emphasis here is that office hours are not outlets for last-minute panic about an assignment, but a regular part of successful navigation of a course. This practice doesn’t eliminate procrastination-related anxiety, but it models productive student skills while achieving your own objectives related to reviewing content. If you are looking for more ideas related to office hour participation, we encourage you to check out this helpful advice column response to Professor “All By My Lonesome” from Vanderbilt University with additional links to resources.
  • Highlight other campus resources to get them Centered. As you continue to introduce keys to success in the first week of class, take some time to highlight different campus resources that you think may be particularly helpful in your course – such as the Student Success CenterCounseling CenterWriting Center, or Speaking Center – or, better yet, resources that students have told you that they found useful in the past! As with the above tips, this practice can be particularly helpful from students from marginalized identity groups or backgrounds, but all students will benefit from an awareness of resources and that their instructor cares about the various ways that they can be successful at UNCG.

You don’t have to be an expert on all of the resources available to students, but even offering a few general suggestions at the beginning of the semester can help your students know that you are attentive to the variety of potential challenges that they may have throughout the semester, which can help to establish an inclusive learning environment. For example, you might want to share with students about the new caregiver study space in Jackson Library for students, staff, and faculty who need to work or study with small children. For questions about the new space, you can visit the reference desk on the main floor of the library.


Week 16: Happy new year! Our new year’s Teaching Tips are focusing on getting us thinking about promoting equitable and inclusive learning environments for 2020 with tips for how names and anonymity can both help make learning more inclusive:

  • More structure works for most students, without harming those who don’t need it. We start with a principle that informs all tips around equity in the classroom. As you finalize your syllabi and think about learning activities for the spring semester, keep in mind that most students appreciate additional structure, and some students need it to thrive. As we work to establish more inclusive learning environments, sometimes the most impactful work that we can do is around clarifying the expectations around our courses, assessments, and learning activities.
  • Model using names and sharing pronouns. A favorite of the teaching tips – both using names and sharing pronouns help to promote a welcoming and inclusive learning environment. You may be in a situation in which learning all of your students names is impractical, but if you can, try to use helpful reminders like using name tents or asking students to repeat their name before answering questions as you get to know them. Names are a powerful way to connect with your students. Sharing your own pronouns at the beginning of the semester is another way to connect with some students while also modeling important behavior for your class environment. Click here for more from the Office of Intercultural Engagement on why pronouns matter.
  • Allow anonymous participation. Even as we emphasize personal connections for inclusive learning, it is also important to acknowledge that issues like anxiety and imposter syndrome can be ongoing barriers for student engagement in our courses. You may already use tools like classroom response systems (clickers) or exit tickets in order to achieve other objectives, but these can also be a great way to allow students to participate who would otherwise be reluctant to engage for fear of negative perceptions from peers.

If you are interested in more tips for an inclusive classroom, you can read principles and tips from this recent post in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Also, consider checking out the helpful Communication in the Classroom podcast series below, produced right here at UNCG!


Week 15: In today’s newsletter we provide both Teaching Tips and Tech Tidbits meant to help you think about small changes in course, syllabus, and assignment design that can help improve student learning as we start the ‘20s. For our Teaching Tips, here are a few design-focused tips that can help with promoting transparency in your course and assignment design:

