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  • ChatGPT: A Must-See Before the Semester Begin

    (From Faculty Focus). ChatGPT: A Must-See Before the Semester Begins. I have seen friends on Facebook create decent songs and stunning artistic creations with little knowledge of music or art, all after spending a bit of time getting to know an AI art or music generator. But since the grammar assistants in my word processors often flag what is already correct and miss what I wish they should have caught, I’ve never felt AI writing was advancing very quickly.

    And then I met ChatGPT. The Facebook teaching page for my university has taken off on the topic, so I took a deep dive into what it can do. I’ve seen it create (in a flash) movie scripts and comic strips, sonnets and grant proposals, graduate course syllabi and lessons. It can execute math problems, showing all its work with written explanations. Nearly any writing prompt one might assign to be completed outside of class (with a few notable exceptions) can be written pretty well, quickly, at no cost, and undetectable by our current plagiarism software by anyone who takes a little time to learn the nuances of ChatGPT. I am spending the day after Christmas writing this because I don’t want anyone to lament, “Why didn’t anyone warn me about this sooner?”

  • Teaching with Care: Why Community is at the Heart of Successful Pedagogy

    (from Faculty Focus). Teaching with Care: Why Community is at the Heart of Successful Pedagogy. Teaching during the pandemic meant harnessing the power of community to build a classroom in which students could succeed, because they understood that a caring attitude was at the heart of such an endeavor; this lesson carries on even as we move forward. Crafting a community is as essential as providing high-level content and goes to the heart of successful pedagogy. In fact, relationship building is a key determinant of classroom success, according to researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (Mehta, 2020). A feeling of belonging can mitigate fears and counter the isolation that can take hold of students trying to navigate college. Community is also correlated with an enhanced level of engagement (Borup, Graham, West, R.E. et al, 2020). The more instructors are willing to formulate a foundation of belonging and shared mission, the more students will be inclined to participate. Emphasizing community as a cornerstone of strong pedagogy is one of the most effective ways to deepen learning and is something that helps all members of the classroom.  

  • An End-of-Semester Message to All Students

    (from Stony Brook University Division of Student Affairs). An End-of-Semester Message to All Students. As classes have ended and we are in the midst of finals, think about sending an end-of-semester message to your students as a wonderful send-off. An email letter can wish the students well and provide some advice and helpful resources.  

  • Reflective Teaching

    (from UC Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning) Reflective Teaching.  Reflecting on our teaching experiences, from the effectiveness of assignments to the opportunities for student interaction, is key to refining our courses and overall teaching practice. Reflective teaching can also help us gain closure on what may have felt like an especially long and challenging semester.

    The goal of critical self-reflection is to gain an increased awareness of our teaching from different vantage points (Brookfield 1995). Collecting multiple and varied perspectives on our teaching can help inform our intuitions about teaching through an evidence-based understanding of whether students are learning effectively. Stephen Brookfield, in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, proposes four lenses to use when examining and assessing our teaching. 

  • 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..”

  • Informal Early Feedback (IEF): A Valuable Opportunity for Just-in-Time Student Feedback

    Informal Early Feedback (IEF): A Valuable Opportunity for Just-in-Time Student Feedback.  Student evaluations of teaching are an important part of the feedback that instructors receive. This feedback can be especially helpful when it is collected midway in the semester. Our students can tell us if we explain clearly, are well-organized, grade fairly, and more. They may also be able to tell us if the activities we give them are well-aligned with the ways we evaluate their learning. Responding to students’ comments by discussing them in class, and making changes as appropriate, can lead to increased motivation, better learning, and possibly improved end-of-semester student ratings. Here is a description of the Informal Early Process (IEF) process and sample forms for you to adapt. If you would like assistance about the IEF from creation to implementation to interpretation, contact CITL through this form

  • Educators’ Most Effective Attention-Grabbing Technique - 5 Ways Compelling Teachers Move Beyond Presenting to Storytelling.

