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Feb 27, 2013

Student Engagement Technique: Silent Discussion


This well-established yet underutilized technique is one of my favorites because it supports critical thinking, active engagement, and social, dialogic learning. From a brain-based education perspective, it also stimulates areas of the brain that oral communication does not, theoretically encouraging the formation of important neural pathways. Finally, it helps build classroom community because it is a communication equalizer, permitting many of the quieter students a stronger voice.
  1. Ask each student to write a response to a prompt.
  2. Have students form small, circular groups.
  3. Ask each student to pass her response to the right and then read and write back to the response that is passed to her. 
  4. After students have had time to respond, ask them to once again pass their papers to the right so that they each receive a new silent discussion that they will read and respond to. They should be engaging in the whole conversation, not just the original prompt.
  5. Continue this process so that each paper is passed two or more cycles around the circle. 
  6. Allow students to converse in small groups before transitioning to a whole class discussion or concluding the exercise.

Students initially resist this exercise, but by the end of the discussion, they are usually energetically engaged.  I require that the silent part of the discussion be silent (except for moments of appreciative laughter as students view their peers’ responses to their ideas).  Once learned, it is a simple process, but step-by-step instructions are essential the first time out.

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.
Karen Griscom
Assistant Professor of English
Coordinator, Center for Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
Community College of Rhode Island

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 20, 2013

Not Just Fun and Games! Structure Class Demonstrations to Reinforce Learning Goals

Classroom demonstrations that illustrate an important process, phenomenon, or application of a concept can generate interest and engage students with course material. Although students enjoy classroom demonstrations, they sometimes remember the activity but do not remember the course learning goals that instructors want to promote when they design the demonstration. An effective demonstration connects student memories of the classroom experience with the concepts the activity was designed to demonstrate.

Strategies that transform an entertaining demonstration into an effective learning experience
  • Identify the learning outcome(s) you intend to promote with the classroom demonstration. For example, a demonstration that illustrates a counterintuitive or surprising outcome can be used to identify assumptions that lead students to make erroneous predictions. Students experience surprise at unexpected results, which motivates curiosity and encourages students to give weight and credibility to disciplinary concepts and models that explain these findings. 
  • Practice the demonstration to ensure it works properly during class.
  • Prepare students for the demonstration. Observations are biased by preconceptions (Bransford & Johnson, 1972). Two observers of the same event will remember it differently if they experience the event with different frameworks and expectations (Holst & Pezdek, 1992). Don’t assume students will notice the details you notice or interpret the demonstration in the same way you do. Begin with an explanation that gives students the framework they need to focus their attention on the most relevant aspects of the demonstration. Remind students about the relation between observations during the demonstration and the course material.
  • If possible, make students predict the outcome before you conduct the demonstration. 
  • After the demonstration is finished, ask students to discuss the outcome and their observations with each other and the class as a whole. 
  • Reinforce the purpose of the demonstration with a debriefing discussion that identifies and explains the principles demonstrated. Explicitly connect the observations from the demonstration to course content and the learning goals for the activity. Use the curiosity elicited by a surprising outcome to focus attention on disciplinary explanations that are based on valid disciplinary assumptions and models rather than the naïve models students used when they made their initial prediction.
  • Ask students to take a minute or two to write a reflection on the demonstration. What did they learn from this experience? What was the purpose of including this activity in the class? Reflective writing will reinforce student learning. These essays will also reveal areas that continue to confuse students, which instructors can use to refine the demonstration for use in future classes. 
  • Bransford, J. D., & Johnson, M. K. (1972). Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 717-726.
  • Holst, V. F., & Pezdek, K. (1992). Scripts for typical crimes and their effects on memory for eyewitness testimony. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 6, 573-587.
  • Pyper, B. A. (2008). Best practices in physics demonstrations or “Oh, I thought this was just for entertainment.” Power Point slides for a presentation at the AAPT UT/ID section meeting, Boise, ID. Retrieved August 2, 2011:


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.

Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 13, 2013

Did You Just Tell Us To Take Out Our Cell Phones?

If students want to use their phones in class let them!

Many of you probably shook your heads and then reread the opening statement, but no need to do so.  Engaging students with the use of technology is, when done well, a positive learning strategy in campus classrooms. In addition, we, as faculty, look to find new and exciting ways to engage our students to ensure they are acquiring, processing, and recalling new information in order to learn to think critically in the “professional world.”

One of the ways I have integrated technology into the classroom is by using Poll Everywhere (, an “audience response system that uses mobile phones, Twitter, and the web.” Students can use their cell phones and computers to respond to different types of questions developed by the instructor. The responses are recorded in real-time and students can see the results displayed when using a “smart classroom” set-up. Poll Everywhere can be used as a traditional “polling” tool where a question can be posed to the class with closed-ended questions (multiple choice, true/false) or they can respond to open-ended questions.

