Faculty Conversations: Quick tips


  • Stearns Center Staff




Join us before the keynote for coffee, snacks, and lively informal conversations about "small changes" that can improve your teaching. Each of our tables in Dewberry Hall will have a mini-poster featuring teaching tips that are relevant across many levels and disciplines. You can settle in at a table with a poster that's most relevant to your current interest--(active learning, large classes, 3 hour classes, discussions, online classes, writing assignments, groups/team assignments, building inclusive community)--or move between tables gathering a range of new ideas.

While you're there, don't forget to fill out a Teaching Tips card with your own suggestion, on any topic, and find out from others at your table what they would suggest. We'll collect all the Teaching Tips Cards to enter into our final raffle of the day: you can enter as many Tips as you want, and you don't have to be present to win.


Faculty Conversations: Quick Tips for Teaching

TOPIC: Large classes

  1. Keep one aisle open through the middle of the large room so that you can circulate between groups even in a large classroom.
  2. Use clickers or cell phone response systems (like PollEverywhere or Kahoot) to have students make predictions or solve problems individually--so even with a large number of students, they all have the opportunity to be engaged. àAfter seeing the class results, have students discuss with a neighbor and then repoll students them before going over the answer.
  3. Low-tech clicker alternative: Students who have a colored index-card set (one each of blue, green, yellow, pink) can respond to multiple-choice questions in a way that gives you, and them, a visible ââ¬Åsense of the room.ââ¬Â Note that research shows that students who attempt to answer a question, even if theyââ¬â¢re incorrect, and then learn the correct answer are more likely to remember that students who are just told the answer.
  4. Build in periodic individual, partner, or small group activities that ask them to recall some concept, rephrase in their own words, or apply to a new scenario. àThese can be quick things (e.g., name the part labeled in this diagram) or more lengthy (e.g., hereââ¬â¢s a case study, what would you propose based on what we discussed?).à

TOPIC: 3 hour classes

  1. Build in periodic individual, partner, or small group activities that ask them to recall some concept, rephrase in their own words, or apply to a new scenario. àThese can be quick things (e.g., name the part labeled in this diagram) or more lengthy (e.g., hereââ¬â¢s a case study, what would you propose based on what we discussed?).
  2. Find a pattern that works for you. àWe like starting with some kind of ââ¬Åhookââ¬Â activity as they come in the door, followed by a debrief, then a ââ¬Åhookââ¬Â for new content, followed by an opportunity to practice or apply new concepts.
  3. Try working on accuracy- or mastery-based tasks early, and exploratory or application tasks later. Begin with difficult core concepts, theorems, or chronologies, and use discussion or in-class surveys to assess understanding. Use more group- or pair-based work in the second half, where you and students can give each other energy and support in problem-solving, case-study analysis, proposals, design, or improvisation.
  4. ââ¬ÅFlippedââ¬Â pedagogy takes Item 3 (above) a step further. Ask students to work through at least one or two basic core concepts at home on their own before class, during whatever hour they have fresh brains, and hold them accountable: a low-stakes quiz, a one-paragraph ââ¬Åentry ticket,ââ¬Â a discussion post. This leaves you more in-class time for problem-solving when you and they can help each other in an engaged way.

TOPIC: Writing assignments

  1. Discuss or post an annotated model to help show students ââ¬Åwhat you want.ââ¬Â Even sharing a single paragraph of a discussion post, journal, lab analysis, or essay, with 3-5 notes, can help students see the kinds of high-level moves that distinguish powerful writing: ââ¬ÅGets right to the point,ââ¬Â ââ¬ÅMakes a debatable argument,ââ¬Â ââ¬ÅIntegrates quotations from the text,ââ¬Â ââ¬ÅProvides specific personal examples,ââ¬Â ââ¬ÅAddresses alternative views,ââ¬Â or ââ¬ÅMakes a recommendation.ââ¬Â
  2. Rethink how peer review can be useful: Students might need to practice on a sample the first time (often reviewing is a professional skill worth spending time on). It can be quick and early (students can review just a thesis sentence or paragraph). It can benefit the reviewer (ask students about one move they saw or one comment they gave that they can use in their own writing).
  3. Ask students to write the first comments on their own major projects, as specifically as possible: ââ¬ÅWhich paragraph or point is your strongest (why?), and/or which element on the rubric/checklist do you feel most confident about? Which would you revise, and how, if you had more time?ââ¬Â This strengthens their self-awareness and gives you good insight.
  4. Turn your feedback into feed-forward, to help students do better next time. Invest your time in comments about the one or two ââ¬Åbig movesââ¬Â -- relevance, argument, evidence, critical thinking -- that have the greatest impact on the quality of the project, and try to focus on how students could make their writing stronger in the future.

TOPIC: Active Learning

  1. Active collaborative learning can get loud and chaotic. àUse a bell or sound to signal that it is time to come back together as a group. àWe like using a zen bell (google ââ¬Åzen bellââ¬Â to find a free youtube video version). àBe sure to tell them at the beginning that you will be using the signal, so they know to expect it.
  2. Collaborative or individual activities can easily result in losing track of time. àHelp keep things moving by setting a timer on the computer screen or show your phone timer on the document camera, so everyone can keep track of how long they have to finish an activity.
  3. Donââ¬â¢t drown in grading all of the activities. àSometimes you want to give quick feedback without spending hours on grading. àWe like the technique of assigning a red, yellow, or green checkmark.à Green indicates that they are on the right track. àYellow indicates that they are getting there, but something is off that they need to take another look.à Red indicates that they are far off and need to seek help from course materials, peers or you.
  4. Start small! àHave students do a one minute paper before they leave in which they sum up the main concept of the day in their own words or identify the most confusing part/questions they have, etc.