    (from Harvard Business Publishing - Education). Educators’ Most Effective Attention-Grabbing Technique - 5 Ways Compelling Teachers Move Beyond Presenting to Storytelling. Storytelling was Lincoln’s most powerful rhetorical tool. “He understood early on that concrete examples and stories provided the best vehicles for teaching,” writes Goodwin in Leadership in Turbulent Times. “He could simultaneously educate, entertain, and move his audiences.” And he, like many inspiring storytellers around the world, was able to do all that without the benefit of PowerPoint—a staple in today’s classroom. The tools of communication have changed since Lincoln regaled crowds with his storytelling techniques, but our minds are not wired to engage with bullet points on a slide. Our minds are wired for story. Many of us think in narrative and enjoy consuming content in story form. While there’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint as a tool for classroom learning, slides should not be designed to replace the educator—the storyteller. Instead, they should complement the story. Understanding the difference between presenting and storytelling is critical to an educator’s ability to engage students and stir their excitement. What follows are five storytelling strategies to help you stand out as an educator in any subject.

  • Add Trauma Glasses to Your Teacher Toolkit

     (from Faculty Focus) Add Trauma Glasses to Your Teacher Toolkit. Faculty members have a lot of responsibilities in addition to teaching, like planning, prepping, and advising. With enough time, I’m sure that l could add a considerable number of other duties to this list. We love the job because it is rewarding and challenging, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought on new challenges, such as work from home requirements, social isolation, and trying to get through these last few academic years with our physical and mental health still intact. Well, if you thought the slew of challenges was coming to an end, think again. 

    As higher education enrollment numbers decline, Covid relief funds dry up, inflation continues to rise, and labor shortages grow—pressure is building on many campuses. This sounds like an introduction to an essay about self-care or ways to avoid burnout, but it isn’t. Self-care and wellness are essential for faculty, but this is about our students, how we see them, and how to see them through trauma glasses. What are trauma glasses? Trauma glasses are a way to conceptualize how we view and interpret student behavior, and we all need to add them to our teacher toolkit

  • Empowering Students through Your Personal Narrative

    (from Faculty Focus) Empowering Students through Your Personal Narrative. Any teacher wants their students to feel engaged and enthusiastic in the classroom, connected and thriving through daily activities and course content. Of course, establishing that rapport and environment is a bridge that needs to be built every day, through every interaction, in any course. It’s not one action, or intervention, or step. But one intentional step that many teachers take is to create some introduction material for the course. Whether it’s an announcement or a video, a block of text or an audio snippet, instructors often go out of their way to say hello as students walk through the “doors” of the online classroom.  

    By leveraging your personal narrative—articulating your “why” and demonstrating your dedication—you can take steps to ensure that students feel more engaged and oriented within your new course, and that they feel comfortable and connected with you as their instructor. And while you can definitely spell this all out in words, and embellish with pictures, video has been shown to be a very dynamic way to connect with students.  

  • Advice for the First Day of Class: Today We Will ...

    (From Faculty Focus).  Advice for the First Day of Class: Today We Will. The first day of class is critical. What happens on the first day, even in the first moments, sets the tone for the entire course. The impression you make will last the entire semester, and today’s students are not shy about sharing their opinions. Most students will make up their minds about the course and the instructor during that first class period. That is why you must use the first day, the first moments of class, to inspire confidence in your abilities and create a classroom atmosphere where the rules are clear; expectations are high; and yet students feel welcome, comfortable, and engaged

  • Rethinking Deadline and Late Penalty Policies…Again

    (From Faculty Focus). Rethinking Deadline and Late Penalty Policies…Again. Recurring discussions regarding the syllabus pertain to handling excuses, extension requests, and late work, because teachers regularly deal with those issues. Suggested remedies range from giving one-time grace to assuming deception as the norm. If you have been a teacher for any length of time, you already have some sort of policy and have maybe modified it more than once. With this article, I am providing a peek at how and why I morphed from a rigid to a more flexible deadline/late penalty policy and what I observed as a result.   

