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Nov 10, 2010

Tips for Group Work

When you assign several students to produce a major assignment together you will have to consider not only the quality of the task they complete but also the effectiveness of their interaction. If one of your course objectives is that students will learn to work together with colleagues, then teach them how. The steps are the same as for teaching and grading discussion:

  • Provide criteria and instructions.
  • Provide opportunities for practice and feedback. 

Here are some suggestions for guiding group processes:

  • Begin with instructions and guidelines for group work. Address the ways in which groups could go astray.
  • Construct a rubric by which the groups will be evaluated.
  • Have groups compose and sign a written agreement, at the beginning of their work together, that details what behaviors they will all be responsible for (for example, being on time for meetings, completing their share of the work by certain deadlines, communicating regularly with other group members) and what they each will do (Mary will research this part; John will research this part; Ling-Chi will produce the first full draft; Jamal will edit the draft).
  • Ask the group to appoint people to certain roles: record keeper, convener, and others.
  • Ask the group to give frequent feedback to you and to each other. At the end of each meeting, whether online or face-to-face, group members can write to one another what they thought was successful about the group meeting and what they thought needed improvement. Responses can be shared with you, and you can step in quickly if the group is struggling.
  • Ask a recorder to post or submit to you a record of the group's activities. When did they get together? Who was present? What did each person do? What progress was made? What problems arose, and how did the group address them? What, if anything, do they need from you?
  • Schedule a face-to-face or synchronous online meeting with each group at intervals to check the group's progress and interaction. At these meeting, anyone who feels another group member is not doing his or her share should say so right there in the group so the issue can be discussed while you can facilitate.


  • Linking teaching, learning, and grading. Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College, by Barbara E. Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson.   Copyright 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

If you would like samples of rubrics, progress report templates, or peer evaluation forms, or to borrow a copy of the book Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.


Barbara Millis, Ph.D.
Director, Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 02, 2010

Balancing Flexibility and Fairness Through Course Design


  • “Prof. Smith, I won’t be able to make it to class tonight because unfortunately my flight back from vacation has been delayed by an hour and now I won't make it back to New York in time for class.  Is there supposed to be a quiz today and if so is there any way I can make it up?”
  • “Hey Professor, I am terribly sorry, but I am unable to attend class this evening due to familial issues. I am writing in an attempt to ascertain what precisely we went over tonight, and what I need to review in order to not fall behind my peers.”
  • “I will not be able to make it to class today due to a conflict with work but I have attached my re-write of the last paper and will get the notes from someone who was in class. Please let me know if there are any important announcements I will miss.”
We have probably all seen emails from students like the ones above, and in fact these are probably fairly mild examples; I have received far more outrageous--and inappropriate--student emails than these.  It is understandable if we react viscerally to them.  We may want to yell at the computer, reply with a snarky email, or, more to the point, penalize the student for missing class and/or assignment deadlines.  Students should just follow the rules and then, “problem solved,” right?

Well, sort of.

Perhaps there is a place for empathy and compassion toward the student whose work schedule changes abruptly, who has (even an unspecified) family emergency, or whose family travel plans become derailed in the middle of the semester.  Like it or not, student demographics are changing as are students’ priorities and work habits (Higher Education Research Institute, 2010).  More students work to cover costs while in college, more students attend college with specific job-skills development in mind, and the range of aptitudes, study skills, and college preparedness continues to widen.  Maryellen Weimer (2006) encourages instructors to put themselves in their students’ shoes by taking a college course outside their field of expertise every few years in order to experience all the aspects of learning, including balancing course deadlines with work deadlines, figuring out what the professor “wants,” and adhering to the rules and expectations that are particular to that course alone--all of which are juggling acts that our students must do constantly.  Still, while compassion and empathy may be warranted, we want to avoid granting special treatment to individual students, and it is important for the sake of our own workload and our own time management to hold students to reasonable standards, or “lines in the sand” (Robertson, 2003).

Learner-centered course design can help us to balance the competing demands of compassion and fairness.  Learner-centeredness shifts responsibility for learning to students while granting them more opportunities, control, and options over how they demonstrate their learning (Weimer, 2002).  We can use course design both to hold students responsible and to provide allowances for when life “interrupts” their studies, all while preserving our sanity and our lines in the sand.

Some course design ideas that accomplish this goal include:
  • Carrots that reward on-time submission of assignments.  I accept late papers (up to three days late) from my students, but only those students who submit their work on time have the option to rewrite their papers and to incorporate my feedback for an improved grade. 
  • Bounded flexibility.  Alternatively, a colleague at Metropolitan State College gives his students a “syllabus quiz” in the first week of the semester.  Every student who passes earns 5 credits toward turning in work late (1 credit = 1 day).  Students can cash in all of their credits at once with one assignment, or they can split them across assignments at different times in the semester.
  • Cooperative/collaborative learning.  If students have to miss a class session in a course that incorporates group learning, they have a resource—their fellow students—on whom to rely to try to catch up, rather than coming right away to the instructor to find out what they “missed.”
  • Technology.  Web-based tools, including Learning Management Systems (for example Moodle or Blackboard), Wikis (for example PBWiki), and Google Docs can reinforce cooperative learning and the sense of community within a course.  If students find that they need to miss a class meeting unexpectedly, they can turn to these online resources where they might find threaded discussions designed to supplement in-class learning, or examples of student work/reflections completed in class and posted to a Wiki.  Students may also be able to use the online tool to contact their “group” for help. 
Of course, students need to know that the interactions and engagement that occur in class are not replicable and that missing class means missing out on an opportunity to learn.  Still, life sometimes interferes with the best intentions, and providing some opportunity for students to learn—an opportunity that does not rely on the instructor delivering instruction twice over—is preferable to penalizing the student by doing nothing.


  • Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. “A Snapshot of the First Year Experience.  Accessed on July 15, 2010 at
  • Robertson, D. (2003). Making Time, Making Change: Avoiding Overload in College Teaching. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.  
  • Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.  
  • Weimer, M. (2006). Enhancing Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning: Professional Literature That Makes a Difference. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

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 sponsored by Western Kentucky University.


Mark Potter
Center for Faculty Development
Metropolitan State College of Denver

Author: francine_glazer

Oct 26, 2010

Team Teach with a Student

Consider team teaching with a student. Team teaching is sometimes touted as something that “every instructor should try” (Harte 1995:3). Research suggests that professor-student teaching teams offer several benefits to students, student teachers, and professors. For a review of both the benefits and the challenges, as well as ways to avoid the challenges, see Gray and Harrison (2003). 

For greatest effectiveness, team teaching pairs should plan to work together in the professor’s office during the class period before and after each class you teach together. Before each class period, make sure you are both clear about the order of class activities, who will lead each activity, and how. After class, help each other decompress and assess the previous class period, take notes on what should be done differently, and discuss any outstanding issues or long-term planning.

Students report enhanced learning because the method gives the students a new perspective and improves the availability of teachers; student teachers learn a lot about teaching and the subject matter; and professors report it gives them excellent substitute teachers and a valuable source of feedback for teaching improvement. As a result of the many benefits of team teaching, the professors and student teachers involved in this study all indicated they would like to team teach again (Gray and Harrison 2003).


  • Gray, Tara and Paige Harrison. 2003. "Team Teach with a Student: A Pilot Program in Criminal Justice,” Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 14(1): 163-180.
  • Gray, T. and S. Halbert. 1998. “Team Teach with a Student: New Approach to Collaborative Teaching.” College Teaching 46: 150-153.
  • Harte, T. B. 1995. “Two Heads Really Are Better than One.” Journal on Excellence in College Teaching 6: 3-7.

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 sponsored by Western Kentucky University.


Tara Gray, Paige Harrison, and Sami Halbert Geurts
Submitted by Tara Gray, Ph.D.
Director, The Teaching Academy
New Mexico State University

Author: francine_glazer

Oct 19, 2010

Using Quotations to Prime Class Discussions

You can use a “Quote of the Day” to a) introduce a concept, b) inject some humor, or c) complete a class by asking "how does this quotation relate to what we did today?" Here's a suggestion of how you can use them to help students organize their thoughts in preparation for a class discussion.

You might, for example, have a quotation on the board when students arrive in class. Ask students to read and consider the quotation and prepare to share their ideas.
  1. THINK: Students write down their thoughts on how the quotation connects to the day’s topic (2 minutes).
  2. PAIR: Students turn to a partner and exchange ideas (2 minutes).
  3. If you’d like, you can “Square the Pairs” by asking each pair to join with another pair. The “squares” discuss their ideas and identify one or two ideas that they think are particularly strong (4 minutes).
  4. SHARE: Each group then reports back to the class, which provides a starting point for a class discussion of the topic.

Some samples to get you started:

  • It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle  
  • An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t. – Anatole France
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. – Thomas Edison
  • There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees, which are falsehoods on the other. – Blaise Pascal 
  • It is not enough for a man to know how to ride; he must know how to fall. – Mexican Proverb
  • Personally, I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught. – Winston Churchill


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 sponsored by Western Kentucky University.


Emma Bourassa
Instructor, ESL Department
Thompson Rivers University

Author: francine_glazer

Oct 12, 2010

Media Literacy

The Center for Media Literacy ( ) uses this expanded definition:

Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate and create messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy. 
Core Concepts
  1. All media messages are constructed.
  2. Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
  3. Different people experience the same media message differently.
  4. Media have embedded values and points of view.
  5. Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.
Activity 1
Have each student answer these questions about any visual media.
  1. Who created this message and what creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  2. What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
  3. Why is this message being sent?
Activity 2
Choose a short clip or short video.
  1. Give one student the visual image.
  2. Give another student the dialogue.
  3. Ask each student to react to their media 'piece.' Then, have them compare their reactions to each piece, and compare with their reactions to the complete clip.
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 sponsored by Western Kentucky University.
Taimi Olsen, Ph. D.
Assistant Director, Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Author: francine_glazer

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