  • Unwritten rules. Over the past decade, the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) initiative has been developing our understanding of what helps to improve student learning experiences. What their research has found is evidence that we often leave much more implied than we intend when we design learning experiences. Through their research, TILT has developed a design shorthand to help us avoid leaving too many unwritten rules in our courses. That shorthand is to approach our course design and instruction with three things in mind: the purpose of the work, the tasks involved, and the expected criteria (alongside examples of what those criteria look like in practice).
  • All students at the same starting line. As we reflect on these design elements, and this is the essential component, we must make the purpose, task, and criteria explicit to our students – in our written descriptions and in our explanations. The research by TILT has demonstrated that “when teachers communicate with students about purposes, tasks, and criteria for academic work in their own way and at their own discretion, students benefit significantly and equitably” (Winkelmes 2019). The emphasis is not on a rigid template for communicating transparently – although there is a template – but instead the emphasis is on communicating these three main elements of purpose, task, and criteria. The outcome is a more equitable and inclusive experience for students in your courses by helping them avoid the barriers that may be emerge through unwritten rules.
  • Purpose, Task, and Criteria. We have good reasons for the things we have our students do as part of the learning process, but we also do not always make those reasons as clear to students as they need. Is an in-class activity linked directly to other contexts and indicate its usefulness beyond the classroom? Is an assignment broken down into smaller tasks that help students avoid unproductive time expenditure? Do my criteria allow students to evaluate their efforts while working on the assignment? These are the types of questions we can ask ourselves as instructors as a reminder to make clear the decisions we have made for student learning. You can find more guiding questions and resources on the TILT website.

As you think about your courses for the spring semester, try to keep in mind Purpose. Task. Criteria.

If you are interested in online course design specifically, then consider some of the opportunities below in our Online Learning series, including our Level Three session on December 16th, which focuses on using guided peer review for formative feedback on online course design.


Week 14: In a week in which we will continue to think about both technology and inclusion in our learning environments, the Teaching Tips bring back this list of focal points for how differentiated instruction can help promote an equitable and inclusive learning environment:

  • Focus on need. As a pedagogical approach, 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 using adaptive learning software, can help the instructor focus on providing options that meet the learner at their level of need.
  • Focus on competency. By requiring a focus on the end goal – the learning outcomes – 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, and differentiation embraces this idea as it tries to move all learners towards competency in the end.
  • Focus on a growth mindset. At the core of focusing on both need and competency is the promotion and celebration 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.

In addition to next week’s workshop on adaptive learning and VOISES panel, you also have the opportunity to get feedback on how to continue to promote inclusive learning environments with our Teaching Squares on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion or practice fresh strategies in our second Face-to-Face Feedback session on Friday the 13th – come with a new lesson or activity, and we will do our best to make sure that it won’t be an unlucky day!


Week 13: As the leaves and temperatures continue to drop, so too does the energy and attention of students and instructors alike. Today’s tips focus on using popular content to promote active learning and help students to go the distance:

  • Fuel burning fast on an empty tank. Keeping students engaged is hard at the best of times, and it gets ever more difficult as the semester comes to a close. As we combat fatigue, anxiety, and other distractions, it becomes all the more important to focus on active learning as a foundation for giving students practice with the skills and content knowledge that they have been developing across the semester. One fun example of this comes from a recent post in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which describes an activity that Dr. Heather Urry uses to make use of Halloween candy while also cultivating key lessons about research study design.
  • Skills from Skittles. In this post-Halloween learning activity, Dr. Urry gives students practice with a type of experimental design by having them collect data in class, quickly tabulate the statistics, and then make conclusions about whether the data supports the instructor’s particular “hierarchy of candy goodness.” Of course, the content is relatively inconsequential to experimental psychology, but the focus is on how to use the excitement of the moment to practice important skills in the discipline.
  • Active, inclusive, and invested. We may not all have the luxury of replacing EEGs and fMRIs with Hershey’s and Reese’s, but consider points in your remaining class sessions where you can emphasize applied skills in ways that draw on examples that may be more intrinsically exciting to more of your students. As always, it can be hard to find popular content that is inclusive of all students – even candy is not exempt from that concern – and one should consider how popular content can be received by a diverse student population. The goal here is to get as many students through the late semester haze and back to being engaged with key learning outcomes. As the example in the Chronicle article concludes, “the free chocolate doesn’t hurt, either.”

