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Dec 03, 2014

Identifying Pearls of Wisdom from End-of-Semester Course Evaluations

At the end of the semester it can be valuable to take a few moments and reflect on what went well in your courses, and what you might want to change the next time you teach them. One source of information is the student evaluations of teaching, available to you after you submit your final grades.

Yes, response rate could be lower than you’d like, and anonymous comments might be dreadful. However, many students do put in some careful thoughts when filling out the course evaluations – which they do while staying up late studying for exams. Here are some steps you can take to find the pearls of wisdom:

  1. Spend a few minutes and think about:
    1. What went well, for both the students and you, as intended? How?
    2. What could have gone better, for both the students and you? How?
    3. What would you like to change next time around? Why?
  2. Dreadful feedback: read, ponder and put aside.
  3. Pearls of Wisdom:
    1. Look for strengths and areas of improvements
    2. Categorize them
    3. Match them against the list you developed in Step #1
  4. Develop an action plan:
    1. List the strengths you are going to maintain
    2. List one or two things you will adjust/change/modify
  5. Work with a couple of colleagues, or consult with staff at the Center for Teaching and Learning: fresh eyes bring new perspectives.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.


Judy C. K. Chan, Ph. D.
Educational Developer | Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology
Faculty/CTLT Liaison | Faculty of Land and Food Systems
The University of British Columbia | Vancouver

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 19, 2014

Extend Conversations Beyond Class

Sometimes when students are working on group assignments such as presentations, debates, or case studies, you may notice that not everyone is participating. Some students are very enthusiastic, while others sit back in their chairs and let their peers do the work. How can you ensure that the work is evenly distributed and that all your students are engaged?

Perhaps your students are engaged in a discussion that is going spectacularly well, and is cut short because the class session ends. Wouldn’t it be great to have a way to extend that conversation outside of class?

VoiceThread might provide a solution to these problems. In VoiceThread every student has a voice, and each student can choose from a range of tools to communicate. Students can login to the course on Blackboard and participate in the discussion, at a time that fits their busy school and work schedules.

What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread is an asynchronous web-based interactive tool for collaboration and sharing. A VoiceThread can contain images, videos, and documents, with or without narration. Viewers can add comments using voice, text, audio file, or video.

What does it look like? See these two examples by Michelle Pacansky-Brock.

Educational technologies vary in their functionally and features. When you choose an educational technology to use in your class, consider the needs of the 21st-century students, their interests and learning styles. Millenials want to be active participants and content creators rather than passive content recipients.

VoiceThread has three distinctive criteria: it allows students to be active and engaged, collaborate and co-create, and express themselves by various means of communication.

Engagement: VoiceThread allows students to engage with the content of the course, an instructor and peers by actively contributing to the discussion on and about an artifact, a mini-lecture or a presentation. Students can also create a VoiceThread and become creators and critics of other VoiceThreads.

Collaboration: Students can collaborate with their peers and work in groups creating a VoiceThread (e.g. a presentation or a demonstration). Students can create and edit a VoiceThread in a group and share it with the rest of the class, who can also contribute and comment of their work.

Functionality: VoiceThread is one-of-a-kind technology that supports a discussion that is not primarily text-based. If you are already using a Discussion Board in Blackboard, then you are familiar with text-based discussions. VoiceThread lets you take the conversation outside of the text-based environment and allows your students to be creative. Your students can use over 50 different types of media in a VoiceThread as the basis for a conversation.

Last year, the Educational Technology Committee of the Academic Senate developed a guide for selecting and evaluating emerging technologies. We used this guide to evaluate VoiceThread – refer to it if you would like a more comprehensive overview of the tool.


Olena Zhadko, PhD
Manager, Course Development
Center for Teaching and Learning
New York Institute of Technology

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 12, 2014

Small Changes Can Improve Class Community and Student Course Evaluations

A well-organized, carefully planned course is critical for effective teaching, but attention to small details contributes to rapport with students and a classroom experience that supports effective learning. Corbett and LaFrance (2013) offer suggestions that improve the learning for students and the teaching experience for instructors.

  • Arrive early and linger after the class meeting time – make adjustments to lighting, set up your technology for the session, chat with students before and after class to learn about events outside of class that might influence their in-class learning and continue topic-related conversations while you walk back to your office.
  • Create a positive attitude during class meetings – leave your own life stresses at the door when you teach. We can’t always be our best selves every day. Life stresses and department politics can intrude on our thoughts. But try to protect class time from these worries. Similarly, do not allow sullenness in students to ruin your enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm and attitude can be contagious, although the effect will not be immediate.
  • Respond promptly to student email messages – you need not respond immediately. Tell your students when they can expect a response (on the first day of class, in your syllabus) and honor this promise.
  • Surrender control of the class occasionally – choose your battles for control. Some activities and rules for class management are not negotiable. But if you can allow students to determine how some things work, you create a sense of community and shared responsibility for classroom learning. Identify class policies that you feel comfortable allowing students to determine what is acceptable. Explain why other activities or course policies cannot be altered.
  • Remember to tell students when they are doing well – students need feedback to correct errors but they also need feedback to let them know when they are on track. Remember to recognize progress and successes.

