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Teaching Strategy Resource Shelf

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  • Examining the Benefits of Cumulative Tests and Finals

    (from Faculty Focus). Examining the Benefits of Cumulative Tests and Finals. With the academic year nearly over and final exams upon us, it’s a good time to consider how we assess student knowledge in our courses. Cumulative finals are still used in many courses, but a significant number of faculty have backed away from them because they are so unpopular with students, who strongly voice their preferences for exams that include only questions on content covered in that unit or module. Although teachers should not ignore or discount student preferences across the board, there is the larger issue of which testing procedures best promote deep learning and lasting retention of course content. The evidence on the side of cumulative exams and finals is pretty much overwhelming, and those empirical results should not come as a surprise. An exam with questions on current and previous content encourages continued interaction with course material, and the more students deal with the content, the better the chances they will remember it. Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason they ought to be used: preparing for them requires more time and energy devoted to understanding and remembering course content.

    Cumulative finals are better than unit tests, but cumulative exams across the course are the best option if the goal is long-term retention. Good and plentiful research documents that students taking cumulative exams during the course score significantly higher when given content exams after the course is over. 

  • Assigning Course Grades.

    (from UIUC CITL) Assigning Course Grades. The end-of-course grades assigned by instructors are intended to convey the level of achievement of each student in the class. These grades are used by students, other faculty, university administrators, and prospective employers to make a multitude of different decisions. Unless instructors use generally-accepted policies and practices in assigning grades, these grades are apt to convey misinformation and lead the decision-maker astray. When grading policies and practices are carefully formulated and reviewed periodically, they can serve well the many purposes for which they are used.

    What might a faculty member consider to establish sound grading policies and practices? The issues which contribute to making grading a controversial topic are primarily philosophical in nature. There are no research studies that can answer questions like: What should an "A" grade mean? What percent of the students in my class should receive a "C?" Should spelling and grammar be judged in assigning a grade to a paper? What should a course grade represent? These "should" questions require value judgments rather than an interpretation of research data; the answer to each will vary from instructor to instructor. But all instructors must ask similar questions and find acceptable answers to them in establishing their own grading policies

  • Strategies to Warm Teaching While Maintaining High Expectations

    (from Scholarly Teacher). Strategies to Warm Teaching While Maintaining High Expectations. In a landmark article, Chickering and Gamson (1987) noted that a principle of good practice in undergraduate education is communicating high expectations. Hattie and colleagues (Donohoo et al., 2018; Hattie & Yates, 2013) reported that having high expectations is one of the strongest predictors of learning. It is noteworthy that these researchers speak of high expectations rather than rigor. Although some feel that high expectations are synonymous with rigor, these concepts are not the same. Increasingly, the meaning of rigor and how it is demonstrated is being questioned (Supiano, 2022). Traditionally, the old-school concept of rigor leads to “washing students out,” teaching a “gate-keeping course,” and ensuring that many students earn lower grades. Some faculty wear student failure as a badge of honor that supposedly demonstrates their rigor. Jack and Sathy (2021) argue that it is time to get rid of “rigor,” and replace it with more inclusive teaching practices that still hold high standards for our students. In other words, moving from the teaching-oriented concept of rigor to a more learning-oriented concept of high expectations. To help students to do their best, along with maintaining high expectations, we can create warmer teaching strategies that focus on compassion and support for our students and their learning. Student success, not failure, should be our badge of honor. 

  • The Benefits of Using Students as Guest Speakers

    (From Faculty Focus). The Benefits of Using Students as Guest Speakers. Last year I received a grant to support bringing guest scholars to my class. The idea was to find students with some expertise relevant to my courses and invite them to present in class, thereby giving the class a perspective on the material that I couldn’t provide. The grant enabled me to pay the guest scholars a stipend for their work. I had both the guest scholars and students complete questionnaires after these visits to class. 

    Here’s the rationale behind the idea. The task of the teaching professor is to educate, but what does that mean? The traditional notion is that education is something done to the students by the professor. The contrary radical notion is that education is something done by students for themselves—the old comparison between the student as container and the student as plant. A middle ground, which seems closer to reality than either of these theoretical positions, is that education is something done both by the professor with the students and by the students with the professor.


  • Teaching with Blogs

    (From Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching) Teaching with Blogs. Although people often think of social media as a space for non-academic interactions, blogs can be helpful tools for instructors interested in enhancing their students’ communication skills and increasing their students’ investment in learning. Blogs can be spaces for informal or formal writing by students, and the capacity of blogs to support multiple forms of media (images, videos, links, and so on) can help students bring creativity to their communication. Most blogs includes tools for commenting and discussion, enabling students to engage their ideas in conversation with others, either within their local learning communities or on the open Web.

    Student writing is often seen by just one person on the planet (their instructor), which can make writing assignments feel like “busy work.” The dynamic interaction between writer and audience that blogs facilitate can help students see real value in their academic writing and take that writing more seriously. Blogs can be an excellent balance between the rigor and structure of a formal written assignment and the freedom to experiment with ideas and arguments. 

