Skip to content

The Center for Transformative Teaching Posts

Shared Expectations

During a casual conversation with a faculty member, we were talking about the then upcoming quarter and the planning she was doing (along with her department colleagues) to get ready for the beginning of classes. Coincidentally, an email from the Faculty Focus blog (written by my all time favorite blogger, Dr. Maryellen Weimer, showed up in my email inbox:  What Happens in a Course is a Shared Responsibility. Weimer says, “Early in my teaching career, I heard a wise colleague tell students, ‘It’s not my class. It’s not your class. It’s our class, and together we will make it a good or not-so-good learning experience.’ ” I looked back at some of my old syllabi and realized I made some of the same mistakes that many faculty commonly make. I outlined the expectations I had for students, including things like punctuality, adherence to class rules, and the cell phone prohibition. Where, I wondered, was my statement about what students could expect from me? I did all the things that Weimer talks about: “We can carefully prepare and organize course materials, design effective activities, treat all students fairly, offer clear explanations, and establish policies that promote learning.” But did I explicitly state what they could expect? Probably not.

Weimer’s article talks mostly about how to create a classroom with shared responsibility for students’ learning. Here are the three things she suggests will be contributing factors in their success:

  1. Students will take responsibility for their own learning.
  2. Students will support the efforts that the teacher makes to help them learn.
  3. Individual students can contribute to the learning experience of other students in the classroom.

One of the activities that we use in the 5-Star Consortium Best Practices orientation for new associate faculty each quarter is “Developing Shared Expectations.” This activity right at the beginning of the orientation helps us build community with a large group of faculty from all levels of experience (some from previous academic institutions and some from industry and some with no prior experience at all!) and helps them build community within the group. We ask, “what can we as facilitators do to make this a rich learning experience?” and “what will you do to make this a rich learning experience?” We encourage the new faculty to try this on the first day of class, and to post it in their Canvas class or even on the wall of the classroom so that it can be referenced throughout the quarter. We have found that when it is regularly reinforced in conversations in the class that students will generally meet the factors set out by Weimer in her article.

Are there activities that you use in the classroom that help to build shared responsibility? Let us know! We are always looking for topics to write about, and look forward to hearing from you!


Comments closed

Solve a Teaching Problem

I recently had the opportunity to spend some quality time with one of my teaching and learning heroes, Todd Zakrajsek. Todd is at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of Fellowship Programs in the Department of Family Medicine. I met him several years ago at a multiple day professional development workshop – when I was first finding my way in the Pro-D world – and was immediately impressed by his approach to working with faculty. Just today I received an email from The Scholarly Teacher (one of the T&L blogs I read) and the latest post is by Todd: Students Who Don’t Participate in Class Discussions: They Are Not All Introverts. Take a look – it’s worth your time!

Let me get back to an idea that I have been reflecting on since my discussion with Todd: the Threshold Concept. Here’s how he explains it: many faculty are married to the idea of “I have to cover my content! I don’t have time for active learning because everything is important! I am a content expert! I can get through it only if I lecture!” Other faculty believe that lecture should be punctuated with activities. After 10 minutes of lecture about (name your topic) you should do something active to break up the lecture.  It’s something we do to keep students’ attention. Todd suggests that many people, especially our students, have a cognitive capacity that is reached in about 12 minutes. Isn’t that a perfect time to do “some” activity? Yes! But make sure that the activity is designed to solidify that content. Remember, he says, our job is not to cover the material – it’s to uncover the material for students. I know that sounds a bit like it’s coming straight out of a book by one of those educational consultants (believe me, I have plenty of them on my bookshelf!) Pause here for a moment – ask yourself, what do students really need us for? We ask them to purchase (very) expensive textbooks, and most, if not all of the material we cover in a course comes right from that text. Can’t a student who is motivated enough just read the text and “learn” the material?