When we adopt one or more of these small changes, teaching becomes a more pleasant and rewarding activity and our students become more engaged and motivated with the class.


Corbett, S. J., & LaFrance, M. (September 9, 2013). It’s the little things that count in teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education. [Retrieved 9–10–2013:]

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida
Pensacola, FL
(850) 857–6355 or 473–7435

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 05, 2014

Maximizing the Performance of Informal Groups in Class

We faculty tend to love using informal (ad hoc) groups. Students derive most of the learning benefits of group work, and we find them relatively easy to administer – easy compared to long-term formal groups that collaborate on one or more substantial assignments outside of class.

These groups are ideal for clicker-question exchanges and lecture-break activities, and we can set them up of any size on the fly (“Work with the two fellow students sitting next to you.”). They are too short-term to provoke student concerns about someone freeloading, sand-bagging, dominating, controlling, ego-tripping, bullying, whining, or engaging in some other “collaboro-pathic” behavior, so we don’t have to mediate conflicts. In addition, students don’t have to peer-evaluate, and we don’t have to read these evaluations or incorporate them into the final grades.

However, just because we don’t have students coming to our office with complaints does not mean these informal groups are functioning well. Circulate among them and listen closely. Some groups wander off task or never get on task. Others lean on one or two of its members to generate ideas, solve the problems, explain correct answers, and so on. After all, students tend to sit in the same place every class period even if they don’t have to, and some of them either create problems for others or suffer from these problems.

Here are some strategies to prevent these problems.

Groups Not on Task

Of course, you should circulate around the classroom to let students know you’re monitoring their progress. But you can also do the following:

  • Make sure every task that you assign to groups is challenging – specifically, that it requires thinking that goes beyond what the students have read or heard you say. The task may assess students’ conceptual understanding, ability to apply the material, analytic skills, or evaluative judgment. In any case, it should require synergy for students to perform.
  • Give students a tight time limit in advance, and enforce it. Students will see that they have to focus to get the task done.
  • If suitable for the task, require that groups submit a written or drawn product that all group members must sign. (You can use these submissions to take attendance or to a give students a point or two for completion.)
  • If the task doesn’t call for a product, just cold-call on a few groups “randomly” to report out and explain their answers.

Uneven Member Effort

  • Routinely cold-call on individual members within the groups “randomly” to report out. Millis (2014) describes how to designate individual members using playing cards.
  • Change the composition of informal groups two or more times during the term. You can ask students to rearrange themselves with new neighbors, or you can rearrange them yourself using a seating chart (good for taking attendance quickly and learning student names).


Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D.
Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation
Clemson University

Author: francine_glazer

Oct 29, 2014

Why not the R-Course?

In Academically Adrift (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), Arum and Roksa utilize surveys, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), and transcript data from college students to argue that during their time in higher ed courses students make little if any gain in such skills as writing and critical thinking. Previously, in an attempt to combat writing problems, colleges have created W/Writing-Intensive courses, and to deal with students’ need for training in service, S/Service Learning courses came about.

We propose answering the dilemma posed by Arum and Roksa’s work with the R/Research Course. In order to graduate, students would have to demonstrate the mastery of skills necessary for the research process, and all students in all disciplines would have to complete at least two R courses, one in their major and one outside the major. While we realize that several majors already require a heavy dose of research in a number of their classes, we see a need for select classes that target the research process as a major feature of the course, and make students metacognitive of that process.

What would be the minimal components emphasized in an R course?

  • An original 20-page research paper (20 pages is the Arum-Roksa minimal standard);
  • A checklist that students sign and date that demonstrates they have gone through the research process from original idea, to review of literature, to first draft, to last draft;
  • A review of literature that contains book-length as well as shorter primarily literature and Internet sources;
  • A clear thesis embedded in the middle of controversy; and
  • Sufficient and relevant evidence that demonstrates critical thinking (i.e., an evaluation of argument).

Certainly each college and university could create its own rubric that elaborates upon and deconstructs these general requirements, but in general the R course is an idea whose time has come.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Charlie Sweet
Hal Blythe
Rusty Carpenter
Eastern Kentucky University

Author: francine_glazer

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Paul Kutasovic Paul Kutasovic
Department: Economics
Campus: Old Westbury
Randi Davis-Levin (M.A. ’93) Randi Davis-Levin
Class of 1993
Profession: Director of Brand Strategy Creative Services, Viacom Corporation
Janeille Calnick Janeille Calnick
Campus: Old Westbury
Major: Architecture
Class Of: 2014