Week 12: This week the teaching tips look at how to help our students with the study skills that will matter for their upcoming assessments. We speak often about metacognition in the teaching tips, and here is another way of helping our students engage in metacognitive practices through activities that promote reflective study strategies:

  • Cognitively active study behaviors. Students often become accustomed to what Kathrin Stanger-Hall calls “cognitively passive” study strategies – reviewing notes, highlighting passages, sitting in class – as opposed to engaging in “cognitively active” behaviors (Stanger-Hall 2012). As with other active learning strategies, active study behaviors involve students doing something with the knowledge that they will need for an assessment – for example, developing flash cards to test recall, physically practicing essential skills, or writing their own exam questions. Studies, like that of Stanger-Hall, demonstrate benefits to active study behaviors that matter for student success.
  • Know/Don’t Know/Do reflections. In this activity, students divide a paper into three columns – “What I comfortably know,” “What I don’t know yet,” and “What I need to do to understand better” – as a way of reflecting at the end of a class period, week, module, or other unit. The goal is to get students to use these charts to identify gaps of understanding with a language that emphasizes active study behaviors as the steps that the student can take to bridge those gaps. As you explain the activity, you can emphasize the language of activity and agency as central to learning. These charts can also be done digitally as either discussion board posts or submission, if you want to try to promote this type of reflection in an online course.
  • Exam wrappers. If your course relies on exams as an assessment of student learning, then exam wrappers can be a way of helping students to break away from those “cognitively passive” approaches to studying for an exam. Exam wrappers ask students to reflect on their previous exam preparation strategies, assess whether or not those strategies helped meet their expectations for the exam, and then write an action plan for the next exam. It is often helpful to pair an exam wrapper activity with other resources and examples of strategies that can supplement this cognitively active study behavior.

If you’re interested in learning more about metacognition, check out this resource from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching. If you’re interested in thinking more about questions related to assessment, especially as a new faculty member, consider joining Jodi Pettazzoni tomorrow morning for a session on Course-level Assessment.


Week 11: Our fall semester literary circles are well underway, and this week’s reading for the How Humans Learn literary circle included a strategy that I thought was worth sharing more broadly. In the chapter on developing more social learning environments, the author talks about the practice of peer instruction, based on the work of Eric Mazur. While effective for any class size, this strategy is particularly suited for taking advantage of classroom response systems and the usually-limiting space of a large lecture hall. Today’s teaching tips reflect on using peer instruction to enhance the use of classroom response systems in large-enrollment courses:

  • Classroom Response Systems and Classroom Assessment. The core of this peer instruction model relies on using a classroom response system, usually something like a clicker system, to ask multiple choice questions to check for student comprehension. The addition to this standard classroom assessment technique is that, regardless of the percentage of correct answers, the instructor asks the students to justify their answer to their peers before answering the same question again. The goal is to get students to work through the logic of their answer first, and then the instructor can help the students debrief any remaining difficulties. Initial attempts at peer instruction will require a lot of logistical support, but repeated attempts will become increasingly seamless as students begin to treat it as standard reflective practice.
  • Evidence of the Value of Explained Reasoning and Construction of Understanding. The work of Eric Mazur (Crouch and Mazur 2001) has demonstrated clear benefits in the short-term with improving student responses as a result of peer instruction, but the more important evidence comes from demonstrating that these improvements apply to subsequent, conceptually-related questions. Perhaps the most interesting benefit to this approach from the research is the evidence that this method helps groups in which none of the students initially provided a correct answer (Smith et al 2009).  This evidence suggests that there is more than just the value of the explanation of correct reasoning involved in this strategy, as it may be that students are collectively better at constructing their own understanding through discussion. If you’re already using classroom response systems, or thinking about doing so, then consider adding this peer instruction step to enhance student learning.

If you enjoy these types of tips, consider joining us for one of our literary circles, where we explore a whole range of pedagogical topics, including these evidence-based best practices for learning. More literary circles will be starting again in the spring, so check out the list of books on our 2019-2020 schedule and look out for sign-ups in the near future! Or, if you are already implementing some of these practices but have questions about how well it is working, consider some of the options below for facilitating an observation session.