Here are some questions for you to consider (think of this as your homework assignment):

Q1: Your expertise is important, and you were hired to teach in that discipline. If you do not have a background in education, how do you learn how to navigate a class (i.e. how to teach)?

Q2: How do you respond to the question, “What do students really need you for?”

Q3: Can anyone teach?

Q4: Where do you go to solve teaching problems? How do you recognize when you HAVE a teaching problem?

Q5: Interested in learning more about how to identify and solve a teaching problem? Check out The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation.

Share your comments and ideas!

Comments closed

Canvas Tip: Sending Messages via the Gradebook

If you tend to use the SpeedGrader in Canvas (like I do), you might be overlooking some great features that are available in the Gradebook.  Clicking the Grades link transports you to a page with useful tools.  Here’s a quick review of what the Gradebook lets you do:

  1. Review the assignment details
  2. Set a default grade
  3. Curve grades
  4. Mute an assignment
  5. Jump to the SpeedGrader
  6. Send messages to different groups of students

The last item in the list is especially convenient when you want to reach out to students based on their assignment performance.  Using the “Message Students Who” feature allows you to contact all students who haven’t submitted an assignment yet, have ungraded assignments, scored less than or more than a specific grade (of your designation).

These features are available for assignments, quizzes, and discussion board participation.  It’s a worthwhile set of tools, and a convenient channel of communication!

Comments closed

Easy ways to learn students’ names

You may have heard my colleague Peg speak about the “4 Connections,” four evidence-based principles that have been shown to increase student-instructor interaction and reduce the drop-out rate at two-year colleges. Believe it or not, one of these “Connections” is simply learning the name of every student in your class and then using it when speaking in class or privately with the student. So instead of pointing to a student who raises her hand and asking, “Do you have a question?” you might instead say, “Do you have a question, Mona?” That simple and seemingly trivial difference can actually have a remarkably large effect on students’ sense of belonging and connection, which in turn influences factors like student persistence in academic settings.

Name tag with a question mark written under the text 'Hello my name is'What could be easier than learning all of your students’ names on the first day of class? Well, if you’re like me that is actually a fairly daunting task, especially if there are more than a handful of students in the class. Remembering names has always been a “growth area” for me — meaning that in my past teaching it always took me what felt like a very long time to remember the names of all my students.

So although this list comes a few days too late to be of use for the first day of the spring quarter at EvCC, here are three easy ways to help you learn students’ names, now or in the future:

Comments closed

What are exams for, anyway?

I was reading through several journal articles the other day, thinking about the difficult work of our faculty preparing for their final exams, and watching the exhausting work of our students pouring over their notes and books preparing for those exams. I came across an article in Vitae by Kevin Gannon, Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning and Professor of History at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. In this article, Rethinking My Exams, Gannon begins, “I’ve been thinking a lot about testing. That’s partly because I redesigned the survey course I’m teaching this semester. And overhauled the assessments I’m using. Ironically, the principal question that’s occupied my thoughts is the same one that regularly emerged in anguished groans at 3 am during my undergraduate career: Why do we even give exams in college, anyway? The answers I have now are different from the ones I had then (It’s always different on the other side of the podium.) College Me believed exams are similar to hazing – professors inflicted tests on us because they could, and since they were required to give us grades, something had to be there for us to try and earn points. Professor Me now knows that – when done well and designed appropriately – exams aren’t meant to haze, but rather, to measure student progress on specific course objectives.”

He goes on to describe why he’s given this so much thought (redesigning his course) before coming to the realization that his exams, comprised primarily of short-answer and essay questions (and occasionally multiple choice), looked like they did “Because that’s the way they looked in the courses that I was a TA for in graduate school, that’s why.”

I will admit to having some struggles with creating effective exams myself when I was in the classroom. And I realize now, because hindsight is always 20-20, that I was simply copying the exams that I had seen when I was a TA in graduate school as well. How hard can it be, after all, to create a math exam for an Intermediate Algebra course? Just use some of the homework problems, right?