  • Syllabus Format May Enhance Understanding of Course Requirements

    (from Faculty Focus). Syllabus Format May Enhance Understanding of Course Requirements. Over the years, course syllabi have evolved from a simple document that outlines course objectives and requirements to an intimidating, multi-paged contract of terms and conditions for successful course completion. A number of writers have proposed syllabus makeovers, including some who’ve suggested the syllabus be offered in newsletter style. Others have proposed quizzing students on the syllabus as a way to encourage them to read it carefully.

    We decided to try these two ideas and investigate if they helped students understand four essential course requirements: course objectives, course policies, procedures for late work, and the number of exams. Each of us created one traditional course syllabus and one graphically enhanced syllabus in newsletter format, randomly distributing each type on the first day of class. We quizzed students on the course requirements on the second day of class. Both syllabi contained identical content. One of our goals as instructors is to place the responsibility for learning experiences on students. We thought a more engaging syllabus format might be more intellectually invigorating and better at connecting students with the course. Moreover, for those of us who include student learning objectives (SLOs), we hoped that offering them in this format might stimulate more self-regulated student learning. So, which syllabus format is better for students?


  • Can Gamification Drive Increased Student Engagement?

    (from EDUCAUSE Review). Can Gamification Drive Increased Student Engagement? New methodologies in learning can create new distractions for students, especially with remote learning. Gamification may hold the secret to increasing student engagement and keeping classrooms whole. Gamification is not a new concept in learning. It has been used for centuries in some form or another. The advent of wireless technologies has given gamification new life—creating unique ways to leverage it for even greater learning. This is especially true in hybrid learning environments, where gamification could increase student engagement and create a greater sense of community as the classroom expands beyond physical walls.

  • Would They Play? Would They Learn?

    (from Faculty Focus). Would They Play? Would They Learn? Like many of my colleagues, I’ve had my doubts about the educational value of “gaming” in college classrooms. In my mind, there’s an uneasy relationship between entertainment and education. Could gaming really be about learning, or is it just another example of pandering to student interests? And the games don’t have to be highly technical, expensive, or time-consuming to create. I’m pretty well convinced that game-like elements (rather than full blown games) can be powerful motivators and learning tools. Game-like elements could prompt engagement and learning in the classroom. I saw firsthand just how simple the gamification of our existing ideas can be. Teachers can use already existing activities and gamify them! Simply add a challenging problem-solving aspect to the activity, add surprises, and make it more playful, and you’ve gone from active to game-like!

  • Is My Teaching Learner-Centered?

    (from Faculty Focus). Is My Teaching Learner-Centered? It’s hard to say—we have no definitive measures of learner-centeredness or even mutually agreed upon definitions. And yet, when we talk about it, there’s an assumption that we all understand the reference.

    My friend Linda recently gave me a beautifully illustrated children’s book that contains nothing but questions. It reminded me how good questions, like beams of light, cut through the fog and illuminate what was once obscured. And so, to help us further explore and understand what it means to be learner-centered, I’ve generated a set of questions. For the record, these questions were not empirically developed, and they haven’t been validated in any systematic way. However, they do reflect the characteristics regularly associated with learner-centered teaching.  Questions like these can be useful in helping us to confront how we teach. They produce the most insights when asked sincerely and answered honestly. For most of us, there’s a gap between how we aspire to teach and how we actually teach. Given the less-than-objective view we have of ourselves as teachers, it’s easy to conflate aspirations with actualities. 

  • Interpret Feedback and Interpreting Your Student Reports.

    (from Stanford University: Evaluation & Research, Student Affairs). Interpret Feedback and Interpreting Your Student Reports. (Note: This article may be of value as you have just received your end-of-semester ICES Online results).  As you read through your reports, bear in mind that Stanford’s student course feedback forms are designed to direct students’ attention towards their own learning. The responses should reflect how much and how well students learned in your course. The teaching feedback form, however, directs attention to individual section instructors.