Week 10: Welcome back from Fall Break! Today’s tips build off of last week’s treatment of productive feedback practices by looking to ways that you can help set up future assignments to help students think of learning as a process. In his recent book, The Missing Course, David Gooblar talks about several strategies for helping our students to stop seeing assignments in isolation and instead connecting the various learning experiences that develop skills and capabilities through student effort. Here are a couple of his tips for helping students focus on process as central to learning:

  • Examples of past student assignments and drafts. This tip is useful in multiple contexts – as showing students examples of past assignments is a recommended practice for helping students to see a range of quality and set expectations – but the emphasis here is on using past assignments to demonstrate process. As Gooblar says, students are often far more ready to be critical of others’ work than they are of their own work, so using (properly anonymized) work from previous semesters can be a great way of getting some kindling to help ignite the inner editor in your students. Then, once you’ve got them primed for the discussion, you can turn the spotlight back on them and get them to reflect about their own effort on working through an assignment. Gooblar also suggests that the bravest among us might use our own research process as an example for our students, but that is too spooky for me to think about this close to Halloween!
  • Statements of goals and choices. Another recommendation comes from the work of Jody Shipka, which considers the use of a process-focused, reflective commentary alongside the completion of an assignment, which she calls “statements of goals and choices.” This meta-assignment asks students to reflect and write about their specific goals as they go about responding to an assignment and the choices that they made in trying to achieve those goals. Again, the aim is to help students think of the processes that are central to learning, while making their own agency and choices more visible (to themselves and to us). As with any assignment, students will need to be introduced to the purpose of these statements, but the effort put towards being explicit about your intention in employing such an assignment will emphasize the point about the importance of goals and choices even further.

We hope that you all had a refreshing Fall Break, and we look forward to seeing you at some of the programs and events that we have coming up as part of this busy time in the semester!


Week 9: As the weather finally starts to feel like fall, and with Fall Break upon us, the teaching tips consider some best practices related to giving feedback, as many of us try to make sense of what to do with student performances on midterm assessments. To that end, we turn to the work of two scholars on feedback and promoting self-regulated learning (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). Whether your assessments are exams, papers, or some other approaches that lend themselves to formative feedback, consider how you might use the following tips to promote more constructive and meaningful engagement with your feedback. Here are a few of their principles of good feedback practices:

  • Clarify what good performance is. Even though it may seem self-evident to us as instructors, it can be difficult for students to make sense of the difference between what they did and the type of performance that would demonstrate mastery over the necessary skills and concepts. While this may not be the case for you, it is worth taking a moment to consider how you can introduce feedback in terms of what good performance looked like on the assessment. Rubrics can be a helpful tool for doing this, but you can also do this by debriefing the assessment with the whole class with an orientation towards the characteristics of good performance.
  • Facilitate the development of self-assessment and reflection. Students can only achieve outcomes if they understand what good performance looks like, but they can only progress if they are also able to reflect on their own performance as they learn. We know that sometimes students simply do not put in the effort and sometimes they struggle to practice in the right ways for success, but the key is to get them to reflect on those challenges themselves (and then identify strategies for getting where they want to be by the end of the course). The usual suggestion for achieving this goal is to implement a supplemental assignment for extra credit or opportunities that asks students to respond to your feedback and/or reflect on their own performance.
  • Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance. Reflective activities are one way of getting more productive changes out of your feedback, but there are other ways to encourage students to think in terms of continuous improvement. When logistically possible, students will focus most on the feedback when there is an upcoming incentive to do so – a revise and resubmit assignment, or other scaffolded learning opportunities that focus on improvements for the next assignment. While you will need to plan for this strategy, so as to manage your own grading and feedback expectations, assessment design with a focus on how you want your students to use your feedback can reduce the frustrating feeling that you are shouting your feedback into the void.

You can check out the full article to review all seven of their principles.