TOPIC: Building inclusive community

  1. Whenever possible, learn studentsââ¬â¢ names and pronouns, and the way they want their names pronounced, even if you have to ask a few times, use notecards, or make a seating chart. Nobodyââ¬â¢s name is ââ¬Åtoo strangeââ¬Â to get right. Ask students to re-introduce themselves when they do group or pair-work, so they learn about each other, and to thank their partners as they finish.
  2. Sometimes inclusion is giving people time to think before group activities. àAsking students to jot down some thoughts individually to a prompt for a minute before having a partner, small group, or whole class activity, gives all students a chance to prepare to participate, increasing the likelihood that they will.
  3. Instead of waiting for someone to voice ââ¬Åtheir groupââ¬â¢sââ¬Â point of view, call it into the community discussion: provide background information that represents alternate positions, and/or ask all students to imagine how stakeholders or communities different from their own might respond to a question, issue, or scenario.
  4. If a difficult classroom conversation develops based on challenging, sensitive, or uncomfortable topics, ââ¬Åhit pauseââ¬Â--ask students to think, reflect, and consider their responses before proceeding.

TOPIC: Online Classes

  1. Interaction: Carefully plan the types of interactions in your online course: learner-content; learner- instructor; and learner-learner. àDesign purposeful assignments & activities which promote interaction, which map to learning outcomes, and which leverage the online environment.
  2. Time Management: àSchedule dedicated blocks of time each week when you will work and be active in your online course, scheduling times when you can be most focused without distractions. Let students know when to expect (and not expect!) your feedback.
  3. Rubrics: Use rubrics to let students know exactly what is expected of them, listing the criteria which will be used to assess their work. For feedback consistency and efficiency, create embedded rubrics in Blackboard, linked to specific assignments.
  4. Feedback: Ask your students for feedback throughout the online course. Instead of waiting for end-of-course evaluations, you can use student feedback during the course to help improve their online learning experience. àUse Blue Pulse, a feedback tool available in Blackboard, to poll your students anonymously on how to improve the online course.

TOPIC: Groups/Team assignments

  1. Not all groups need to report out! Sometimes reporting-out can be a buzzkill; if you donââ¬â¢t need to hear all six reports, then they surely donââ¬â¢t. Instead, you can: just skip it, hear two points and move on, collect one-minute papers from all individuals about their key takeaway, have groups write key points on whiteboards or posters and then tour the room adding notes.
  2. Asking students to jot down some thoughts individually to a prompt for a minute before having a partner, small group, or whole class activity, gives all students a chance to prepare to participate, increasing the likelihood that they will.
  3. Consider having long-term teams create group contracts. When the team decides on the schedule of sub-tasks; the distribution of whole-project responsibilities like monitoring, communicating, and proofreading; and the penalties for lateness or underperforming, they have increased trust, efficiency, and motivation.
  4. Assess student contributions to group assignments by asking them to reflect and cite specific examples of how they contributed, rather than assigning a ââ¬Ågradeââ¬Â to peers. àExample prompts: How did you contribute or help others in your group learn? Who in your group helped you and how?

TOPIC: Class Discussions

  1. Asking students to jot down some thoughts individually to a prompt for a minute before having a partner, small group, or whole class activity, gives all students a chance to prepare to participate, increasing the likelihood that they will.
  2. For more authentic discussions, ask open-ended questions, with multiple ââ¬Åright answers,ââ¬Â especially ones that you donââ¬â¢t know the answer to: Instead of asking ââ¬ÅWhat does Ali argue about cities?,ââ¬Â try ââ¬ÅWhat do you think were Aliââ¬â¢s most persuasive points about cities?ââ¬Â
  3. Consider modeling discussion strategies or comment ââ¬Åstemsââ¬Â for students in responding to each other: they may enjoy practicing comments that begin ââ¬ÅI agree and would addââ¬Â¦,ââ¬Â ââ¬ÅI think that connects toââ¬Â¦,ââ¬Â ââ¬ÅThat raises a question aboutââ¬Â¦,ââ¬Â ââ¬ÅA different view of that would beââ¬Â¦,ââ¬Â or ââ¬ÅI think that contradicts what X said aboutââ¬Â¦.ââ¬Â
  4. Give the discussion ââ¬Ålegsââ¬Â: Summarize--or ask one or more students to summarize--the key takeaways of a dayââ¬â¢s discussion so that the class can recognize and refer to the knowledge generated there during subsequent class meetings and in later projects.

How is your class session ââ¬ÅBetter Than The Internetââ¬Â?
It gets harder every day to answer this question! If weââ¬â¢re just delivering information, weââ¬â¢re losing -- but university instructors still have some advantages over The GooglePlex. How can you use one or more of these, and let students know youââ¬â¢re using it, in your classes next week?

  1. We curate information for learning: The Internet is a fire hose spewing random facts; we select and organize what is most relevant for these students in this stage of learning for this subject and profession. What do you do in class to focus and scaffold learning?
  2. We help students who are stuck: The Internet can tell you when you have a wrong answer, but not always why, and rarely how to get better; weââ¬â¢re experts in how to learn our subjects. What do you do in class to find out when students are stuck and give feedback to help out?
  3. We help students learn from each other: The Internet isnââ¬â¢t great at creating productive conversation among strangers, but we help students engage with diverse peers to understand, critique, and learn from their views. What do you do in class to support learners connecting with each other?
  4. We bring our passion, life experience, and excitement about the field: The Internet reports othersââ¬â¢ passions, but at a distance. We breathe the same air (or post on the same boards) and show up every day as people who love what we do. What do you do in class to connect ââ¬Åbasicââ¬Â learning to what inspires and motivates you?






Faculty Conversations & Breakfast