    Look for patterns: are the distributions consistent and in the ranges you expect? Are there unusual clusters, such as a “spike,” or a very high and very low grouping? A single mean score can be a few decimal points higher or lower simply due to the random sample of students in a particular course from term to term. An increase or decrease of a few decimal points should not necessarily be interpreted as a significant change. For more information, read our discussion paper on the reliability of evaluation statistics (PDF). Finally, it is common to concentrate on outliers or unique responses, but it is more useful to look for patterns and trends than speculate about an isolated score. Let’s begin with general questions

  • Assigning Final Course Grades

    (from UIUC Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning – CITL) Assigning Final 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 are practices are carefully formulated and reviewed periodically, they can serve well the many purposes for which they are used

  • Grading and Performance Rubrics

    (from Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center). Grading and Performance Rubrics. What are rubrics? A rubric is a scoring tool that explicitly represents the performance expectations for an assignment or piece of work. A rubric divides the assigned work into component parts and provides clear descriptions of the characteristics of the work associated with each component, at varying levels of mastery. Rubrics can be used for a wide array of assignments: papers, projects, oral presentations, artistic performances, group projects, etc. Rubrics can be used as scoring or grading guides, to provide formative feedback to support and guide ongoing learning efforts, or both. In the following paragraphs, we share some advantages of using rubrics and sample rubrics across different assignment types and disciplines.

  • Ending the Semester

    (from Georgetown University CNDLS) Ending the Semester. A semester is a marathon effort, and, by the time you reach the end of it, it’s quite possible that everyone—you and the students both—will be exhausted, and perhaps very ready to leave the course behind. But one last thoughtful push can ensure that the course’s conclusion is meaningful in its own right. Naturally, the final stretch of the course is an important time to reflect on the class experience and the material that’s been covered. Not only is it an opportunity to review material that students might need to revisit as they approach final exams and final papers—or to answer any questions that, for the students, remain unresolved—it’s also an opportunity to underscore the significance of the experience the students have just had, to invite the students to appreciate how far they’ve come in a few months. Here are some ways to maximize the end of the semester through reflection, integration, gathering feedback, and looking forward.

  • Eleven Tips to End of The Semester Success (From One Student to Another):

    (from Utica College Student Voices). Eleven Tips to End of The Semester Success (From One Student to Another). The end of the semester (especially Spring Semester) can bring many challenges and stressors. The weather is starting to get nicer, the days are getting longer, and your attention span is getting shorter. If your class schedule has looked anything like mine, you’ve probably been pounded with essays, projects, and tests since returning from spring break. It can all get very overwhelming quickly, and by the time finals starts approaching you’ve all but virtually checked out. As hard as it may be, it’s important to keep your morale high to get through finals. No one wants to throw away all the hard work they’ve put in throughout the semester over a little stress and fatigue. So, here’s some of my tips on how to stay focused and finish out the semester strong.

  • Yes, Virginia, there is a better way to grade

    (from inside higher ed). Yes, Virginia, there is a better way to grade.  Pause a moment to consider the way we’ve been grading our students’ work since time immemorial. The way we allocate points on the basis of apparent quality. The way we struggle to be fair in giving the same number of points to works of comparable quality, even though they differ a great deal -- and the time it takes us to make these hairsplitting decisions. The way students stress over the points their work does or doesn’t get. The way they challenge our grading decisions in the hope of squeezing more points out of us -- despite the agonizing care and attention to detail we give to their work. For students, it’s all about maximizing partial credit.

    Imagine another grading system, one where you grade all assignments and tests satisfactory/unsatisfactory, pass/fail. Students earn all of the points associated with the work, or none of them, depending on whether their work meets the particular specifications you laid out for it. This is why I call this grading system specifications, or specs, grading. Think of the specs as a one-level, uni-dimensional rubric. But don’t think of them as defining D or even C minus work. Rather, imagine that they define truly “satisfactory” as at least B work -- maybe even A minus work. This assures rigor.   