Speaking of feedback… if you are looking for feedback on some of your own practices, whether related to midterm assignments or otherwise, then consider joining us next Friday for another session of Face-to-Face Feedback in the Faculty Center. If you are more interested in broader design changes to address your learning outcomes, consider signing up for the Fall Break Course Design Incubator. Perhaps you have a clear idea, but need help with the technical aspects of implementing your approach, in which case there is an upcoming Learning Technology Drop-In session on the 18th as well.


Week 8: The Teaching Tips take a step back this week to feature a new series from the Teaching Innovations Office that focuses on pedagogical lessons straight from the mouths of our fantastic UNCG faculty:

Green Screen with the TIO Team

In this new series, the TIO talks with a faculty member about their experiences and insights related to a particular pedagogical topic – the catch is that we do so with carefully-worded questions that hint at a series of chaotic scenes that are happening on the green screen behind them!

It’s Whose Line Is It Anyway? meets pedagogy on Green Screen with the TIO Team!

Join us in this episode as we chat with Dr. Bonnie Yarbrough (Department of English) about her strategies for successful learning in an online environment, including how to foster a community of learning and setting up successful groupwork.

If you want to learn more about the series – or are interested in joining us for an episode! – you can reach us at tio@uncg.edu.


Week 7: You, like many others, may have been surprised recently by this article in the New York Times about the business behind paper-writing services. Academic integrity is an ongoing concern for all of us, and this new version of an old problem presents a new set of anxieties around cheating. Today’s teaching tips are not about how to combat this potential new concern directly, but instead we draw from James Lang’s work Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty in order to highlight how fostering intrinsic motivation can help to reduce the opportunities and incentives to cheat in our courses:

  • Fostering Intrinsic Motivation through Questions. The primary focal point for reducing cheating in Cheating Lessons – fostering intrinsic motivation – is also the one that Lang recognizes is most difficult to achieve, as it also presents a goal that most of us already hold as paramount. How do we get our students interested in learning in and of itself? Lang gives us one helpful lens for this challenge, however, in his focus on thinking about how we approach asking questions with our students. He presents two options: (1) combine course content with the questions that your students bring to the course on their own, and/or (2) pose the authentic, messy questions that will intrigue and inspire them. You very well may be working towards this already, so know that this strategy is a great way to pursue multiple learning goals at the same time.

  • Immediate Questions. One way to structure the questions that we pose to our students to foster intrinsic is to focus on immediacy using time, place, and personal experiences. When it makes sense to do so, try to relate course content to events and issues that your students are experiencing real-time in that semester, in the local community of UNCG and Greensboro, or other aspects of students’ experiences that they bring to your course.

  • Interdisciplinary Questions. The more that we ask our students to draw connections across their own learning as students at UNCG, the more we help their long-term memory and learning. Luckily, this strategy also helps foster intrinsic motivation and reduce the opportunities to cheat. If it is possible in your course, open up the space in assignments or assessments for students to link their learning to other experiences on campus. This approach may be easiest in departments and programs with built-in interdisciplinarity, but you might also draw on Gen Ed categories in more advanced courses or co-curricular experiences in other courses. You will know what options might work for you to start posing the types of questions that foster intrinsic motivation.

If you want to talk more about fostering intrinsic motivation in your courses, consider reaching out for a consultation with us. If you want to hear more on academic integrity at UNCG, consider checking out this episode of the Teach’n Tips Podcast with Robert Barker and Mitch Croatt. If you are interested in exploring new technology for Canvas can help with cheating issues in online courses, then check out the Respondus Monitor Pilot opportunity below.