The courses that I have found to be the most challenging in which to engage students are our physical therapy seminar courses, which are designed to help students learn about professional issues in physical therapy, professional behaviors, and responsibilities as clinicians.  In order to avoid being the “sage on the stage” while I offer my laundry list of clinical “do’s and don’ts,” I wanted to offer an interactive experience in the classroom; one that did not consist of making shadow puppets in the projector light.  So, for the class in which I was explaining how to write clinical objectives (goals) for patients using the A-B-C-D method (audience, behavior, conditions, and degree), I decided to use Poll Everywhere. I simply set up the poll that said, “Send me your objective.” The students grouped into pairs and responded by sending a text message of a patient-related therapeutic goal they developed to my PollEverywhere account number. These open-ended responses were visible on the screen and we were able to evaluate and modify each one as needed. The benefit of this tool is that students were not embarrassed if their goal required revising, as the responses are anonymous and it encouraged student interaction and reinforcement of material. Of course, there were some social text exchanges (“I love mermaids”), but that added a bit of levity to the activity.

I also use Poll Everywhere as a post-lecture evaluation tool to determine if students can recall important points about the lecture on professional roles and responsibilities in the clinical education setting. I set up this poll with “true and false” questions related to the topic. We were able to see the responses in real-time, which presented a great opportunity for discussion about why an answer was correct or incorrect.

My third and final application of Poll Everywhere was in a class where the students were divided into groups to debate three ethical issues in physical therapy practice.  After each group debated the “pros and cons” of their respective issue before the class, the class was polled and asked which group presented the stronger argument, once again offering opportunity for discussion about the strengths, weaknesses, and issues related to the topic.  

Students report that they enjoy the integration of technology into the classroom, as it enhances communication with instructors and other students and provides them with immediate feedback on their performance. For instructors, we have a means of interactivity that allows us to assess student learning, but also allows us the occasion to reflect, in real time, on our teaching strategies and effectiveness.
  • Cavus, N., Bicen, H.,Akcil, U. The Opinions of Information Technology Students on Using Mobile Learning. Presented at the 08 International Conferences on Educational Sciences; June 23-25, 2008; Eastern Mediterranean University, Magosa, North Cyprus.
  • Courts, B. & Tucker, J. Using Technology To Create A Dynamic Classroom Experience.   Journal of College Teaching & Learning. 2012;9(2);121-127.
  •  Dennen, B. CIS Survey. Students Give Their Opinions about Use of Technology in Courses. The Teaching Exchange.  2000:5:1.  Accessed May 19, 2012.
  • Erickson M. Examining the presence of computer-assisted instruction in physical therapy education. Journal of Allied Health. 2004; 33(4):255–266. 
  • Low, S. Supporting Student Learning During Physical Therapist Student Internships Using Online Technology.  Journal of Physical Therapy Education. 2008;22(1);75-82.
  • Poll Everywhere. Available at Accessed February 5, 2013.
Cheryl Hall
Assistant Professor, Physical Therapy
New York Institute of Technology

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 06, 2013

The Past is Always With Us

Our brains are not built to remember unconnected facts; if material doesn’t relate to something else that is important to us, we forget.  Not only do we need prior experiences as an anchor, but the quality of our prior assumptions, conceptual knowledge and biases can all influence what we learn, for better or worse. If you’d like to experience the importance of prior knowledge firsthand, take a challenging class in a new area.  Notice how much you try to use your prior knowledge to anchor new material and see how many misconceptions you have! 

Despite these well-known findings, most of us do little to discover what our students already know (or think they know) about our disciplines. And yet, that prior knowledge may make or break their chances for success in our classes.

In introductory courses we typically don’t expect students to show a sophisticated grasp of disciplinary concepts.  Unfortunately, we often find something more difficult to change: a mental framework that’s a bit dented or is missing critical pieces. Misconceptions and incorrect information can distort and limit student learning, especially at the introductory level.  Unfortunately, since this incorrect information is also anchored in prior knowledge, it can be resistant to change.  Discovering common student misconceptions and designing experiences that challenge them is a critical part of building new levels of expertise.  Experiments, demonstrations, videos and other active methods that directly challenge student misconceptions are often the most powerful since they use multiple channels and can have more emotional impact than lecture or readings.  It takes a powerful stimulus to dislodge embedded rust. 

As students advance in the discipline, they begin to develop more sophisticated knowledge structures. In these upper level classes it’s important to find out what students already know so that you don’t try to build on knowledge that isn’t there.  Having a good understanding of prior knowledge can also help you advise students – someone with gaps that are just too large may need to take a pre-requisite course, while others may need to be referred for tutoring in specific areas.  Other students may be able to skip some topics, or take a more in-depth approach. 