  • Now More Than Ever: Why Collaborative Grading Works, Even Online

    (from Faculty Focus). Now More Than Ever: Why Collaborative Grading Works, Even Online.  Over the previous decade, researchers have made the case that engaging students in metacognition improves learning outcomes for students across fields (Zhao et al, 2014; Yeager & Dweck, 2012; Anderson, 2002). We believe one of the best ways to engage students in metacognition and self-assessment is to involve them directly in the grading process. We outline two strategies for doing so: class-generated rubrics and collaborative grading sessions. We also offer helpful guidance on using technology to enhance each, and offer tips on how students (as well as faculty) can learn how to fully engage in the learning process online.


  • Five Strategies for Mastering the Art of Answering Questions When Teaching and Presenting

    (from Faculty Focus) Five Strategies for Mastering the Art of Answering Questions When Teaching and Presenting.  In academia, we get asked a lot of questions whether we are teaching, giving research presentations, interviewing, or mentoring. This is exciting but can also be scary. The questions are often the most stressful part of teaching and presenting because we cannot truly predict or control the questions we are asked. It is important to first note that our experiences as teachers and presenters impact the experiences of our audiences, such that when we are more engaged, they are more engaged and learn better from us (Saucier, 2019a; Saucier, Miller, Martens, & Jones, in press).  For example, by bringing PEACE to our classes in the form of our Preparation, Expertise, Authenticity, Caring, and Engagement (Saucier, 2019b; Saucier & Jones, 2020), we can intentionally create class environments that promote learning. In the following, we discuss five simple strategies (such as Smile-Breathe-Think-Talk) to enhance our engagement as teachers and presenters that, in doing so, will make the experience of answering questions better for us and our audience

  • The Teaching Exchange: Fostering Critical Thinking

    (From Vanderbilt University The Center for Teaching) The Teaching Exchange: Fostering Critical Thinking. There are two general approaches that I find helpful in producing a classroom setting conductive to critical inquiry. These involve 1) the establishment of an environment in which both parties, student and teacher, function as partners in inquiry, and 2) the employment of a set of questioning strategies specifically geared to the acquisition of higher-order thinking and reasoning skills.

    Central to making students feel they are partners in a community of learners is the creation of a climate of trust, so that students feel safe in offering their own ideas. I try to foster a sense of “we-feeling” by asking, for example, “How can we explain this development? What does it mean to us?” Using plural pronouns creates a dialogue that has less of an adversarial tone and underscores the idea of students and teachers as partners in inquiry. I have also found that learning student names as quickly as possible is essential for developing trust. I give students a rationale for the value of an interactive classroom. I assure them that interaction is not designed to embarrass them, but rather to facilitate learning and make the subject matter more interesting. This lets students know they have some control over class proceedings and that their insights and contributions will be validated in our mutual quest for understanding. Here are some additional strategies

  • Variations to Traditional Multiple-Choice Tests

    (from Faculty Focus). Variations to Traditional Multiple-Choice Tests.  Many college courses employ multiple choice (MC) tests as a primary means of assessment. Although these are sometimes critiqued (Kaufman, 2001), modifications can be made to this assessment, based in cognitive science, to increase the value of this testing format. Here, we consider several alternatives to traditional MC testing: the use of student-constructed cheat sheets, collaborative testing, using student-generated test items, universal design for learning, and providing immediate feedback.