Week 6: In a conversation at our recent Face-to-Face Feedback session, an instructor asked about how to better recognize and celebrate the effort of students, since existing strategies did not seem to impact the attitude of students. To that end, while also noting that we have a session today on using badges in the classroom, today’s teaching tips look at small ways of recognizing and celebrating student effort in a learning environment:

  • Recognize competency and process. We often focus on demonstration of competency as the condition for praise, and it makes a lot of sense to do so. It can be immensely rewarding to work towards a learning outcome and then receive positive feedback for that effort, and higher ed is well-structured for doing that. Where we likely can all do better is in recognizing the learning process as well. Learning takes effort, and we can help our students if our feedback is targeted at, and celebrates, that reality. This advice pairs nicely with the established strategy of scaffolding our learning activities, giving us more opportunities for feedback on process.
  • Badges that recognize process and progress. Digital badges, or micro-credentials, can be a positive way to recognize progressive achievements in a course. They can help to put a bow on a student’s effort in a way that stands apart from the regular grading process. Badges, especially when tied to skills that students have worked to develop over multiple activities and assignments, provide a novel way of recognizing student effort. Even better, Canvas offers a way to automate the awarding of badges through Modules based on conditions that you set as the instructor.
  • Just keep swimming. It was implied by the instructor who initially asked today’s provoking question that standard forms of recognizing student effort were insufficient, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that specific, targeted praise in a course has a positive impact on student motivation and classroom climate. (On this point, Teaching Tips favorite The Spark of Learning emphasizes the pronounced effect of positive, encouraging feedback about competence and abilities.) If you, like the question asker, are already giving specific praise that recognizes effort in the learning process, then follow Dori from Finding Nemo’s advice and “just keep swimming!”

Again, if badges sound like an intriguing option, I encourage you to stop by this morning’s session on badges in the Faculty Center. Otherwise, check out the other great programs, social gatherings, and funding opportunities on the horizon!


Week 5: This week’s tips draw from a new book by David Gooblar, who writes the “Pedagogy Unbound” column for the Chronicle of Higher Education, which was recommended to me by one of our faculty. The book, The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You about College Teaching, covers a series of favorites – from student autonomy to giving better feedback to teaching in tumultuous times – but today’s tips come from his exploration of how to address resistance to active learning strategies:

  • Active learning as cooperative learning. The first thing to remember is that resistance to active learning is normal and expected. We all get used to patterns of behavior, and patterns of behavior in the learning environment are no different. You cannot assume buy-in, even if the literature makes the benefits to student learning clear. David Gooblar’s advice is to “treat students like colleagues whose cooperation you need,” because success requires their active participation. Gooblar recommends asking students to recall times when they have learned the most – academic or otherwise – as a way to open the conversation about active learning.
  • Lead by examples. Active learning asks students to be vulnerable with their current lack of understanding, so it is important to be transparent about the challenges of the learning process. You can alleviate some of that pressure by presenting students with strong examples of previous students’ successes. Annotated examples of past student work both shows students what is possible with their own learning processes, while also helping to be transparent about assessment in your course.
  • Lead by example. Research has shown that the most important determinants of class participation is student confidence and perception of class climate (Fassinger 1997), so one of our most significant challenges for promoting active learning is promoting inclusive learning. Again, try to be open about the challenges of the learning process, while also celebrating student effort and collective progress on learning, as this can help to establish a culture of respect.

If you are experiencing resistance to active learning, then you can always reach out to us here at the UTLC for a consultation or classroom observation. You can also join us this Friday to practice and get direct feedback at the Face-to-Face Feedback session in the Faculty Center.


Week 4: In a week in which we will continue to think about both technology and inclusion in our learning environments, the Teaching Tips bring back this list of focal points for how differentiated instruction can help promote an equitable and inclusive learning environment:

  • Focus on need. As a pedagogical approach, 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 using adaptive learning software, can help the instructor focus on providing options that meet the learner at their level of need.
  • Focus on competency. By requiring a focus on the end goal – the learning outcomes – 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, and differentiation embraces this idea as it tries to move all learners towards competency in the end.
  • Focus on a growth mindset. At the core of focusing on both need and competency is the promotion and celebration 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.