Since that time I have come to view exams differently. As Gannon mentions, there are specific course objectives as well as core learning outcomes that must be measured, and in addition to students, we have external audiences (accreditors) that we must respond to. But I have also come to realize that it is not sufficient to give a grade on an exam. How can we turn our exams into real learning experiences? Exams are a little like a post-mortem – an examination and dissection of a dead body (in this case the exam) to determine cause of death (perhaps a failing grade) or the changes produced by disease (

Have you given any thought to how you might change your exams to create a positive learning experience for your students? We’d love to hear your ideas!

Comments closed

Incorporating a personal video into Canvas

The Spring quarter is just around the corner (if calendars and dates have edges and corners), which is the perfect time to think about and incorporate new features into your classes.

A brief video introduction can enhance your class and foster feelings of connectedness for your students, whether you teach web enhanced, hybrid, or online courses.  The effort required on your part is minimal, and the return on investment is impressive.

Access the Video Introduction Handout with step-by-step instructions and listen to the podcast on the topic.  An Uploading a Video transcript of the podcast is also available.  More Teaching and Tools podcasts are available on our Soundcloud channel with additional episodes in production!

Comments closed

Using an accessible syllabus to create an inclusive classroom

As we reach the end of one academic quarter and prepare for the next here at EvCC, you may find yourself thinking about updating the syllabus for one or more of the courses you’ll be teaching. Revisiting a syllabus is always a good opportunity to make some simple changes that can dramatically improve its accessibility. There are already many guides to creating versions of your syllabus that are accessible to students. Taking just ten minutes to follow one of these guides and reformat your syllabus will greatly help students who use assistive technologies, like screen readers or text-to-speech software.

So long as you’re updating your syllabus, though, it’s worth considering a few additional steps that can enhance course accessibility in other ways. None of these will take much time, but collectively they will provide better support for students with disabilities while also establishing an inclusive learning environment that benefits all students.

Comments closed

Keeping up with the CTT blog

Looking at the calendar recently, I realized that we’ve been blogging at EvCC’s Center for Transformative Teaching for just about three months now. If random online searches are to be believed (and, really, who doesn’t trust those?), the average life of a new blog is just three months. That’s apparently how long it takes for many bloggers to decide that maybe they’re not so interested in blogging after all. It’s also apparent (again, trusting the all-knowing, always-undoubtedly-reliable machine-mind of Google) that the most dispiriting aspect of blogging in those early months is uncertainly about whether anyone is actually reading what the eager new blogger is writing.

Now, in our case we have a little data showing that we do, in fact, have at least some readers. So far so good — and thank you, O Anonymous Readers, for your indulgence and your time.

Thinking about readership, though, led me to start considering the various ways that readers can stay up to date with new posts without having to visit every single day. Tempting though it may be to think that there are masses of people compulsively visiting the CTT blog every day to see whether we’ve posted something new, the data show this is most definitely not the case. But just because you’re not visiting the site daily doesn’t mean you’re not interested in knowing when there’s a new post you might want to read. There are many ways to accomplish that, ranging from extremely simple to hacker-level complicated, so to narrow the I’ll present the two ways I use to keep up with new CTT posts (and updates to many other sites as well).

The two methods I’ll cover are:

  1. Use an RSS reader
  2. Use a service like IFTTT
Comments closed

Helping students get more out of studying

Consider this a companion post to a message sent out just this morning my colleague Peg. Peg brought to our attention a blog post by Maryellen Weimer on the topic of helping students study effectively for final exams. There’s some great student-focused advice in that post. Reading it jogged my memory and prompted me to track down a series of YouTube videos by Professor Stephen Chew of Samford University (Alabama) that I first encountered several years ago. Chew is a psychologist who studies how people learn, and in his videos he uses some core principles of educational psychology and cognitive science to help students understand how to study and learn more effectively.

What are some of those principles?

Comments closed