  • Getting the Most out of Guest Experts Who Speak to Your Class

    (from Faculty Focus). Getting the Most out of Guest Experts Who Speak to Your Class. Inviting guest speakers into your classroom is a classic teaching strategy. Welcoming other voices into the classroom provides students with access to other perspectives, adds variety to the classroom routine, and demonstrates that learning is a collaborative enterprise. At the same time, however, presentations by guest experts are often plagued by a variety of design flaws that hinder their educational effectiveness. Guest experts, being unfamiliar with the mastery level of the students in the class, may speak over the heads of the students, or they may present their material at a level that is inappropriately introductory. Because they are generally unfamiliar with the class curriculum, they may repeat information that the students have already learned, or their comments may not connect in any clear way with what the students already know and what they are currently learning. 

    Miscommunication between the guest expert and the host professor, furthermore, may result in the guest’s presentation running either too short or, more commonly, too long. Despite these hurdles, the increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of higher education makes the kind of partnerships represented by guest-expert arrangements more important than ever. With a little extra preparation, professors can increase the likelihood of a productive guest expert experience

  • Using Reflective Writing to Get Students Connected with the Material


    (from Faculty Focus). Using Reflective Writing to Get Students Connected with the Material. When I was a sophomore in college, I took my first course in cognitive psychology and fell in love. I was so excited that we could apply the scientific process to understand how humans perform everyday tasks like learning, problem solving, language, and memory. When I walked into my first cognitive psychology classroom as an instructor, I was so excited to share this with students; however, I was shocked to learn that what was so obviously exciting and relevant to me was not so obvious to everyone else. Students were often frustrated by the apparent lack of relevance of the course material to their lives. One student once asked me with great exasperation, “Why do I have to understand research? I want to help people!”

    Not being able to find course material relevant is not only frustrating for students, but it can also impact their learning. Psychologists have long understood that being able to connect new information to previous knowledge or experiences is critical to understanding and remembering that material (e.g., Chi and Wylie, 2014). Furthermore, inclusive or engaged pedagogies argue that finding relevance in the course material is key to making all students, no matter their background, feel welcomed in the classroom (e.g., Fry, Ketteridge, and Marshall, 2008). The challenge, of course, is finding ways for students to bring in their relevant experience without undermining learning outcomes

  • Lighting the Path: Making Connections Between Classes and Careers

    (from Faculty Focus). Lighting the Path: Making Connections Between Classes and Careers. Students can have a hard time seeing how general education requirements and foundational classes help them achieve their goals. Students, especially adult learners, want to make measurable progress toward their degrees right out of the gate. Actually, want might be too weak a word. As they balance jobs, families, an income gap, and student debt that grows weekly, they need to make progress as a tangible achievement to keep them going. What I want to focus on are potential solutions, or at least actions we can take toward solutions. If we view a student’s educational journey as a continuity, as a process with incremental progress, how do we put the imprint of this journey on individual classes? We can do this in part by creating a context for the learning in our courses and through instilling a sense of direction by infusing reflection in the classroom. The online classroom is a dynamic space for having amazing interactions with our students. Sometimes it’s text, sometimes video or audio—there are dozens of ways to connect and dozens of potential locations for this interaction to take place: gradebook feedback, inbox, the discussion board. The key is to have meaningful conversations with our students, a dialogue, not a sermon from the mount but an interchange—a back and forth.

  • If At First you Don’t Fail, Try, Try Again

    (from The Scholarly Teacher). If At First you Don’t Fail, Try, Try Again. Video game players understand that failure is both informative and a fundamental part of learning. As a means to master skills in a video game, it is common practice for a novice player to take high-risk actions to discover how the game works. Exploring options and consequences is one way to learn about the complexities of a game as a strategy to advance within the game. Newbies may run an avatar off a cliff, jump to a high point, run into a dark cave, or intentionally engage in behavior that knowingly would result in an undesired outcome, in the short run. The gamer understands the risk of failure is high but yields valuable information that will contribute to future success, as the game advances. I have heard it often: "students need to learn that failure is an important part of education." I am not sure it is the students who need to learn this. No, students know that failure is an essential part of learning. Instead, I argue that to expand education, it is we, as faculty, need to make the learning environment safe for student failure. 

  • Use Three-Before-Me as a Communication Strategy in a Large Class

    (from Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository) Use Three-Before-Me as a Communication Strategy in a Large Class. The concept of “Three Before Me” pushes the responsibility of locating an answer to commonly asked questions to the student. The student must prove to the professor that he/she has contacted three different sources prior to contacting the professor. If a student has questions regarding the material, assignments, technical issues, and/or other related matters concerning the course, that student must take the initiative to find the answers. The “Three-Before-Me” rule is simply this: “You must prove that you have sought out at least three avenues to obtain information regarding a question or problem you are having before you can ask me. Chances are, someone in the class may have had the same question you do. Use the tools available to you to find out..”