In addition to next week’s workshop on adaptive learning and VOISES panel, you also have the opportunity to get feedback on how to continue to promote inclusive learning environments with our Teaching Squares on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion or practice fresh strategies in our second Face-to-Face Feedback session on Friday the 13th – come with a new lesson or activity, and we will do our best to make sure that it won’t be an unlucky day!


Week 3: One important part of classroom discussions is setting up collective guidelines for having more productive interactions with one’s peers. Discussions will never be immune from conflict, but how you set them up goes a long way towards facilitating more inclusive learning environments. Today’s tips draw from Brookfield and Preskill’s work, Discussion as a Way of Teaching, to present their four purposes of discussion as a tool for opening conversations about discussion guidelines and expectations:

  • Building critical skills. It is often important to emphasize that discussions are rarely spaces for definitive right and wrong answers. There may very well be right and wrong answers, but there are better contexts for working on those skills. As we introduce discussions into our classes, it will be helpful if we can avoid the sense that students can win one over their peers, and instead focus on critical exploration of topics under consideration.
  • Promoting self-awareness. Another closely related purpose of discussion is helping to enhance learners’ self-awareness and capacity for self-critique. If we state this purpose from the outset, we help to emphasize that we are bound to make mistakes in our learning, and that our peers and colleagues are allies in that learning process.
  • Appreciating diversity of perspectives. There is too much to cover in a short teaching tip for all that goes into working to build inclusive learning environments, but discussions can be an important site for that work. Emphasize differences of perspective, the learning that can come from engaging with difference, and the importance of understanding the impact that one’s words have on others.
  • Catalyzing informed action. Brookfield and Preskill’s fourth and final purpose of discussion reminds us to remind our students that discussions are not isolated, detached learning experiences. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything wraps up when the discussions end. The learning that happens in discussions can be connected readily to other active and experiential learning activities, but students may need your help in making those connections.

It has been a couple of years since Dr. Brookfield visited our campus, but you can still find a recording of his session on discussions on our website here. For some sample guidelines that you might use to open up the conversation in your classroom, check out this resource from the University of Michigan. If you are thinking about trying out a new way of introducing discussions, there are plenty of ways to get practice and feedback on your pedagogical approaches, either before you bring them into your classrooms or as you implement them.

Week 2: As classes get started, we will embrace some old favorite tips that come from Sarah Rose Cavanagh, who visited UNCG last year, in her book, The Spark of Learning. Today’s tips focus on advice from the neuroscience of emotion on how attention to affect can help to make good first impressions in a course:

  • Confidence and Optimism. Cavanagh cites the work of social psychologist Nalini Ambady, who found that affective characteristics of faculty teaching highly correlated with student evaluations. It may sound trite, but the two best predictors of positive evaluations were perceptions of confidence and optimism by the instructor. If confidence and optimism seem a bit amorphous as goals for your teaching, one of the strategies for doing so is simple: bring things that interest you, topics that you care about, to your teaching. The enthusiasm generated by communicating course content through lenses that matter to you can often translate as confidence and optimism about content and the learning process to students.

  • Verbal and Non-verbal Immediacy. If you’re wondering what it actually looks like in practice, then consider two types of “immediacy,” or actions that convey interest in your students. Verbal immediacy involves taking care to recognize good contributions directly and celebrating collective progress of the group – using “we” and “us” – towards learning outcomes. Non-verbal immediacy focuses on embodied interest – such as eye contact, leaning forward, moving around, smiling, or vocal inflection – which may be more difficult to practice (even more so in an online environment!). Consider videotaping a session, or reaching out to us for a classroom observation for feedback on non-verbal immediacy.

  • Practice self-care. Finally, as I was reminded in a recent workshop with faculty, we often spend a lot of time talking about how important caring for the whole student is as part of higher education, but we could also do with remembering to extend ourselves the same care. Whether that means being more deliberate about rest, nutrition, exercise, and/or regular downtime to decompress, we are able to bring more of ourselves to our courses when we first check in with the things that make us happier and healthier. (And it is easier to begin those practices now!)