  • Improving Your Test Question

    (from University of Illinois Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning). Improving Your Test Questions. Constructing exams is one of our most difficult responsibilities as reported by faculty. And it is at the same time one of our most important responsibilities. Some of the considerations when writing test items are: whether to use subjective vs. objective items, what types of objective and subjective items to use, and how to write effective, valid items. Visit CITL’s resources here to learn more about constructing test questions and to see sample test items

  • Keeping Stress from Evolving into Distress: A Guide on Managing Student Stress through Course Design

    (from Vanderbilt Univesity Center for Teaching). Keeping Stress from Evolving into Distress: A Guide on Managing Student Stress through Course Design. Stress is an omnipresent feature of most Americans lives (American Psychological Association 2010). The American Psychological Association defines stress as a “pattern of specific and nonspecific responses an organism makes to stimulus events that disturb its equilibrium and tax or exceed its ability to cope” (Gerrig and Zimbardo 2002) . Stress affects all Americans regardless of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status or prior life experience. Typically those who are experiencing stress report feeling “overwhelmed, worried or run-down” (Alvord et al., n.d.). Now more than ever, college students feel stressed in the university setting (Yorke 2004). These feelings are particularly acute among first and second year students who may be away from home for the first time and trying to adjust to college life (Misra and McKean 2000).

    Stress can be both beneficial and harmful. Stress is beneficial when it leads to the production of energy boosts that increase alertness and help individuals power through high stress situations such as exams and/or work deadlines. This type of stress is typically referred to as eustress. On the other hand, stress is harmful when it is experienced in excess (Alvord et al., n.d.). This form of stress is referred to as distress. According to the American Psychological Association, distress can lead to adverse health outcomes that affect the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems (Alvord et al., n.d.). This teaching guide identified several behavioral, emotional and psychological signs of student distress and ways to minimize stress.


  • Supporting Struggling Students Through Collaborative Problem Solving

    (from Faculty Focus). Supporting Struggling Students Through Collaborative Problem Solving. Every semester faculty are faced with students who struggle with completing assignments, understanding the content, or just find it difficult to participate in class activities and discussions. For many, these struggles are connected to low grades, negative perceptions of the instructor and class, increased absences, and indicative of a general lack of engagement.  It is not uncommon for faculty to misinterpret these students as lazy, unmotivated, or just unprepared to do college-level work.  Faculty regularly reach out to assist, but some students are put into the university machinery of “student support,” where their worlds become more complex with emails connecting them to support services like tutoring and counseling, or notifying them that they are in danger of failing or not passing a course. Although this outreach is intended to motivate and help, there is a very real cognitive and emotional load that can be demoralizing if not debilitating. This is complicated, if not impossible terrain to navigate for all of us who genuinely want to see students succeed. Greene (2009) developed a framework for collaborative problem solving as a way to organize, support, and deeply engage students in identifying realistic ways to get back on track and succeed within the classroom. This framework has three steps that can be applied across multiple modalities.  All three steps are based on the fact that we are not merely disseminating information, but teaching human beings to think through content to build disciplinary skills, insights, and understanding

  • Classroom Climate: Creating a Supportive Classroom Environment

    (from Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center). Classroom Climate: Creating a Supportive Classroom Environment. Why is classroom climate Important? The teaching-learning process is an inherently social act, and as instructors we need to be mindful of the quality of the social and emotional dynamics in our course, because they impact learning and performance. In fact, a well-established body of research has documented the effects of a “chilly classroom climate” on some students or groups of students, in particular women and other minorities (Hall, 1982).  For example, climate regulates the circulation and construction of knowledge and engenders emotions that impact learning, among other areas

  • Increasing Inclusivity in the Classroom

    (from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching Excellence). Increasing Inclusivity in the Classroom. Drawing from the literature on inclusive teaching in higher education, the first section in this teaching guide considers the importance of increasing inclusivity and is framed by two overarching issues. The first issue is that of student belonging in their classrooms and in the broader campus culture. Most students struggle to transition into college, but students of less privileged and more marginal backgrounds face even greater challenges as they enter what they can perceive to be an unwelcoming or even hostile environment (Carter, Locks, Winkle-Wagner, & Pineda, 2006; Kalsner & Pistole, 2003). To help students overcome challenges integrating into college life, teachers can work to cultivate a sense of belonging among their students. Section Two of this teaching guide provides resources for teachers to increase the sense of belonging in their classrooms.