There are many ways to assess prior learning.  Some faculty members use pre-tests or writing assignments that identify strengths and weaknesses, but it does take time to read and analyze them, even when they are ungraded.  Asking students to draw a concept map showing what they know on a given topic is a quick way to show you what information students think is important, and also gives you a picture of how they organize that information.  Another approach is the Knowledge Survey.  This type of survey is often quite lengthy, but students are not actually asked to answer the questions as they would on an exam.  Instead, they rate their level of knowledge of each concept or process on a three point scale from absolute certainty to complete ignorance.  These surveys can be analyzed electronically and they provide a quick snapshot of the class that can help you focus your class time more productively.  Administering the same survey or asking for the same concept map at the end of the course provides a check up on how effectively you were able to reach your goals; ideally you will see positive improvements for the class as a whole and for individual students as well.


  • Ambrose, S. A., et al. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  
  • Nuhfer, E. and D. Knipp. (2003). The Knowledge Survey: A Tool for All Reasons. To Improve the Academy 21: 59-78.

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.

Carolyn Oxenford
Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence
Marymount University


Author: francine_glazer

Jan 30, 2013

Strategies for Learning Students’ Names

Purpose: To help build rapport and show students that you care about them as individuals even in large class settings.  Learning names makes people feel valued. Small interventions can make big differences.

Strategy One (Dee Fink) 
I used small groups extensively in my large Geography course.  After forming the groups on the first day of class, I took a Polaroid picture of each group, and they wrote their names by their individual picture.  I then posted these pictures by my desk in my office and worked on learning the names within each group.  After learning the names in the first group, I would learn a new group and review the names in the previous groups, and so on.  I took a week or two to get them all done, but I eventually did.  It was a lot easier to memorize 12 groups of 6 students, than it was to memorize 72 students.
Strategy Two (Dee Fink) 
A math professor used assigned seating, made a chart, and then each day of class, worked on memorizing a block of 6 students (3 in front and 3 behind).   Each day when he came to class, he made a point of visiting with students in each new block and in the ones he had already learned—in addition to the class in general.
Strategy Three (Gerry Wojnar)
I memorize my rosters about a week before classes start, reciting names forwards and backwards.  Then on the first day of class, I go around the room identifying students, and half the work is already done —with their names already in memory, the task is simply to match names and faces.  It helps to give students some short task at that point (e.g., filling out basic background info cards), during which time I cycle through my roll sheet trying to identify all students.  For a few I’ll call out their names while they work.  Lastly, I’ll try to revisit names and faces by going around the room to recite all the students’ names, preferably without reference to the roster. 
Strategy Four (Gerry Wojnar)
A mandatory office visit from students in the first 10 days of the semester, even if just to say hello, also helps.  Such break-the-ice visits also seem to promote more content-focused office visits as the semester progresses.
Strategy Five (Kejing Liu)
I manage to remember my students’ names first by asking them to make a name card and place it at the table—this will help me relate the name with the seat, and then by encouraging them to sit at the same seat for next two or three class meetings.  
Strategy Six (Kejing Liu)
I always ask my classes to fill out a student information card with the following information:
Course Number  ______________________
Name: __________________ Name you like to be called: _____________________
1 word for your learning style: ____________________________________________
2 words for your interests: ______________________,_________________________
3 words for your personality: ____________,_______________,_________________
4 words for your beliefs in children: ________,___________,__________.__________
I am an Early Childhood faculty member, which explains why I ask for their beliefs in children.  Try it, and you will learn a lot of interesting things about your students – it will also help you to remember your students very quickly.
Strategy Seven (Susan Robison)
Have students make name "tents" out of cardboard or card stock that you provide. They raise their tent every time they wish to be called on.  They can also put the tent on their desk so as they do projects, labs, or group work you can associate the names and faces. With both of these approaches, you have to decide if will you collect the tents and bring them to class or trust the students to bring them.
Strategy Eight (Susan Robison)
If you have access to student photos [as we do at UTSA], you can make a seating chart and study the pictures and names before the course even starts.
Strategy Nine (Susan Robison)
When the students come for office hours, ask, "Please remind me of your name." Take notes on the meeting especially on any follow up you promise to do.
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.
Barbara Millis
Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio

Author: francine_glazer

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Lucinda Marques Lucinda Marques
Campus: Abu Dhabi
Major: B.F.A., Interior Design, School of Architecture
Class Of: 2015
Arkar Latt (B.Arch. ’89) Arkar Latt
Class of 1989
Profession: Operations manager of Turner International
Chung Hyuk Park Chung Hyuk Park, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Campus: Manhattan