Week 1: Today’s tips focus on different strategies for helping your students to manage their cognitive load as they start a full semester of classes. The beginning of the semester is a lot for everyone, so here are some tips for introducing content in manageable chunks for learners:

  • Scaffolding. One approach to gradually introducing elements of a learning experience is scaffolding, or helping learners tackle more complicated skills or tasks by providing discrete, supported steps along the learning process. The goal is that, as the learner progresses through the tasks, the earlier skills become easier for them to do on their own, so that they are better able to take on the more complicated challenges that build on those core skills. Whether it is fundamental writing, reading, and other communication skills or complex disciplinary content, students will benefit from chunks of skill-building and assessment that provide scaffolding for their learning in your courses.
  • Gated Content. Another version of creating manageable chunks for students is using Canvas to moderate access to different content. If you’re using Modules in Canvas, then consider Prerequisites and Requirements – which you can find under the options when you Edit a Module – as these allows you to set the conditions under which students can access content in each individual Module. These settings can be a helpful way to allow Canvas to automatically help students to track their own progress through the course, while also potentially helping to avoid overwhelming them at the start of the course. You can also choose yourself when to publish each individual module, although this approach will not be automated. Check out the Canvas support online, or reach out to your ITCs, if you need more support with setting up these features.
  • Purposeful Work. Of course, while it is helpful to help chunk content and skills for your students, it is also important that they have a sense of why each of the smaller steps matter. Students may get frustrated with a feeling of busy work if they do not have a clear understanding of how the practice will help them in their aspirations. You may not be able to succinctly address all of the possible reasons why a particular skill can be important to each of your students, but it can make a meaningful impact to tie chunked content to an overall sense of purpose for student learning. In Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe’s WHERE-TO model, the first W stands for ensuring students have a sense of Where their learning is headed and Why, which is a helpful reminder about how purposeful work helps to drive student motivation.
2018 – 2019

Week 32: And, just like that, the semester is over! In the spirit of online learning, today’s tips focus on facilitating more productive online discussions:

  • Structure and Purpose. As with most things with online learning, it is much more difficult to correct details on the fly for discussions. Since forums can become increasingly chaotic as enrollment grows, it is important to keep two things about the structure of online discussions in mind: (1) pedagogical purpose and (2) clear expectations for civil discussions. In the first case, you are more likely to get productive discussions if you articulate why discussions are important for student learning. It helps to promote genuine engagement if you can relate discussions directly to the overall assessment of course learning outcomes, rather than simply stating that discussions are a required part of the course. Clarity of purpose can be as important for productive online discussions as clear technical instructions for things like deadlines or how to respond to a post.
  • Structure and Expectations. The second important aspect of structure is setting expectations for the interpersonal dimensions of participating in class discussion forums. It will not come as a surprise to anybody that the internet does not provide us many positive models for digital discourse. It should not be assumed that your students will know how to engage with fellow students in the online environment, so it is important to detail appropriate etiquette and best practices for participation. Also – as much as we may wish we didn’t have to – it is important to include the consequences for uncivil or antisocial behavior.
  • Visibility. If participation and engagement continue to be an issue – as they often are – then consider how frequently you are visible as an instructor in discussion forums. Instructors both model high-quality participation and demonstrate that the activity is meaningful. Regular check-ins are preferable to intermittent flurries of responses, in terms of improving student participation through instructor visibility, so try to squeeze in a post or two as regularly you can.

Dr. Kristen Betts, the keynote for this year’s TOPPS, is an expert on online discussions and feedback, and everyone at our office is looking forward to learning from her next week. We hope that you’ll join us by signing up for TOPPS here before registration closes tomorrow. Some sessions are full, but most of them still have spots open! If you cannot make it next week, then consider signing up for our Course Design Incubator for an institute that focuses on course design more generally.

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 tntips@uncg.edu.

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 tntips@uncg.edu (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!

2017 – 2018

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 100FThere 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 MellonUniversity 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).

2016 – 2017

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.