    The goals of this teaching guide are threefold: 1) to discuss the importance of inclusivity in the classroom, 2) to present examples of teaching more inclusively, and 3) to provide additional resources for further guidance.


  • Tricks and Tips for Teaching with Masks

    (from University of Michigan LSA Technology Services). Tricks and Tips for Teaching with Masks. Above and beyond masking policies for indoor spaces on campus, University of Michigan Face Covering Policy  (University of Illinois Face Covering Policy) requires all people to wear masks in any classroom or classlab. This also includes spaces where classes are being held, such as conference rooms and lab spaces. 

    Teaching with a mask on does present a number of challenges, especially if the instructor has back-to-back courses or multiple sessions on a single day.  Here are 24 Teaching Tips for Teaching with Masks; e.g., how to use a microphone, breathing techniques, and maximizing body language.

  • Using Google Tools to Enhance Course Delivery

    (from Faculty Focus). Using Google Tools to Enhance Course Delivery. As teachers embrace digital tools for online learning, many online tools can enhance and facilitate the organization and delivery of courses. Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Slides, and Google Jamboard have the power to deliver more efficient and effective learning experiences. These digital tools can support professors as they organize course information while also enhancing student collaboration. Google tools also offer a variety of ways to increase productivity and streamline the dissemination of information to students, such as google docs, google forms, google slides, and jamboard.

  • Faculty Tips for Starting the Semester Remotely

    (from Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning). Faculty Tips for Starting the Semester Remotely. The first week of the semester is a critical time for setting the tone of the course, motivating and exciting students for learning, beginning to form a community, and establishing your expectations for students. Here are a few tips for accomplishing these goals when you must start the semester remotely, so that you don’t lose that opportunity, such as prioritize well-being for yourself and your students, set clear communications with your students, and create opportunities for the students to know each other. We have also compiled student tips for starting the semester remotely, which you may want to share with your students.

  • The Rhythms of the Semester: Implications for Practice, Persona

    (from Faculty Focus). The Rhythms of the Semester: Implications for Practice, Persona. We begin each semester on a different note than we end on. The early weeks hold promise and high hopes, both often curtailed when the first assignments are graded. The final weeks find us somewhere between being reluctant or relieved to see a class move on. There is an inexplicable but evident interaction between our teaching persona and the persona a class develops throughout a semester. Some structural factors influence both: among them—the type and level of a course, the discipline, the time of day, and whether the students are a cohort or a unique collection of individuals. Using our understanding of the effects and predictability of the arc, we can help students effectively navigate through the highs and lows of a course. 

  • Make the Most of the First Day of Class

    (from Carnegie Mellon University – Eberly Center). Make the Most of the First Day of Class (Loosely based on Lyons et al. 2003). The first day of class always creates some nervousness, even for seasoned instructors. It helps to have a mental checklist of objectives to accomplish so that you and your students come away with the impression that the course is off to a good start.

    The first class meeting should serve at least two basic purposes: 1) To clarify all reasonable questions students might have relative to the course objectives, as well as your expectations for their performance in class. As students leave the first meeting, they should believe in your competence to teach the course, be able to predict the nature of your instruction, and know what you will require of them and 2) To give you an understanding of who is taking your course and what their expectations are.  These two basic purposes expand into a set of eight concrete objectives.  

  • Last Day of Class

    (from Berkeley University Center for Teaching & Learning). Last Day of Class. "Not with a whimper, but a bang." – (A revisionist view of T.S. Eliot). Make the last day count. Too often, the last day of a class can be taken up with housekeeping-information on the final, last minute details, and course evaluations. But as Richard Lyons, author of several books on college teaching says, "the final class is a key student retention milepost."  Here is a potpourri of ideas from Berkeley faculty

  • Parting Ways: Ending Your Course

    (from Association for Psychological Sciences). Parting Ways: Ending Your Course. Much emphasis has been placed on the use of activities at the beginning of a course to provide opportunities for introductions, begin to create a comfortable classroom atmosphere to encourage discussion and learning, or develop a sense of community and group identity. In many teaching books (e.g., McKeachie, 1999) there is an entire chapter devoted to getting started and what to do on the first day of a course such as breaking the ice, introducing the teacher and textbook, and allowing time for questions. Much less attention has been given to the equally important task of providing closure at the end of a course or seminar.

    After a great deal of time developing a sense of comfort and community in the classroom, ignoring class endings seems awkward and abrupt to both students and faculty. Here are some suggested “parting-ways” techniques.

  • Last Day of Class

    (from Berkeley University Center for Teaching & Learning). Last Day of Class. Make the last day count. Too often, the last day of a class can be taken up with housekeeping-information on the final, last minute details, and course evaluations. But as Richard Lyons, author of several books on college teaching says, "the final class is a key student retention milepost." Some suggestions are: “Thank the class” (where one professor says,  "I take some time to thank the students for their part in the course and to tell them what they did to make my job easier (e.g. worked hard, asked questions, were cheerful, etc.) and “Students' concluding remarks” (after providing your own remarks, ask for theirs). Here is a potpourri of ideas from Berkeley faculty.

  • Final Exams

    (from Harvard University, Bok Center).  Final Exams. Final exams remain one of the most common genre of capstone assignments, set at the end of courses in order to give students (and instructors) the opportunity to synthesize and reflect on the full arc of the semester. To some degree, the popularity of exams among instructors and students may owe something to their sheer familiarity. Often, because instructors assume that students are familiar with the form, they also assume that students need relatively little preparation in order to do well on them, thus freeing up class time for more content coverage. This is not always the case, however, and in order for exams to fulfill their potential for assessing certain levels of understanding, instructors must be clear about the purpose of what they will ask students to do, write good questions, and scaffold students into the exam. 

    Before you settle on a particular genre of assessment, we recommend that you visit these pages on capstone assignmentswriting effective assignment prompts, and sequencing and scaffolding.


  • Don't Spam Your Students and Other Practical Communication Tips

    (from Faculty Focus) Don't Spam Your Students and Other Practical Communication Tips.  Like us, students get a lot of messages in their inbox, which leads to students’ eyes glazing over, and then our messages get lost in the mix. How can we avoid that? Set up a consistent communication protocol that is shared with students the first week and then stick to it.

    Here’s an example: Once a week, send students a message that includes what is upcoming along with other important information or announcements. Send that update on the same day each week so that students know that on Friday (or whichever day you choose) they will get a class update. We are going for quality rather than quantity. Yes, this takes a little planning ahead, but the resulting clarity of communication will pay off. Here are ways to maximize communication through other means, such as announcements section, course webpage, and student-friendly assignment schedule.

  • The Sound of Silence Can Be Deafening and the Questions You Ask Your Students Can Provoke It

    (From Stanford’s Tomorrow’s Professor). The Sound of Silence Can Be Deafening and the Questions You Ask Your Students Can Provoke It. A colleague recently told me that the students in his undergraduate class “didn’t want to talk.” He and I had previously talked about how to get students more engaged, and I had suggested to him that he ask questions. I probed, “What kinds of questions have you asked your students?” He replied, “Well, the first question I asked this morning was ‘What is the main point of the article I assigned for the day?’” Nobody said anything. I pointed out that even I might be afraid to answer such a question. Such questions pose a severe challenge to the confidence of undergraduate students, because the instructor knows the answer and they don’t. The answer is a “fact” which the instructor clearly thinks the students should have already known before they came to class. When it comes to answering questions about “facts,” there are many ways to be wrong, but only one way to be right. When faced with this dilemma, students are understandably silent.

    I suggested that he come up with nonthreatening questions: questions that didn’t put a student’s self-confidence and reputation at risk. There are better ways which start with different types of questions.